iPad Technology for Non-Verbal Individuals with Autism




VAST (Video Assisted Speech Technology)
“Brings true meaning to the educational power of apps for kids. Extraordinary work”

Exciting New iPad Technology for Non-Verbal Individuals with Autism

According to recent statistics, autism is the fastest growing developmental disability in the U.S. today. Autism affects 1 in 88 children and 1 in 54 boys. About 40% of children with autism do not talk at all. Another 25%-30% of children with autism have some words at 12-18 months of age and then lose them. Others may speak, but not until later in childhood. In 20 years there has been a 600% increase in the cases of autism. About a third to a half of those individuals will not develop enough natural speech to meet their daily communication needs.

Thanks to recent technology like the iPad/iPod Touch a groundbreaking and exciting therapeutic technique to teach non-verbal students to use spoken language has emerged. VAST Autism 1 – Core, VAST Pre-Speech and VAST Songs (apps available from iTunes) combines best practices, video modeling, music therapy and literacy with auditory cues to provide unprecedented support for the development of vocabulary, word combinations and communication. What this means is that students simply watch a video of a syllable, word, phrase, exercise, functional activity or a song being produced, see the visual representation and hear it auditorily. It’s like watching a close-up movie of someone talking, singing or performing oral motor activities with subtitles. The VAST technique is also extremely effective in providing specialized therapy to help individuals with motor planning disorders, non-fluent aphasia, apraxia, deaf and hard of hearing, speak for themselves.

App Screen shots



Speech has always been a challenge for individuals on the spectrum. Therapies for non-verbal students may include teaching sing language, gestures, picture exchange and/or voice output devices. To teach verbalizations therapists attempt to have students repeat sounds or words from their model. The idea is that a student watches the therapist articulate the target word, sound and movements then attempts to reproduces those movements or sound(s). This technique does not usually work well due to the challenges students on the spectrum have with making eye contact or looking at a person’s face. It is difficult to see how the articulators move when the ability to look at the face is fleeting. Technology, iPad and iPod, along with the VAST technique, has made it possible to effectively demonstrate how sounds, words, movements and word combinations are produced without the challenges of face to face interactions. Students with autism will intently watch VAST videos on their devices free from the distraction of personal interaction.

When Jake first saw that mouth covering the iPad screen, he looked up and gave me a sweet and silly giggle, but then he instantly zeroed in on those lips and the words almost magically popped out. Now a month and a half later, he is still enjoying these apps. He has mastered the words and phrases and now he is working on the sentences and songs
–Moving Forward in the World of Apraxia Jake’s Journey to be a Little Man – – http://jakes-journey-apraxia.com/tag/vast-autism-1-core-app/

The VAST Autism 1 – Core– Videos are organized into a hierarchy of 5 categories beginning with syllables and ending with sentences. Each video gives a spoken target utterance that is preceded by the written word(s). Each word, phrase and sentence is concrete and has meaning that can be generalized and practiced throughout the day.

Providing the written word(s) will prevent a student from labeling a picture of a frog jumping as “go,” a person lying on a mat as “break time” or labeling a swing as “wee.”

Furthermore, there is significant research that suggests pairing picture symbols with words may actually increase confusion, especially when they represent abstract concepts, have multiple meanings, or serve more than one grammatical function. The ability to recognize the written target word(s) will increase functional communication and enhance acquisition of reading, writing and spoken language.

The progression of VAST-Autism Videos is as follows:

  1. Syllable Repetition
  2. Single Syllable Words
  3. Multi-Syllable Words
  4. Phrases
  5. Sentences

“I absolutely love using this new app with my students with autism. It is without a doubt the most effective oral language app I have used to date with this particular group of students. They love the way the video focuses just on the speaker’s mouth, and they will get right up close to it as they attempt to say the words and phrases along with it. I am just thrilled with the impact it has already had on their speech development. It is clear that a lot of research went into this, because the effect it has on these students is just amazing.”

