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NJ Special Needs Students Learn with iPads

Enrique Mendez, 9, a child with Down Syndrome who is unable to speak, was able to use his tablet's synthesized voice to express himself to his mother

By Brian Thompson
|  Wednesday, Sep 26, 2012  |  Updated 6:51 AM EDT
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New gadgets are making a difference for students with special needs. For parents of children with autism or down syndrome, there is new hope. Brian Thompson reports.

NBC 4 New York

New gadgets are making a difference for students with special needs. For parents of children with autism or down syndrome, there is new hope. Brian Thompson reports.

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Apple's iPad is being used with increasing effectiveness to teach students with autistism and Down Syndrome.

In New Jersey, 9-year-old Enrique, a child with Down Syndrome who is unable to speak, was able to use his tablet's synthesized voice to express himself to his mother Diana Mendez.

Mendez has said "I love you" to her son every day, not knowing, she said, if he could comprehend. But after just a few days of using his school supplied iPad, Enrique pressed several symbols and she finally heard him, through the device, say "I love you."

"I was hysterical," Mendez said. "To realize that he's been listening to you, every time I told him 'I love you.'" 

At the private EPIC school in Paramus, which teaches 28 mostly severely autistic children, iPads teach students how to spell and say phrases, and give them a structured way of playing during down time, such as while they are waiting at a doctor's office.

"It's more interactive, so it's more fun," said teacher Brittany English, a believer in the iPad.

The biggest challenge, according to EPIC's clinical director Dr. Paul Argott, is finding the right apps.

"There are thousands and thousands of apps out there that claim to be useful," said Argott, who explained that each student may react differently to the same app.

Still, the success special needs programs are having with iPads may quickly convince some school systems to give them to mainstream students.

Old Bridge plans to buy 3,000 tablets for all of its middle school students next year and in 2014, high school students will be encouraged to bring their own devices, or if they can't afford one, will be given one by the school system, as it rapidly cuts back on the annual purchase of books. 

"We're hoping that by deploying 3,000 iPads to our students we can uncover the voice or hidden talent that every student has," said Old Bridge Assistant Superintendent David Cittadino.

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