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Which iPad Should You Buy For A Person With Autism?

December 9, 2012   Comments (0)

How To's Technology iPad, iPhone & Apps


ipad, autismApple's iPad has been nothing short of a godsend for not only my son, but for countless other people who have Autism. My guy, Michael, uses his as a communication device, visual timer, teaching tool, video player, never-ending source of entertainment and a myriad of other functions too numerous to mention here. So it's no surprise that many parents, family members and caregivers of those on the Spectrum are in the market for one of these must-have devices.

But when it comes time to actually making the purchase, the decision can understandably be overwhelming. Do you choose the newer iPad with Retina display, or go for its older and less expensive predecessor, the iPad 2?  Or what about the iPad Mini - maybe it will suffice? Is the Wi-Fi option alone enough, or should you get a model with 3G or Cellular capabilities as well? What about buying a first generation used model?

While in an ideal world, we would all love to own that souped-up Retina display, in the real world where every dollar counts, this may very likely just not be possible. However, the good news is that it's probably not even necessary when other models would be able to meet your special user's needs just as well.

I hope that this summary will help you sort through these and other questions and enable you to make an informed decision that offers your guy or gal the joy and benefits that my son's iPad has given to him - without breaking the bank.


Capacity refers to the size of the hard drive – how much the iPad will "hold", if you will. The smaller the hard drive, the fewer photos, movies, music, apps and other data it can store. Here are some rough guidelines that may help put this into perspective for you...

  • There are roughly 1,000 Megabytes (MB) in a Gigabyte (GB)
  • The average song takes up about 1 MB
  • A high-resolution photo takes up about 2 MB
  • A standard definition movie takes up about 2 GB
  • A high definition movie takes up around 4 - 6 GB
  • Simple apps are very small, but the more sophisticated ones can take up to 500 MB or more

Michael has an older 2nd generation iPad with 64 GB and he has just a little over 12.2 GB remaining empty. Check out this screen capture taken from his device to get an idea of what he has on it.

As you can see, he really does benefit from having this large hard drive. He has over 1,300 photos on it that his therapists are constantly taking on outings, etc. and adding to his augmentative communication system, activity schedules, etc. He's also able to enjoy a selection of over 80 videos, lots of apps, tons of songs, etc.

If you can't swing that large a capacity, don't worry. It doesn't take a lot of effort or time to switch up the movies, songs, apps etc. you want on your device using iTunes and then running a sync between your computer and iPad.

Physical Size – iPad/iPad 2 or iPad Mini?

Bigger is not always better. Here's my take on the pros and cons of each of the two iPad sizes...

We don't have an iPad Mini but I've seen it in the stores and it is a sweet little gadget. I love it because it could so nicely fit easily inside my purse  – ready to pull out in a restaurant, mall or wherever I go with Michael. Measuring 7.87" wide x 5.3" deep and weighing in at just under .7 lbs, it is extremely portable compared to the larger iPad that measures 9.5" x 7.31" and weighs almost double. And with a mini size, comes a mini price, which certainly makes it an attractive option.

But (there's always a but, isn't there?!) what you save in money, size and weight by going for the Mini, you give up in "screen real estate" as the techies call it. Maybe your user would be satisfied with this smaller display. If he is using his device to watch movies and run the majority of apps out there, it may just do the trick. However, when I would think twice about going with the Mini is if you require the iPad to serve as an alternative or augmentative communication device. The smaller the screen, the fewer words, pictures or symbols you can fit on its screen or the smaller these items will appear. This will probably not be ideal for a person who has communication deficits or has fine motor challenges that may not allow him to accurately touch a smaller symbol on a screen without inadvertently pushing other links by mistake.

How Important Is That Retina Display?

My younger, "neurotypical" son cherishes his Retina display computer. He just loves that extra level of sharpness and clarity while watching his high-def movies and playing those highly sophisticated games that don't interest Michael the slightest bit. Last time I went to the Apple Store, I set a Retina display beside a non-Retina one and my aging eyes honestly couldn't see a difference! Then there's Michael... most of his movies are not high-def and I honestly don't think he cares or would notice the difference either. Furthermore, his screen is usually caked in a lovely film of sticky-bun residue and whatever else he had for lunch before he went to play his favorite Barney movie. The sophisticated Retina display technology would simply be lost on him. We don't miss it.

The Camera

If you're looking to take high-definition photos, the iPad 2 isn't for you as only the Retina Display and Mini offer the HD option. You also won't be able to shoot HD videos with the iPad 2 or benefit from features like video stabilization, face detection and backside illumination. Like the Retina display, I personally see all of these features as luxury items that we simply do not need. The images we take with Michael's iPad are more than clear enough for him to utilize and enjoy.

To save money, some of you might consider purchasing a first generation iPad. This may very well meet your needs but bear in mind that these devices do not have built-in cameras.

Is Wi-Fi Enough Or Do You Need Cellular Or 3-G As Well?

Some basic definitions may be in order here. Feel free to skip them if you're up to speed on this lingo already!

