The promise of iPads for special ed

Technology can free special education students from worksheets, writes Anya Kamenetz in The promise of iPads for special ed on the Hechinger Report.

When Neil Virani walked into his middle school special education classroom at Mulholland Middle School, part of the LA Unified School district, three years ago, he encountered a roomful of students with a range of cognitive, emotional and physical challenges. But the most toxic problem they had to combat was the low expectations from the school system they’d been in since kindergarten. “All they had was coloring books and watercolors. They were not working on any academic aspects of the curriculum,” he says. “When I saw a [previous] teacher had written of  a student, “they don’t require ELA writing instruction because they’re never going to manipulate a writing device,’ I said, before I met him, this kid is going to write.”

Today, not only are most of his students reading and discussing stories, producing sophisticated written essays, and scoring proficient in math, they are drawing mind maps to organize their thoughts, building catapults in class to demonstrate physics principles learned from the game Angry Birds, and shooting and editing video documentaries of their experiences, which they storyboard in advance with cartoons.

The iPad and its wide range of apps has enabled students to meet the “highest possible realistic expectations,”  the teacher says.

A student who has control over only one finger was unable to write with a $15,000 assistive technology chair. One involuntary movement would erase what he’d typed. After an hour with a $500 iPad, he wrote his name for the first time.

The iPad has changed his students’ thinking, says Virani. “They believe in themselves; they can do what anyone else can do.”

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  1. North of 49th says:

    “60 Minutes” had an interesting segment on the use of ipads with children with fairly severe disabilities and/or autism

    You can see the segment “apps for Autism” (about 13 minutes) here:

    There are some other “web extras” on the page that deal with the use of the iPads, too. I found the one about Pavarotti really fascinating.

    Assistive technology is a real plus for people with disabilities; it can provide a work-around in many cases but it should not be considered a panacea. I have a family member with a moderate disability who uses AT to good effect, but it doesn’t mean he can do “what anyone else can do.” It *does* mean he can do things that, otherwise, *he* would not be able to do.

    • This is 100% correct, AT will produce excellent results if used properly, but technology (by itself) cannot fix every problem in society.

    • Crimson Wife says:

      My little one has autism and her special ed class has some iPads that the teachers use with the students. It’s pretty amazing how they can be used to allow non-verbal children to communicate their needs. The kids seem to respond much better to the IPad than the low-tech PECS system.