A new study finds that using tablet devices during therapy can help children with autism make greater strides in communication. (John Flavell/Lexington Herald-Leader/MCT)

A new study finds that using tablet devices during therapy can help children with autism make greater strides in communication. (John Flavell/Lexington Herald-Leader/MCT)

Even with intervention, many children with autism continue to struggle with communication, but new research suggests that using iPads and other tablets can help maximize language skills.

In a study of 61 kids with autism ages 5 to 8, researchers found that those given access to a tablet with a speech-generating app during therapy were able to make “significant and rapid gains” in their use of language, far exceeding the progress of children who participated in treatment sessions alone.

All of the children in the study were minimally verbal and participated in two to three hours of therapy each week for six months that focused on improving language, play skills and social gesturing like pointing.

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In addition to the therapy, half of the kids were given a tablet with a speech-generating app to use during the sessions. The app was programmed with pictures of objects being used in the therapy which allowed the child to touch an image and hear audio of an object’s name.

Ultimately, children who used the tablets were more likely to begin using language on their own, according to findings published recently in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

“It was remarkable how well the tablet worked in providing access to communication for these children,” said Connie Kasari of the University of California, Los Angeles who worked on the study. “Children who received the behavioral intervention along with the tablet to support their communication attempts made much faster progress in learning to communicate, and especially in using spoken language.”

Children appeared to retain their new skills when they came for a follow-up three months after the study period ended, researchers said.

Incorporating the tablets was most effective when used from the start of the treatment, the study found.