iPads, Electronic Media Use, and AAC Users

Should students who use iPads for communication purposes be allowed to use the iPad in the classroom for academic purposes? This question was raised recently by Maria Landon in the ASHA Leader (June 2018 issue):

Then the classroom teacher starts talking about a great new current-events application she just heard about. The occupational therapist wants to install a handwriting app. The student’s one-on-one aide thinks a visual timer would be very helpful during transitional times. So, now what?


iPhone and Scrabble pieces spelling Social Media: uses of iPads and other devices by AAC studentsAlthough this question might come across as a no-brainer to some, it does open up the proverbial can of worms when thinking about the role of technology in promoting communication in students with little or no speech.

Research studies recently emphasized the negative role of overuse of electronic media on the well-being of young children. For example, in a recent study in Germany, the parents of 527 German two- to six-year-old children provided information on their use of electronic media and their behavioral difficulties at two time points, with approximately 12 months between baseline and follow-up.

The findings showed that greater usage of computer/internet at baseline predicted more emotional and behavioral problems at follow-up. Further, baseline usage of mobile phones was associated with more behavioral problems and hyperactivity or inattention at follow-up. Children who had difficulties with peer relationships at baseline also were more likely to use computer/internet and mobile phones at follow-up. Preschoolers’ use of electronic media, especially newer media such as computer/internet and mobile phones, was also related to behavioral difficulties over time.

One must wonder what impact diversification of the use of the iPad will have on the interactions of a young, nonspeaking student. Not only would the device serve different functions, but these different functions could de-emphasize the use of the device for the purpose of communication. In a scenario where the child has other communication options (e.g., when the child has some speech), this might not matter that much. However, in a situation where the student has to rely on the device for interaction, using the device for multiple purposes could not only slow down communication, but also de-emphasize the importance of the process of communication for the young student.

If we look at the findings of the study mentioned above, one has to wonder if multiple uses of an iPad could not also contribute to a further decrease of already impoverished peer interactions, as the additional uses of the device could potentially divert attention away from communication.

What do you think?

4 Replies to “iPads, Electronic Media Use, and AAC Users”

  1. I recently watched a video of kids on a field trip to Venice, Italy. While sitting in a gondola, passing by the exquisite sights of this city, every single one of them was fixated not on the beauty surrounding them but on their iPhones. For all students of every stripe, too often social media does not “socialize” or advance communication, but rather serves more as a distraction than a learning tool. Here’s the video: https://tinyurl.com/venice-social-media

    1. Yes, it really is about how to facilitate meaningful use of technology while minimizing the potential negative side effects… Very challenging as we do not have much research to guide us here…

  2. Interesting Erna. I think you make a very valid point about one’s primary means of communication being totally uncluttered by other “noise”.
    On a other tack Ipads just being introduced in our grandchildren’s primary school at Gr 5 level and the debate raging about the pros and cons. We need some evidenced based info. Help! We now live in Paarl so next time you’re in the Western Cape there’s a good glass or two of wine awaiting!

    1. Thanks so much, Jill. I do think that while there are similarities, the differences between the purpose of iPad use between typical kids and those who have severe communication problems are important. As you said, keeping the communication purpose uncluttered could be key, particularly if the children are not yet really good communicators. The problem is, how do you get teachers and parents to understand how to deal with this issue if there is so little to work from ….understanding the different purposes of use seem to be a good starting point though…

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