iPads give special-needs students a voice

Nine-year-old student Alana walks into Hughes Take Away and places an iPad on the counter.

Her fingers glide across the screen, flicking between views and pushing buttons before a voice from the device's speakers says, ''Hello, I'd like to order fish cocktails.'' Alana completes the request with a smile.

Store owner Nita Dorizas asks, ''Would you like a drink as well?''and Alana pushes more buttons. ''Yes. Fruit juice. Apple,'' her device replies.

The Malkara School student, who has a moderate intellectual disability that prevents her from speaking, is among dozens of special-needs students finding a voice through the wonders of technology.

The iPad is not the first device to offer voice output programs but it is proving to be the most adaptable and affordable for families who have paid up to $20,000 in the past.

And they're not the only ones realising the benefits of Apple's latest technological phenomenon. Schools across the ACT have pounced on the devices as hundreds of new ''apps'' designed specifically for the classroom become available.

Malkara School principal Jennie Lyndsay said her staff were constantly amazed by the speed and tenacity with which students take to the games. ''We have children with severe intellectual disabilities flicking across three or four pages and opening and closing programs to find the app they like, even though they have to navigate several layers to get there.''

The children were so eager to play the games they were cementing memory, concentration, coordination and literacy skills while also building social skills such as sharing.

Cranleigh Special School principal Sue Roche added that the fun nature of the programs meant children were much more likely to retain what they learn.

''Students with intellectual disabilities often learn through repetition, but over a six-week holiday period all that information can easily be lost,'' she said.

''These iPads can be taken home to give a child practice ...''

At least 20 families at Malkara School have indicated they will be buying iPads for their children this Christmas and mainstream schools are indicating a similar interest.

The ACT Education and Training Directorate has issued iPads to all principals, Namadgi School has bought 70 for its students and Canberra Grammar and Radford College either have, or will, buy up to 200 devices.

Namadgi deputy principal and IT coordinator Lea Chatuis said her school was using the tablet computers to target poor NAPLAN performers as well as entice disengaged students back to school.

At Canberra Grammar and Radford, students are using the apps to edit scripts in drama, create films in media studies and visualise scientific theories.