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Could the iPad be an effective learning tool for children with autism?

While educators and parents have high hopes that touch technologies such as the iPad could be valuable learning tools for special-needs children, including those diagnosed with autism, researchers are busy trying to determine if, or how well, such gadgets can actually improve students' social and communication skills.

The SF Weekly reports:

Since the iPad's unveiling in April, autism experts and parents have brought it into countless homes and classrooms around the world. Developers have begun pumping out applications specifically designed for users with special needs, and initial studies are already measuring the effectiveness of the iPod Touch and the iPad as learning tools for children with autism. Through the devices, some of these children have been able to communicate their thoughts to adults for the first time. Others have learned life skills that had eluded them for years.

Though there are other computers designed for children with autism, a growing number of experts say that the iPad is better. It's cheaper, faster, more versatile, more user-friendly, more portable, more engaging, and infinitely cooler for young people. "I just couldn't imagine not introducing this to a parent of a child who has autism," says Tammy Mastropietro, a speech pathologist based outside Boston who uses the technology with numerous clients. She sees it as a game changer for those with autism, particularly those most severely affected.

The above video features autistic nine-year-old Leo Rosa, who is featured in the SF Weekly article, using a spelling program called FirstWords. His mother describes how Leo's life was transformed after she introduced him to the iPad in this blog post.

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