10 Ways iPads Teach Kids With Learning Disabilities

By now, saying that “the iPad is a great tool for customizing the classroom” wouldn’t exactly be breaking news. But while this holds true for every student, each of whom learns in their own way, iPads are truly a lifeline for students with learning disabilities and the people who work hand-in-hand with them. For these students, iPads act as a translation, communication, and individualization tool with unrivaled effectiveness. In so doing, these devices reduce frustration, build confidence, and, well, just work in teaching students the skills they need to learn to thrive.

Let’s take a look at a few more ways iPads are altering the classroom landscape for students with learning disabilities.

Photo Credit: Brad Flickinger

Why iPads Are Great for Students with Learning Disabilities

1. They’re Intuitive to Use

Unlike many other devices and previous technologies, touch technology is intuitive to use. This means that iPads just make sense for students whose disabilities cause them to struggle with visuospatial awareness, as apps are easily organized and even more natural to navigate.

Likewise, for students with motor impairments, touchscreen technology is much more in sync with how their bodies move. They are, for example, more likely to be able to tap and swipe than point and click. It is also easier to keep their eyes attuned to one spot (the screen) than it is to visually shift between the screen and the keyboard.

As such, the iPad can actually make an effective bridge technology in developing these motor skills, as we can see in the case study of Vincent, a student with Down syndrome, detailed in this Mashable article. In sticking just to the screen and writing with his finger, Vincent developed the same fine motor skills he would need to a hold pencil. In this way, the iPad is not only easier for students with motor impairments to use, but it is also an effective way to improve motor skills.

2. They Keep Students From Getting Overwhelmed

All students have their learning strengths and weaknesses; it’s just that they’re pronounced in students with learning disabilities. As such, what might seem like a simple task to one student might be overwhelming to another. This is overwhelming to students with learning disabilities, and can lead to both frustration and inefficiency.

iPads help to mitigate this problem through a diversity of apps that address just about every kind of skill out there. So, if a student struggles with one skill that’s required to complete a bigger assignment, they can review and develop that skill in an app before tackling the bigger task.

3. They Customize the Learning Environment

Another aspect to this focusing is that iPads are multisensory, meaning that students can take the learning approach that makes the most sense for them. This, too, keeps students from getting distracted by approaches that aren’t crucial to the learning at hand, and instead are just meant to be a route to it. If that particular route doesn’t speak to them, they don’t need to attend to it, and can concentrate on what’s really important.

iPads aren’t just effective for customization during solo-work; they’re great during class, too, as a way of translating the teacher’s processing style into one that students intuitively understand. A student who process the world in an aural manner, for example, can record lectures and convert them to notes later so that they can pay the most attention in class, rather than scrambling to write everything down when doing so will only prove distracting. For visual thinkers like students with autism, teachers might provide a photo-heavy version for their lecture for the student to peruse as they teach. And of course, the iPad can be used to augment any student’s class experience, as they can look up any information or definition they don’t understand in medias res.

4. They Help Students With Learning Disabilities Communicate

For more nonverbal students, there are many touch-to-speak apps (technologies that used to be prohibitively expensive) to help them communicate, including Proloquo2Go, Assistive Express, and Yes|No. Respectively, these apps give students a voice through touch, predict sentence completion, or simply let students answer “yes” or “no” quickly to questions. Apps like these not only ensure students with learning disabilities are heard, but they also take the pressure off of them to say something “right,” in turn helping them be more expressive overall.

5. They Can Be Therapeutic Tools

iPads aren’t just about navigating and translating the classroom for students with learning disabilities. They also provide access to apps that learning specialists can use to work concertedly on building up very specific skills. In fact, iTunes has a section devoted specifically to special education apps that teach everything from sign language to life skills.

6. They Can Build Social Awareness

Technology is often viewed as a significant source of social disconnect. But for students who need help building their social skills in a more intellectual manner, iPads are a fantastic tool. Meetings on FaceTime, for instance, may help students focus specifically on reading facial cues. This can be further developed through apps in the aforementioned special education section of the iTunes store that are focused on emotional development. These apps provide much needed teaching and practice.

7. They Help Track Behavior

Of course, it’s important to track the behavior of all students, so that you know who is following through on their homework and where weaknesses lie. However, it is even more pressing for students with learning disabilities not only for tracking their very specific improvements, but also in pinpointing exactly where their difficulties lie. This is helpful first in achieving a diagnosis, and then in honing it. After all, many students with learning disabilites don’t fall neatly into one category, and the more precise the data we have on how they learn, the easier it will be to really pinpoint what’s going on.

