Rotary Club iPads aid autism classes

Technology helps build communication skills

1/11/2017 | TACOMA, Washington

How far does an iPad go toward helping children learn?

In the case of students diagnosed with autism, quite far. That’s the lesson learned by two years of iPad donations from the Tacoma North Rotary Club to Tacoma Public Schools’ autism classrooms—and the reason why the club continued its donation for a third time this year with 30 iPads for Reed Elementary School.  

“We’ve seen it in action, that the iPads are making a difference in the classroom,” said Vicky Tetzlaff of the Tacoma North Rotary Club. 

​Reed Elementary School student Massiah Threats-Jones and teacher
Jana Hautala explore a new iPad donated by Tacoma North Rotary.
The iPads for Reed Elementary School provide a “gift of access,” said Reed Principal Kate Frazier. The iPads—a combination of 25 iPad Minis for student use and five iPad Airs for teacher use—will support kindergarten through fifth-grade students in Reed’s four autism classes. 

Multiple research studies show iPads can greatly benefit the communication skills of children with autism, according to the Autism Spectrum Disorder Foundation. Autism, formally known as autism spectrum disorder, is a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges, according to the Centers for Disease Control. 

iPads prove so helpful for children with autism because they help kids express themselves. A 2014 study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry found that autistic children ages 5 to 8 who used iPads doubled the number of words in their vocabulary compared with those who did not use tablets. 

iPads provide a valuable tool for helping teachers meet the particular needs of children with autism. For example, the ability of an iPad to say a word exactly the same every time can help autistic children who benefit from consistency. Other specially designed tools include reading, math and handwriting applications for children with autism. 

Tacoma North Rotary Club previously donated iPads to Mary Lyon and Jefferson elementary schools. Emily Nalker, a teacher for autism students at Lyon Elementary says the iPads have “made a huge difference for me.” 

“Every autism classroom should have them,” Nalker said. “The kids love using them. They are very intuitive machines that are easy for them to pick up.”

One of Nalker’s students struggles with writing math problems on paper or a whiteboard. But on the iPad, he uses his finger to write a number on the screen and the application converts it into a colorful number. That visual display connects with him, helping him make major progress with math. 

“Some students process information differently than many of us do,” Nalker said. The iPad is “very visual and has made a huge difference for him.”

Teachers at Reed look forward to using the iPads in their classrooms, Frazier said. “We’re educating and empowering global citizens,” she said. 
For more information about services in Tacoma Public Schools for children with autism contact Student Services at 253-571-1224. To learn how your organization can donate or partner with Tacoma Public Schools, contact the Partnership Office at 253-571-7980.