Do iPads promote symbolic understanding and word learning in children with autism?

Melissa Allen, Calum Hartley, Kate Cain

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

25 Citations (Scopus)


The use of the Apple iPad has skyrocketed in educational settings, along with largely unsubstantiated claims of its efficacy for learning and communication in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Here we examine whether children with ASD are better able to learn new word-referent relations using an iPad or a traditional picture book. We also examine the hypothesis that presenting multiple, differently-colored, exemplars of a target referent will promote adaptive label generalisation compared to the use of a single exemplar. Sixteen minimally-verbal children with ASD were taught a new word in 4 within-subjects conditions, which varied by media (iPad vs. book) and content (single vs. multiple exemplar presentation). Children were then tested on the ability to symbolically relate the word to a 3-D referent and generalize it to a differently-colored category member. The extent of symbolic understanding did not differ between the two media, and levels of generalization did not differ across conditions. However, presentation of multiple exemplars increased the rate that children with ASD extended labels from pictures to depicted objects. Our findings are discussed in terms of the importance of content to picture-based learning and the potential benefits and challenges of using the Apple iPad as an educational resource for children with ASD.
Original languageEnglish
Article number138
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 12 Feb 2015

Bibliographical note

Copyright © 2015 Allen, Hartley and Cain. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) or licensor are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

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