8. They’re Great for Organization

Many students with learning disabilities struggle with organization (though not all for the same reasons). With an iPad, students won’t lose their homework, worksheets, books, and forms, as it will all be centralized. Imagine how many hours you’ll get back when you’re not sitting there waiting for your student to dig through the piles of pages in his or her backpack!

9. They Don’t Come With a Stigma

Students with learning disabilities already feel like they’re on the margins of the class’ social sphere, and interventions that are entirely different from methods the rest of the class is using only accentuate that feeling. However, unlike previous techniques and devices, iPads are entirely “normal” and even cool. If a student with a learning disability is one of the few in the classroom with an iPad, other students may even be jealous. Alternatively, if the whole class has iPads, your student with a learning disability will fit right in — and who has to know that they’re doing anything different from the rest of the class?

10. They Can Soothe Students Who Struggle Emotionally

Last but not least, teachers and learning specialists can add soothing music to their student’s iPad, to help them calm down during emotional moments or plugin and tune everything else out when they need to concentrate.

In Short

iPads and iPad apps can radically alter an student with a learning disability’s experience in the classroom for the better. How have you seen them best put to use? Let us know in the comments below!


  1. Yvonne Gutierrez

    December 22, 2014 at 10:45 pm

    I enjoy the positives shared using iPads with students learning disabilities. When writing an article to promote students with learning disabilities it would be advised to use “people first language”. It is not LD students. It’s students with a learning disability. The learning disability does not guide the student.

    • Leah Levy

      December 25, 2014 at 6:32 pm

      Excellent point, thanks for pointing this out. I’ll go through this post-holidays and make sure we get the correct phrasing in!

  2. Ryan

    December 29, 2014 at 12:19 am

    Really powerful stuff here. Technology is great for kids–especially those with learning disabilities. Thanks for sharing.

    • Leah

      December 29, 2014 at 5:43 pm

      Thank you, glad you found it helpful!

  3. George

    December 29, 2014 at 8:53 pm

    Just one thing that was left out. What about text entry ie writing short stories and the like which requires a keyboard.

    Computers are for producing content, tablets are for consuming content

    • Lisa

      January 26, 2015 at 7:46 am

      I would disagree with the statement “writing requires a (traditional) keyboard” and “tablets are only for consuming”. I work with K-12 students with learning differences and they compose quite well using the glass keyboard, builtin word prediction, or Siri to dictate their thoughts and ideas. The iPad’s accessibility tools also make it possible to have their writing read back to them to edit for clarity. It’s about changing a student’s perception of a tablet from a toy to a tool and helping arm them with the skills needed to take advantage to breakdown learning barriers.

  4. Cristen Carson Reat

    December 31, 2014 at 7:11 pm

    I love the issues that this article points out, especially referring to the iPad serving as a “lifeline” for some students with disabilities. This has certainly been true in our case, as the ‘Vincent’ mentioned in the original Mashable article is my son. As Vincent has grown older and gained new skills, the iPad continues to be the key tool that assists him in the classroom. This device’s ability to customize content, visually display information to his needs, and the most important of all – the control that he has to do similar work to his typically developing peers – means more independence and more meaningful learning. Thanks Leah Levy for a wonderful article! Please note that SNApps4Kids has changed its name to BridgingApps.org, and we are interested in how mobile devices like the iPad can bridge the gap between technology and people with disabilities.

    • Leah

      January 2, 2015 at 11:01 am

      Wow, thank you so much for reaching out, Cristen, and for sharing your and Vincent’s story with the world. You have a wonderful perspective and background to share, which I’m sure has proved helpful to any number of educators. We are currently putting together our editorial schedule for the next year and would love to reach out to you later on for future articles on this topic. Would that be okay? If so, please send me an email at leah at edudemic.com so we can be sure to reach out to you in the future. Kudos to you and Vincent in all of his progress!

  5. Merryn

    January 7, 2015 at 10:31 am

    My son has had his iPad for nearly a year now and has special needs apps in it also jigsaws and colouring too . It has helped him with recognizing different colours and shapes. And i hate to say he plays his angry birds too

  6. Macarena

    January 18, 2015 at 11:12 am

    I had a great experience using ipad apps with a child with Dyslexia in Third Grade this past year. The best is the multisensory approach. He was able to create, draw, write and record his learning. He was so motivated that he didn’t even realized how much he was reading or doing with the ipad!