iPads for autism grants available

MARIETTA – Beth Ann Eddy’s son, Craven, is usually limited in his verbal communication to two- or three-word sentences, often able to be understood only by people who know him.

But the 10-year-old has a photographic memory when it comes to the spelling of words and a few years ago, he began typing on a desktop computer to convey requests to his parents.

“It made a huge difference in his frustration level, and ours,” his mother said.

Now, Craven has graduated to an iPhone app called “Text to Speech,” giving him a more portable means of communication. Soon, he’ll move on to an iPad Mini.

The experience of Eddy and other Autism Center of Southeastern Ohio board members whose children are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders and have used iPads led to the creation of a new initiative to provide the devices to others in the area.

“I guess just because we saw such an improvement in our kids that we want … to be able to do the same for some of the other kids,” said Eddy, secretary for the nonprofit organization that assists families living with autism in Washington County and southeast Ohio.

The iPads for Autism Grant Program will award as many as eight iPad Minis to Washington County residents with diagnoses on the autism spectrum who are on an individual education plan and do not receive a Medicaid waiver that could help pay for such a device.

Ginger O’Connor, a speech-language pathologist with Ewing School, said research shows iPads are useful in getting individuals with autism spectrum disorders to learn and communicate.

“It’s a learning module that is dynamic, and yet there is a sameness to it that allows repetitive learning,” she said.

Tablet devices like the iPad have been used regularly in Ewing classrooms for kids with autism and related disorders for a couple of years now. Last year, the autism center was able to expand the number thanks to a pair of $5,000 grants from the Marietta Shrine Club’s Hale Trust Fund.

Allen Brokaw, an emeritus member of the center’s board, helped submit the applications for the grants and often receives updates about how they are being used at the school. Recently, he was told about a student who would often lie down on the floor rather than join in class activities.

“Now he’s participating, and he’s learned from the iPad, and he’s starting to say words, and he’s starting to put short sentences together,” Brokaw said.

O’Connor said autism is a neuro-biological disorder with social and communication components, and some iPad apps can target those areas. Apps that require taking turns with other players can build up social interaction skills, while apps like “Text to Speech” or ones that say words based on pictures the child touches can provide a voice they didn’t have before. Others can help them with reading, math and other skills simply by drawing their interest in a new way

Eddy said funding for the iPad grant program came from the community, through the center’s fall yard sale and Casino Night in October and February’s Valentine’s dinner and dance.

Applications for the program are available on the center’s website, www.autismacso.org.

The deadline to apply is June 1.