There is no single answer to the question ‘what does it mean to live with autism?’ Yet, technology like e-readers, tablets and computers can provide practical tools for a variety of people across the autism spectrum. With recognised applications in school, the home and general everyday life, they can offer an aid for communication, learning and therapy and can, therefore, help many people with autism overcome some of the challenges they face. This is the first in a series to look at eBook readers and tablets from the perspective of someone on the autism spectrum.
Our first review is for the Amazon Kindle Touch, Amazon’s first touchscreen eBook reader. It became available in the United States in November 2012 and like other models in the family, the Touch is specifically designed to provide a portable and durable device which you can take anywhere and use at any time. In September, 2012, Amazon came out with there next version: Kindle PaperWhite and now refers to the Touch edition as simply “Kindle”.
Features of the Kindle Touch includes a 4GBs memory which can store about 3000 books and access to Amazon’s massive ecosystem and library, including its app store with Facebook, iTunes and many others. Alongside Wi-Fi connectivity and options to check your email and browse the web, the Touch becomes more than just a basic e-reader and, what’s more, with the wireless off, the device can achieve up to two months of battery life at 30 minutes of reading time per day.
So, what could a Kindle Touch mean to someone with autism? Does it have any benefits for the condition or, alternatively, any drawbacks?
On the plus side, it is light but robust compared to other tablets on the market, such as the popular but expensive Apple iPad. It is by far the least expensive. Overall, the Kindle Touch is considered to be an easy-to-use and cheap alternative to its more expensive rivals, providing an affordable and accessible option for those who are searching for tech toys to help with autism. The reduced price-tag does mean reduced capabilities and limited storage space.
According to recent research on devices like the Touch, one positive feature is the touchscreen itself. As the documentary, I Want to Say, demonstrates, children with non-verbal autism can actually use touch-enabled applications to communicate with others, helping them foster social and emotional opportunities and interactions, while stimulating their learning and, therefore, individual potential. With the option of a keyboard, the Touch also allows a person to type onto the device themselves and could be used as a tool for those with sensory issues which pose problems for writing. They can act as a focal point of attention to help overcome the onslaught of sensory information associated with sensory integration issues and also provide a means of general entertainment which can be taken anywhere to help avoid boredom.
One important drawback is that the touch system is not as responsive as one might like. While most users who are autistic may not be speed reading, it still feels sluggish compared to other tablets.
Another issue is the Apple still reigns when it comes to their sheer range of autism-specific apps, many of which compliment more specific autistic characteristics and interests. Yet, Amazon does still offer its own and growing range which can be downloaded, stored and re-used for as long as they are useful and some of these are completely free or, again, much cheaper than the expensive Apple alternatives.
Display Amazon’s 6″ diagonal most advanced E Ink multi-touch display, 600 x 800 pixel resolution at 167 ppi, 16-level grayscale, optimized with proprietary waveform and font technology,
Weight 7.5 ounces (213 grams)
Size (in inches) 6.8″ x 4.7″ x 0.40″ (172 mm x 120 mm x 10.1 mm)
Whatever your choice of e-reader, it is important to remember that some autistic people will not have the abilities to use any form of e-reader, tablet or computer and the condition will always be highly diverse and as individual as any neuro-typical person, meaning there is no set protocol, practice or concept that can either capture what autism is, or provide some complete answer. Nevertheless, the importance of such tools cannot be denied and should never be ignored, for they offer a resource for many people with autism, as well as their families and professional practitioners who are also affected by the issues that surround autism.