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iPod May Ease Transition For Those With Autism

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As more people with autism enter the work world, a new case study suggests that arming them with specially-programmed iPods may go a long way toward achieving independence on the job.

Researchers looking for new and innovative ways to help those with autism adapt to the demands of employment used the Apple iPod Touch as an assistive device with three adults with the developmental disorder. The results of the small case study — published this week in the Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation — were quite promising, they said.

For “Jeffrey,” 21, who struggled with transitioning from one task to the next as a custodian at Hardee’s, a series of alarms on the iPod helped keep him on schedule. The notes function of the device was also used to provide a checklist of responsibilities and remind him of calming techniques.

After just one week, Jeffrey was adept at using the iPod independently, researchers said, and no longer needed constant prompting from his job coach. He also stopped displaying behaviors like spinning, humming and stomping. A year later, researchers say that Jeffrey is still successfully using his iPod and is considered a reliable employee.

“This is an exciting time for anyone in the fields of education, physical rehabilitation, and vocational support, where we are seeing a long-awaited merging of consumer products and assistive technologies for all,” said Tony Gentry of Virginia Commonwealth University who led the research.

For the study, each person with autism was assigned a job coach and an occupational therapist who programmed their iPod to meet the specific employee’s needs. Researchers focused on the iPod Touch because it was the most suitable pocket-sized device on the market when the study was designed. The names of the participants were changed for the purposes of the report in order to protect their privacy.

In the case of “Grace,” a 60-year-old with autism, mild cerebral palsy and epilepsy, introducing the iPod Touch allowed her to independently and safely navigate her way to and from work. Before she had her iPod, Grace would often step into the street to look for the bus if it was late. Now, specially-programmed reminders and an instructional video prompt her to call the transportation company instead. Grace was also helped by having music at the ready to calm herself while she waits for her ride, the study said.

The third person to try the iPod Touch was “Lily,” a 20-year-old with autism and Down syndrome who is unable to read or tell time. Before receiving the iPod, she often became frustrated at her housekeeping job at a Virginia hospital when prompted by her job coach and was known to throw things, stomp, cry or call her mother.

Lily’s iPod was programmed with a series of apps to provide verbal alerts to prompt her throughout the day and customized picture books to help her cope with various scenarios she might encounter. Another app was also used to track her progress toward earning rewards for good behavior. By using the device, Lily soon needed her job coach to spend significantly less time with her, researchers said.

The participants are part of a larger four-year randomized trial. Though it’s not possible to draw firm conclusions from the case study since it involved such a small sample, researchers say that given the promising results so far, they are hopeful that they’ll soon be able to assess how beneficial iPods and similar devices are for workers with autism.

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Comments (2 Responses)

  1. Tacitus says:

    Just think, the recent court decision may prevent other providers from developing similar hardware to run similar applications, and apple could wind up forcing people with disabilities to rely upon it. This is highly inappropriate. For people with disabilites, the open-source revolution could be their greatest friend; open source software means the source code is available to all who ask for it, which means it can be modified and distributed by anyone who knows how for any purpose, and therefore is inherently better responsive to bugs being found and new tasks being required. This last is especially important for the diverse requirements of people with developmental disabilities. Yet, the market is dominated by a single proprietary organization that overcharges by three hundred percent or more.

  2. KA101 says:

    Odd that eliminating humming was considered worth mentioning. Seems like a harmless enough activity in typical contexts; stomping could be both a health as well as a noise (context!) issue, and spinning may cause teachable moments at worst.

    Network-capable devices might be able to run the local bus-tracker app, which saves calling the company. Here’s hoping assistive tech continues to generate positive results–though there’s certainly something to be said for having low-tech assistance available as well.

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