iPads could 'vastly improve' lives of children with eye disorders

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Children with a form of visual impairment that prevents them from interpreting images and objects could benefit from using iPads, according to a new study.

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American researchers from the University of Kansas examined whether using an iPad with children with cortical visual impairment (CVI), a severe neurological disorder resulting from brain damage that prevents children from interpreting visual information, can vastly improve the lives of those living with the condition.

To determine whether an iPad can benefit children with CVI, a team from the university’s Life Span Institute used an iPad as a possible light box substitute with 15 pre-school and school-aged children with the disorder. Therapists commonly use lightboxes with CVI children as it helps them to see lights and objects.

Professor Muriel Saunders, who led the study, said, 'Every single child was enthralled with the iPad. Children that typically didn't look at people, didn't respond with objects or responded in a very repetitious fashion, were absolutely glued to the iPad. It was an amazing experience.'

The apps that the children were encouraged to use on the iPad were simple and age- appropriate. One app was called Baby Finger, which requires users to touch the screen and sounds, images and coloured shapes appear on a white background. They also looked at one of the Dr Seuss books.

The researchers found that the children with the disorder, who typically don’t look at people or respond to objects, were drawn to the device because of its bright screen, interactivity, sounds and colour, which they say are more engaging to children.

Professor Sanders said, ‘A child with a severe CVI will spend a lot of time looking at lights. They might just sit and look at light inside the house, or typically they look out of the window into the bright sunlight. They might look briefly at something passing by, but they don’t look at faces, and they don’t look at objects. So they appear blind.’

‘Using the iPad, not only can children interact with a screen, but we can teach them through a series of steps to control things on that screen.’

She added, ‘Early intervention in the lives of children living with CVI is not just crucial to their development; it also could help them to gain better vision as they grow. The iPad could be a crucial part of this life-changing therapy.

Ms Saunders is currently conducting initial tests of the iPad in co-operation with the Junior Blind of America in Los Angeles.


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