Autistic children given a voice, thanks to iPads

Apps for Children official website

POCATELLO, Idaho - Ryder McBride sat anxiously squeezing an empty 2-liter pop bottle as family and a few strangers filled his family's living room Wednesday morning.

He did not speak.

Pocatello's 8-year-old Ryder has a severe form of autism which makes verbal communication difficult, if not impossible. Help may be on the way. Gary James, originally from London, has a son he classifies as "nonverbal." He turned to the use of an Apple iPad to interact and help his 2-year-old son learn and communicate.

James presented the Mc-Bride family with a free iPad and a host of educational applications to better work with Ryder.

"He'll have a voice," James said.

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James, the founder of Apps for Children with Special Needs, has been traveling the United States giving an iPad and 50 apps to children with special needs in each of the 50 states. James has about 20 more states to visit in his four-to-five week tour.

"The iPad is a device that lets us as parents and professionals teach children in a way that they need to be able to be taught," James said. "It's hard for children like this to get a pen or pencil and write their name on a piece of paper, but if they have something like an iPad, and a stylus pen, not only is it a little easier for them, it's more fun. ... It's really about letting these kids who might be behind developmentally catch up by using this technology."

James emphasized that the iPad is not a toy but a tool that works best when there is a "team effort" between parents and therapists encouraging its use as well as using the device.

Ryder's parents, Bill and Stephanie McBride, were surprised and grateful to be the Idaho recipients of the loaded iPad.

"We set it up and he was playing a game," Stephanie said. "I was surprised he caught on so quickly. It really had his attention. He was mesmerized and laughing."

Stephanie had looked at purchasing an iPad after reading parents praise it online. The only drawback is the cost of some speech and development apps, which can range in the hundreds of dollars.

"This is incredible," Bill said. "It's an answer to a prayer. For a long time she's been wanting some apps to work with this guy."

James suggested loading only similarly-purposed apps onto the iPad for Ryder to focus on, such as color, shapes or alphabet, to avoid becoming distracted with the neat looking icons that do various things.

Ryder's grandparents, Marvin and Roma McBride, were at the home for the presentation and expressed their frustration for lack of support systems for parents of children with special needs.

James said his organization has built a community for parents with children of about 90 disorders. He said the company's aim is to directly help people and eventually have a representative in each state.

Ryan Wolfley, Ryder's developmental therapist, said he believes the technology will be very helpful in working with Ryder. He said he would buy an iPad, but the costly apps would be difficult to obtain.

"I think the iPad will at least give him the tools necessary to establish associations between a word and an object or interaction," Wolfley said.

Apps for Children with Special Needs plans to host future giveaways. For more information about the nonprofit organization, persons may visit www.a4cwsn.com.

"It's about building a community, sharing with technology and seeing what it can do for the children who have special needs," James said.

Gary James, originally from London, England, hands Ryder McBride, 8, a new iPad. James is part of a group that is helping developmentally disabled children through the use of applications on the iPad. Ryan's mom, Stephanie, and father, Bill, along with Ryan Wolfley, a developmental therapist, were there also.

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