UA to Study How Children With Autism Utilize iPads

Dr. Sydney Rice of the College of Medicine and Steele Children's Research Center has received a grant to research how iPads might benefit children who have autism.
May 17, 2012
Dr. Sydney Rice with a patient using an iPad during a routine visit.
Dr. Sydney Rice with a patient using an iPad during a routine visit.

Dr. Sydney Rice, associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Arizona College of Medicine and member of the Steele Children's Research Center, has received a $15,000, one-year grant from the Community Foundation of Southern Arizona to research how children who have autism use Apple iPads.

Rice is a recognized autism expert in Arizona and is nationally recognized in the area of developmental pediatrics.

Autism is a neurobiological condition that is recognized in infants or toddlers. Children with autism have difficulty interacting socially, have delays in communication and play skills and have repetitive or obsessive behavior patterns.

Communication challenges make interactions with others more difficult, and some children with autism do not learn to use language to communicate.

Recent studies suggest that introducing touch-controlled media devices such as Apple iPads to autistic children significantly can enhance the children's abilities to express themselves effectively. However, little medical evidence exists to support the use of media devices and what the barriers to using them might be.

The study will involve a group of at least 20 children with autism; iPads are commonly available and frequently used by children who have autism, but it is not clear if the devices are being used strictly for communication or if more time is spent for entertainment or distraction. Families and children will report how the iPad is used with an individualized application placed on each iPad.

"Technology offers incredible opportunities to improve communications and learning skills for children with autism," said Rice. "Most people are drawn to the flexibility of the iPad, and children with autism are no different. We will look at how the iPad is actually used in a home setting, and examine the child's and the family's perception of its effect on behavior and communication."