–Dina Derrick, Speech Pathologist on using VAST Autism – Core

VAST Pre-Speech– Children with apraxia of speech have difficulty planning speech movements of the tongue, lips, palate and jaw (articulators), hindering their development of verbal speech. Some children on the spectrum may have challenges with everyday activities such as blowing their nose, spitting out toothpaste or pocketing food.

This app utilizes the highly effective concept of video modeling and auditory cues to promote awareness of oral structures, coordination, strength, tone, chewing, the swallowing of food, saliva and speech clarity; eventually working towards students gaining the ability to speak for themselves. In clinical trials, the VAST videos have been highly effective in increasing a child’s ability to attend to a communication partner’s mouth in the natural environment.

The VAST Videos are organized into 4 categories:

  1. Pre-Exercises
  2. Oral Motor
  3. Exercises
  4. Making Sounds
  5. Functional



We absolutely LOVE this app!! We practice a little everyday some days more then others. My nephews face lights up seeing the other kids doing the variety of activities. This is a great app to help realize sensory and actions. I have been trying to get him to blow kisses for a year now having no prior interest in it he shocked me by blowing me a surprise kiss out if the blue!!!
I am so happy I discovered you. There are no words to describe my gratitude for what you are doing and offering people like us!!

–By mammakbare

VAST Songs– Singing has been used as an accepted treatment technique in speech therapy for many years. It’s also well known that music stimulates several different areas of the brain. Multiple research studies have shown that stimulating different areas of the brain results in improved speech production. Singing in unison with a visual model has also been demonstrated to have a positive effect on speech production when using familiar songs.

VAST-Songs supplements the accepted use of singing in speech therapy by providing extra cueing, simultaneously hearing the song while following the oral movements. The application was designed to accommodate and then challenge individuals with speech production or fluency problems.



All VAST Videos can be played in full-length or separated playlists this allows the therapist to choose the individual target(s) that best fit their student’s needs. We are in the process of expanding upon this offering through future applications and via the SpeakinMotion web-based platform.

Ongoing clinical trials indicate that students are highly interested in VAST videos, and will almost immediately attempt lip movements or touch their lips in response to the models. After a few short weeks, many students who were essentially non-verbal began word approximations and word attempts more readily. Perhaps, the best and most unexpected therapeutic improvements have bee I the student’s ability to generalize skills. Students actually begin attending to the speaker’s oral motor movements during daily communication and continue learning speech in a more traditional, naturalistic manner.

“The VAST-Autism app is more than AWESOME. My students showed immediate results. To my surprise, after the FIRST trail, they started to vocalize some sounds. You will see amazing results, especially with students who do not respond to traditional speech therapy.”

–Harumi Kato, MS, CCC-SLP

VAST Autism has been extraordinarily effective with older (18-22) non-verbal students with autism. In two individual cases students were attempting word approximations and speaking several one syllable words after one session of watching the VAST videos. One of those students was diagnosed with severe sensory neural hearing loss and autism. He was able to produce four words by the end of his first session.

A word about video modeling-

A significant amount of research has shown video modeling to be rapid and highly effective not only in teaching new behaviors, but also in generalizing and maintaining these behaviors as well. Video Modeling involves the individual or child observing a videotape of a model engaging in a target behavior and subsequently imitating that behavior (see resources).

I love to use the VAST applications with every child that I work with. It has great use for children who are disabled and non-disabled. I recently have been using the app with two children who are considered non-verbal or are limitedly verbal. One of these children suffers from speech apraxia. After using the first lesson I was amazed at how engaged each child was to the app. After using the first lesson three times with the child who has speech apraxia, he was moving his lips as best he could mirroring what words were said on the lesson on my iPad. He has now able to say mama, pa, da, moo, boo and more. The results were incredible and he loved to keep watching the first video over and over again, trying so hard to make the sounds. Just from the first video. He is trying very hard with making the other sounds such as weee, la, oooo and pop. It is easy to see that he is so proud of his progress. He is happy and smiling and utilizing the lessons are not work but are more like a fun game.

