Apps for Autism: Communicating on the iPad

Autistic people whose condition prevents them from speaking are making breakthroughs with the help of tablet computers and special applications that allow them to communicate

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[Stuart: Do you want to do some work?

Nuno: No. No. No. No. No. No. No.]

It was thought that 10-year-old Nuno - who doesn't talk - had the IQ and attention span of a toddler.

[iPad: Touch the one that is a healthy snack.

Stuart: Where's the nice snack, good snack?

iPad: Yay. Awesome.]

So when Ian tested him with a new vocabulary app, he was surprised by how much he knew.

[iPad: Where is the wind chime? Great job. Touch the soldier. Yay. Super.]

Stahl: Did you know he knew all those words?

Stuart: No. Absolutely not.

Stahl: You had no idea?

Stuart: No idea. No idea to the extent of his vocabulary.

[iPad: Find the saxophone. Yay, you did it.]

Stahl: Saxophone. How did he know a saxophone? Right?

Stuart: And we've just recently found out that he has quite a love of classical music and opera. So he's-- he's--

Stahl: He has love of opera?

Stuart: Yes, he does.

Stahl: And you didn't know it.

Stuart: Didn't know it, yeah.

Stahl: Did that come through the iPad?

Stuart: It came through exploring music selections on-- on the iPad. And as a reward sometimes we let him watch some videos in class and Pavarotti or some arias. And he likes conductors. He likes symphonies.

Stahl: You're discovering that there's more inside these children's heads than you realized?

Morey: And that's something in a way I feel like we've known. But this is giving us a tool to really show us and prove that there is more happening.

Figuring out why so many autistic people are unable to speak - as many as 30 percent of them - is the subject of a major new research study at the University of Pittsburgh.

Dr. Walter Schneider: We don't have a biological marker for autism in most cases at the moment.

Neuro-scientist Dr. Walter Schneider, is investigating whether the language problems in autism are caused by a disruption in the brain's connective circuits.