The iPad is a marvelous device. I love mine. The special needs community also loves them. The screen size is perfect for kids with poor fine motor skills. The crisp display is visually pleasing. And like all things electronic, it seems these kids are born knowing how to use them.
HOWEVER – you have to be very careful with them. There are some wonderful educational apps out there. Since most kids on the spectrum are visual learners, this leads to many tools to aid their learning. However, there are many games and entertaining apps available. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends NO entertaining screen time before the second birthday, and 10 hours or less per WEEK for all other children and adolescents. This includes TV, video games, DS and Gameboys, computer games, and handheld phones and tablets (including the iPhone and iPad – gasp!) Entertaining electronics are highly addictive to all kids, due to the constant positive feedback. They are even more addicting to kids on the spectrum, to the point where my some refer to them as “autistic porn”. Also, the light from all these devices inhibits melatonin release in the brain, interfering with sleep. They need to be turned off at least an hour before bedtime, or they can interfere with attaining sleep onset and deeper sleep. Good sleep is essential for good neurologic function, and these addictive devices and interfere with it.
I am constantly asked about appropriate Apps for kids with special needs, especially those with autism spectrum disorders. It is impossible to keep up with them, much less review them. Luckily, there are people who have made the effort. I have listed several links below to sites that have extensive reviews and recommendations. Note – I am not recommending specific apps, or the sites since I can’t review every app in detail. As always, judge them for yourself.