–One By One Review

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  1. Johnson, C.P. (2004). Early Clinical Characteristics of Children with Autism. Gupta, V.B.ed: Autistic Spectrum Disorders in Children. New York: Marcel Dekker, Inc.,85-123.
  2. Noens I, van Berchelaer-Onnes I, Verpoorten R, van Duijin G (2006). an instrument for the indication of augmentative communication in people with autism and intellectual disability. J Intellect Disabil Res. 50(9):621-32
  3. Hatch, P. (2009). The effects of daily reading opportunities and teacher experience on adolescents with moderate to severe intellectual disability. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  4. Downing, J.E. (2005). Teaching literacy to students with significant disabilities. Baltimore: Brookes.
  5. Erickson, K, Clendon, S., Abraham, L., Roy, V., & Van de Carr, H. (2005). Toward positive literacy outcomes for students with significant developmental disabilities. Assistive Technology Outcomes and Benefits, 2(1), 45-54.
  6. Pufpaff, L.A., Bilschak, D.M. & Lloyd, L.L. (2000). Effects of modified orthography on the identification of printed words. American Journal on Mental Retardation, 105(1), 14-24.
  7. Mass, E., et al. (2008). Principles of Motor Learning in Treatment of Motor Speech Disorders, American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, Volume 17, 277-289.
  8. Blythe A. Corbett, Ph.D., Video Modeling: A Window into the World of Autism, The Behavior Analyst Today, Volume4, No. 3.

Apps for Autism Highlights “Rainbow Sentences”

Rainbow Sentences        By: Mobile Education Tools



From the Developer

Rainbow Sentences is designed to help students improve their ability to construct grammatically correct sentences by using color coded visual cues. The who, what, where, and why parts of sentences are color coded to help students recognize and understand how combinations of these parts create basic sentence structure.

From the Customer

Teaching students on the spectrum about sentence structure and syntax can be a daunting task. The Mobile Education Store has come up with a fantastic solution to support the acquisition of grammar and sentence structure via color coding.

Word(s) are color coded with lines to match their corresponding place in a sentence giving students important visual supports in building grammatically correct sentences. Color coding can be faded when students become proficient at constructing sentences. Rainbow Sentences offers many other customizable features including three levels of complexity. The first level focuses on who and what, the second level adds the where and the third level incorporates the why of the sentence.

After the students have completed their sentences, they can then record that sentence for self-monitoring and auditory feedback. This recording can be saved in the archive and/or emailed to both parents and educators. Rainbow Sentences also tracks your performance with sentences correct on first attempt. Stats can also be emailed to parents and educators.

Rainbow Sentences has been particularly effective for students that are echolalic or have ritualized speech. It provides a concrete visual and auditory model to generate grammatically correct language.

Pictures used in Rainbow Sentences are cartoon depicting fictional situations. Students who have difficulty distinguishing between fact and fiction may have challenges understanding the figurative nature of the pictures.

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iPad Apps Can Support Evidence-Based Practice

The American Speech-Language, Hearing Association (ASHA) uses a well-known definition put forth by David Sackett and colleagues to define evidence based practices.

“Evidence-based medicine is the integration of best research evidence with clinical expertise and patient values.” (Sackett D et al. Evidence-Based Medicine: How to Practice and Teach EBM, 2nd edition. Churchill Livingstone, Edinburgh, 2000, p.1)

EBP & Autism Spectrum Disorders

According to The National Professional Development Center (NPDC) many interventions for autism exist, only some have been shown to be effective through scientific research. Interventions that researchers have shown to be effective are called evidence-based practices. Currently, the Center has identified 24 evidence-based practices. Follow the link to The National Professional Development center to read the details.

