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Why iPads can help children with autism

iPads can be a great tool for individuals with autism of all ages.
iPads can be a great tool for individuals with autism of all ages.
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KENNEWICK, Wash. - Technology has dramatically changed the methods teachers use in special needs classrooms. On Tuesday, educators and parents met for a conference aimed at making life easier for those impacted by autism.

For example, Gerriann Armstrong's son Harrison is 13 years old, he loves hands on activities, and he's a proud boy scout.

“The best thing is being able to show people what you knew as a parent, in your heart, that your child was learning that your child is capable and that your child gets it,” Armstrong said.

Harrison has autism and can struggle with traditional teaching styles in the classroom.

“My son doesn't write really well with pen and paper,” Armstrong said. “But we did find that he would type or show what he knew by having some technology.”

Renae Yecha is a special education teacher in the Richland School District. She sees students just like Harrison who couldn't function with a pen and paper, but move to writing and typing on an iPad. Yecha has also helped students who have limited verbal skills by giving them iPads to talk. Yecha said this use of technology is life changing.

“It was such a heartwarming experience for him to tell me so much more with the iPad than he was ever able to do verbally with his skills,” said Yecha, when thinking of her student.

Yecha uses tablets with students to set tangible goals, practice life skills and reward students with what she calls "iPad time." This method works really well with students with autism, given that they can have a short attention span.

Gerriann Armstrong said not only does the use of iPads in special needs classroom bridge the learning gap, it also connects special needs students with their peers. Because special needs kids now have a skill and a device that everyone likes and uses.

“So they are seen as peers at that point,” Armstrong explained. “They are not seen as kids who have problems, or the kid who always acts out, who is spitting or kicking or throwing things. They really are like ‘Oh my gosh, he's the iPad expert.’”

These sorts of social improvements and life skills are exactly what Yecha is working towards in her classroom and beyond.

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Yecha presented her work at the Northwest Autism Conference on Tuesday. The Autism Conference continues tomorrow at the Three Rivers Convention Center in Kennewick.

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