Autism and Technology: Touch Screens And Learning

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Article first published as Autism and Technology on Technorati.

The first iPhone, as displayed at the Computer History Museum, Mountain View, California.I haven't posted anything in a while, and there is a reason. Recently, I had an opportunity to visit the Apple Campus in Cupertino, California, and meet with a key person who designed the iOS devices for which Apple is so well known. It was exciting for me, because I know how important those same iOS devices have been for my sons in their development. It was a rare treat for me to personally thank those who had a hand in developing such a key device.And you know what he said? He said he didn't even think about the Autism community when designing the first iPhone. Instead, he said he was surprised, extremely surprised, and thrilled that the device has been found to act as a catalyst for those on the Spectrum. For him, it showed the ingenuity and inventiveness of developers who took the simple premise of the iPhone's multi-touch platform, and made tools that worked.And just before this meeting I also had an interview with Brandon Bailey of the San Jose Mercury News about using touch screens and apps to treat autism. He was interested in my take on the HP Hacking Autism project, which focuses on developing apps for all platforms that help children on the Spectrum. And, while I am very biased to Apple products, I said that all platforms have potential, and if the apps are there parents have more choice for their budget.So, why touch screens? What makes them better than, say, a mouse, or a keyboard? If you think about it, using a touch screen is fundamental. We are used to touching what we want, moving things with our hands, etc. Our fingers are our most versatile tools, and we feel most comfortable with them. Once you introduce another tool on top of that, it complicates the process. Using a mouse means you have to relate the mouse position on the desk (which you do not see) with the mouse pointer location on the screen. Keyboards are about the same way. But a touch screen removes that layer between you and the content, making it easier to utilize. That is why I personally feel touch screen devices are better than using a mouse and keyboard, or even a stylus, for that matter.So the age of the touch screen became a great age for the Spectrum. Technology is easier to use, making those with learning disabilities more enabled in their learning and ultimately empowering them to progress in ways that were difficult or expensive in the past. It's exciting, and I'm constantly amazed with the apps for Autism that I find out there.