The National Autism Center (NAC) has identified 11 established treatments. Established Treatments are those for which several well-controlled studies have shown the intervention to produce beneficial effects. See The National Autism Center (NAC)
National Standards Report

Below is a list of iPad apps that support evidence based practice for both speech language pathology and autism spectrum disorders. There are hundreds of thousands of apps on the market today and hundreds more every week. The apps represented in the table are only a few examples of what is available. Every student will have individual needs, preferences and characteristics. It is up to the educator/therapist to choose the best “fit” for each student. The table is meant for informational purposes only to illustrate how apps support evidence based practice and to use as you determine appropriate.


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English-Language Arts Content Standards Cross-referenced with Technology- iPad Apps

According to the Content Standards for California Public Schools-“The ability to communicate well–to read, listen and speak- runs to the core of human experience. Language skills are essential tools not only because they serve as the necessary basis for further learning and career development but also because they enable the human spirit to be enriched, foster responsible citizenship and preserve the collective memory of a nation.”

The English-Language Arts Content Standards will serve as a guide for teachers, administrators, parents and other support personnel on when to introduce knowledge and how to sustain the practice of skills leading all students to mastery. This framework will also address the delivery of content-rich curriculum to special-needs students (ELA Content Standards for California Public Schools).

The table below will highlight technology that supports the English-Language Arts (ELA) of Listening and Speaking. The table below is based on California Content Standards For Students with Significant Disabilities.

* The apps & computer-based interventions listed are only a small representation from the thousands of apps and computer based interventions available to support Standards in Education.

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How to Get An iPad For Your Child

Grants, Fundraisers And More!

Over the past two years iPads have proven to be an essential tool in augmenting communication, language, literacy and life skills for students with autism. Unfortunately, not everyone who could benefit from an iPad has access to this wonderful device. Thank goodness there are many incredible people, groups and foundations that are making resources available for everyone to enjoy the benefits of having their own iPad.

Following is a list of websites that offer opportunities to acquire iPads, along with by tips on how to win grants and submit applications. Last, is a list of alternative means of procuring an iPad for your child or student on the spectrum.


Tips For Filling Out An Application

  1. Read and understand the guidelines before starting your application. Follow the guidelines carefully including deadlines and attachments to ensure your application does not end-up in the “round” file.
  2. Be very specific in describing your needs and goals. Remember to answer the 5 (wh) questions; who, what, when, where and why you need an iPad.
  3. Make sure all questions are answered, boxes are filled out, and spelling and grammar are checked. If possible have another set-of-eyes read your application for completeness and double check for errors.
  4. Don’t get discouraged if you do not receive the grant. Keep trying! Remember there are thousands of people trying to get grants and even the most well written applications do not always get funding. Send a thank you note and try again.
  5. If you do get the grant, send a thank you note, photos of the iPad in action and share how the iPad has helped your child or student.

What Else Can I do To Get An iPad?

  1. Website Fundraisers

  2. The following websites will let you set-up accounts so that family and friends can send love and donate funds to your specific campaign.

  3. School District
  4. Try contacting your local school district’s technology department. Most districts have iPad programs in place. If not then inquire about an evaluation for your student.

  5. Happy Holiday
  6. Ask friends and families to forgo the usual presents and give Apple/iTune gift cards for birthday, Christmas, holiday favors, etc. This adds up quickly and most students will have enough funds for an iPad and apps within 4-6 months.

  7. Local Community Groups
  8. Inquire about donations from local businesses, community or charity groups. Many local groups will help with community fundraising by having a pancake breakfast or rummage sale.

  9. Credit Card Points
  10. Many credit cards give points for dollar(s) spent. Points can be redeemed for an iPad or cash to purchase an iPad. Check with your credit card company to see if they double points on certain purchases (gas & groceries).

