The Open UniversitySkip to content

The Use of iPads to Enhance Joint Attention Skills in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Mangafa, Chrysoula; Moody, Louise; Woodcock, Andree and Woolner, Alex (2016). The Use of iPads to Enhance Joint Attention Skills in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). In: International Meeting for Autism Research (IMFAR) 2016, 11-14 May 2016, Baltimore, Maryland, USA.

Full text available as:
PDF (Version of Record) - Requires a PDF viewer such as GSview, Xpdf or Adobe Acrobat Reader
Download (333kB) | Preview
DOI (Digital Object Identifier) Link:
Google Scholar: Look up in Google Scholar


Background: iPads are increasingly used in primary schools with reported benefits in communication, independent learning and creativity. Children with autism spectrum disorder have an affinity with mobile technology, which is recognised by the autism research community with many studies emerging in this field. Joint attention (JA) is an essential life skill which can indicate the later development of social communication and language acquisition. It is usually absent or impaired in children with autism, which means that they often find it difficult to share attention with an adult or peer about a toy or activity by keeping eye contact and pointing, but also showing interest to the other person. Research on the use of iPads to develop JA skills in autism is still in infancy.

Objectives: This qualitative study aims to explore primary school teachers’ and parents’ perspectives and experiences of developing JA skills in children with autism using iPads.

Methods: Semi structured interviews with 16 school staff members and nonobtrusive observations of 12 pupils interacting with their teacher using iPads were held in three UK schools. Also, parents of children with autism aged 4-11 years old are currently being interviewed to investigate parents’ practice of developing JA beyond school hours and exploring the iPad’s benefits in promoting JA in different contexts.

Results: All teachers used teaching strategies to promote JA on a daily basis but a few used iPads in their classroom. Participants expressed different opinions about the effectiveness of teaching strategies and iPad use in developing JA. The observations showed that teachers used a variety of evidence based strategies to engage their pupils with autism in JA opportunities but that there was little use of iPads. The iPad was mainly used as a reward, a motivator to direct and sustain pupils’ attention, to practice turntaking and waiting skills and to teach the curriculum. Preliminary findings derived from the semi structured interviews with parents have shown that parents use a variety of social activities to boost their child’s joint attention skills. Their views though were contradictory regarding the iPadTM’s contribution in developing JA skills, with a few parents mentioning that the iPad can be a solitary device that can further isolate their child from daily human interactions while other parents have mentioned that the iPad is a motivating tool used to grasp their child’s attention and teach them JA. Parents have also mentioned that they wish to have stronger links with their child’s school.

Conclusions: The research concludes that schools would benefit from teacher training and dissemination of good practice on how to use iPads for JA purposes. Parents are also interested in discovering how they can best address their children’s needs in cooperation with the schools. To that end, the future steps of this research include creating guidelines about the way to develop JA opportunities at home and school with the use of the iPad as an engaging educational device.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item
Keywords: iPads, joint attention, autism spectrum disorder
Academic Unit/School: Institute of Educational Technology (IET)
Item ID: 52151
Depositing User: Chrysoula Mangafa
Date Deposited: 11 Dec 2017 16:35
Last Modified: 13 Dec 2019 16:49
Share this page:


Altmetrics from Altmetric

Citations from Dimensions

Download history for this item

These details should be considered as only a guide to the number of downloads performed manually. Algorithmic methods have been applied in an attempt to remove automated downloads from the displayed statistics but no guarantee can be made as to the accuracy of the figures.

Actions (login may be required)

Policies | Disclaimer

© The Open University   contact the OU