Wi-Fi: This refers to the wireless connections to the Internet that often exist in libraries, hotels, airports, coffee shops and the list goes on. Some districts in cities - or even entire cities themselves – offer them these days. You may even have a Wi-Fi network in your own home. Often they are offered free of charge but sometimes you need to purchase access to them.

Cellular: In Apple-speak, this is the term for 3G, which is short for 3rd generation of mobile telecommunications technology. In a nutshell, when we talk about 3G on an iPad, we're referring to the iPad's ability to access the Internet from the network of a carrier like AT&T, Verizon, Bell, etc. on their 3G network You would have to purchase a data plan from such a carrier (usually monthly) to get this access.

LTE: This term is short for Long-Term Evolution and is also known as 4G LTE. Its description would be very much like that of 3G's provided above, with the exception that LTE is significantly faster than 3G.

So what's your need for speed? Ours is honestly not that great as Michael does just fine with his 3G connection. Again, the LTE option would of course be nice, but I see it as being more of a luxury than a need.

The more difficult question to answer is, do you need a device that can access a Cellular or LTE network? Let's break this question down to help you find a solution that works best for your situation:

a) Does your user need regular access to the Internet in order to use social networks like Facebook, etc.; send emails; watch YouTube videos (one of Michael's favorite pastimes), do Google searches, etc.?

b) If you answered "yes" to question a, will you usually be in a place where there is a Wi-Fi network? If so, then my answer would be that you can make do with a device that only has Wi-Fi. In my own experience however, we are not yet at this point as a society where there are networks everywhere. So, if you need the Internet available to you at all times, getting a device that is 3G- or LTE-friendly is a must.

c) Will you be using GPS technology? If you don't think this could be relevant to a person with Autism, think again! Michael uses a fantastic augmentative communication app called TalkRocket Go. One of the primary things that sets this unique app apart from its competitors is its ability to recognize where its user is through GPS technology and pop up the appropriate vocabulary automatically. So, for example, when Michael walks into a Starbucks, his vocab pictures of his favorite oatmeal cookie and "Venti" apple juice almost magically appear on his iPad screen. Pretty cool, huh? But you need to have access to the Internet in order to make this amazing feature work.

Tethering – A Handy Little Trick!

Here's a little trick I figured out that I'll let you in on... Michael really depends on having constant access to the Internet. But getting a separate data package for his iPad is pretty pricey. Here's a workaround that we have used with great success...

Michael also has an iPhone. He is often out with his therapists and I like them to have the comfort of knowing they can reach me or emergency services for that matter, at any time. I also like having the ability to use the iPhone function, "Find My iPhone", to locate him whenever I feel the need. This amazing app gives me huge peace of mind as Michael does have the tendency to wander. (While indeed I could use this app with his iPad, it is more likely that his iPhone would always be on him as he is very accustomed to wearing it on a lanyard around his neck at all times while an iPad he could easily set down and not have on his person.)

So here's what we do. I pay for both a cell and data plan on his iPhone, and then use a feature on his phone to create a "Personal Hotspot" which essentially sets up a wireless network. He then accesses this Wi-Fi network on his iPad, thereby gaining access to the Internet without having or needing the Cellular or LTE features on his iPad. This is called "tethering" and it's a huge cost-savings as it eliminates the need for two data plans. If you are considering going this route, just double-check with your cellular carrier first as some companies charge for tethering while others like ours, do not.

Guided Access

Guided Access is a nifty new feature that Apple recently came out with when they released OS6, their latest operating system for the iPad and iPhone. It can prevent a user from leaving an app, deactivate the touch sensitivity of the entire iPad screen or part of it, plus many other features that I've demonstrated in my video tutorial, "How To Make Your iPad Autism-Compatible With Guided Access". If you are thinking about buying a used iPad, note that the older first generation iPads cannot run OS6 and therefore, would not be able to operate this feature.

Should You Buy AppleCare?

My opinion on this one – a definitive "yes!" Apple's standard 90-day warranty just doesn't cut it – especially when the primary user is a person with Autism who may not have the motor skills or ability to understand "handle with care." Their "AppleCare+" extends coverage to two years from the original purchase date and adds up to two incidents of accidental damage coverage. A wise buy, if you ask me!

Buying Used

I would not recommend getting a first generation iPad in that as I mentioned, they do not have cameras and cannot support Guided Access. However, if you could get a good deal on a used 2nd generation iPad, that would be something I'd definitely consider. When the 2nd generation devices were intially released, they were available with either 16, 32 or 64 GB hard drives, the latter of which Michael has. However, if you purchase a brand new 2nd generation iPad from Apple now, it is only available with 16 GB which you could find limiting. If you were able to score one of these 32 or 64 GB models used, the lack of warranty might just be offset by the great deal you get on the device. And who knows... maybe you'll luck out and find one with some AppleCare left on it. Wouldn't that be nice!?

December 9, 2012   Comments (0)

How To's Technology iPad, iPhone & Apps

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