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Apps for Autism- Feature Matching Table For iPad Cases

What’s The Best Case for My Child

Choosing the right case to protect your iPad and let your child express their individuality is, in some ways, just as important as choosing the right applications. Individuals with autism are using iPads in many different environments and for purposes that are as individual at they are. Below is a feature matching chart that will help you decide what case is right for you.

Table 1 is an example using 5 great cases that have been great fits for my students with autism. At the end of this post there’s a link to download a blank table, use it to help you determine which case fits your particular needs.

Table 1


When considering cases for students with autism or any youngster it is a good idea to make sure it offers protection from drops and bumps. Cases should be able to absorb the shock of a drop as high as a desk as well as the occasional toss.

Spill Proof (indirect spills)

Some cases offer protection from spills by elevating your pad off the surface of a table or desk. By raising your iPad off the surface an area is created between the surface and the iPad this buffer allows spills to simply run off without making contact with the iPad; however, there is no protection from direct spills on the iPad itself. For added protection from liquid spills during messy activities such as lunchtime, place your iPad into a Ziploc plastic bag. There are several Waterproof cases available as well, but they are not recommended for everyday use, however.

Carrying Case

Individuals with autism often use their iPads as a means of communication and need to have it with them throughout their day. A carrying case can make the transportation of an iPad from place to place easy and stylish. Custom made carrying cases can provide extra protection from knocks and falls when traveling from place to place in your busy day.


When the iPad is meant to be used on a student’s desktop or table, then a sturdy stand is an important feature to consider. Stands that let the user adjust angle and move back and forth from landscape to portrait quickly and securely are highly desirable in the classroom environment.

There are hundreds of cases available for the iPad. I choose 5 to highlight that have kept my iPads safe and allowed my students accessibility; however, they are not the only cases appropriate for use for students with autism. Use the feature matching table to determine which iPad case is right for your child or student.

Download the Case Feature Matching Table Here
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Apps For Autism- 2 New & Noteworthy Communication Apps

Over the past two years apps & iPads have proven to be hugely beneficial to individuals on the autism spectrum. There are many well thought-out, research grounded (for individuals with autism) apps that have produced positive outcomes for our students. Unfortunately, there has also been a glut of apps that have come onto the market that are not research based or simply “copycats” of a successful app.

The good news is – There are two new outstanding communication apps that are research based with unique formats and features giving users high quality, distinctive choices for AAC.

Something to Say     By: Pebro Productions

$4.99 until August 1st, $9.99 regular price. Don’t wait get your copy of  Something to Say NOW

Text-to-Speech applications are fantastic AAC options for so many reasons, building literacy, giving the user the ability to say completely original thoughts and store these thoughts into folders for easy access.

Something to Say has created a method to group and store messages into folders that are simple, straightforward and appealing to all ages & abilities. Messages can be customized with choice of high quality “Acapela” voices. Messages are then stored into folders that can be customized with color, text and images.

Screen Shot

Folders are displayed prominently on the screen for easy access. A Recents list will let the user repeat a comment or phrase without risk of inadvertently deleting the message. Text-to-Speech, multiple folders at your fingertips and the ability to assign high quality voices to different messages makes Something to Say an superb AAC solution.


Functional Communication System     By: The Conover Company

$49.99–A keyboard for custom text entry is available as an
in-app purchase for $1.99, definitely worth it!

The Functional Communication System (FCS) can serve for both, communication and language building. Its unique design pairs a real picture with a video that supports or expands upon the picture. All picture, video and voice recordings are customizable. FCS comes with 500 core vocabulary words and videos to get you started, however, it is designed to be customized to the user’s individual needs, abilities and world.

Screen Shot

The in-app purchase for a high quality synthesized voice is absolutely worth the $1.99 if you are working with individual(s) on the spectrum. Research in voice preference indicates that individuals on the spectrum prefer a synthesized voice over a human voice; however, every individual is different. Having the option to choose type of voice output is a key feature for any great AAC app. Try the FREE version to make sure it is a fit before you buy.

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