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iPad Knowledge Machines & Autism

Published on August 16, 2012


No matter what the stress and distress of life is, we need to move forward no matter what—especially if children are part of our lives. For my part I am pressing forward with the best that life has to offer in the area of education. This past week brought me some unexpected delight—the realization of an old dream—the creation of the Einstein Galileo School, which is based on the use of knowledge machines as predicted by Seymour Papert, co-founder of the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at MIT almost 25 years ago.

“Monotonous and uninteresting classes repel students and make it unpleasant to learn. The possibility of freely exploring worlds of knowledge calls into question the very idea of an administered curriculum. There is no doubt in many people’s minds today that traditional modes of learning just do not work anymore. Schools will either change very radically or simply collapse,” wrote Papert.

I had to wait many years to find what qualifies for a knowledge machine. Recently I had to purchase an iPad for my staff, which is busy building newly-formatted ePub files for the iPad and the Kindle. I was so impressed that I bought a second one and hired a teacher to come in and facilitate the use of two I now own with my three young children for learning English, which is a second language for them.

The iPad & Autism

The autism community has already discovered and used these machines to help lift their children out of their foggy mental and emotional states. Autism experts like Dr. Martha Herbert, an assistant professor of neurology at Harvard Medical, agrees about the iPad’s usefulness for autistic children. The disorder, which affects as many as one out of 100 children or more in the U.S. according to the latest CDC information, is providing us an education for what the iPad can do for every child.

Dr. Herbert said that these kids have “no control over the pace of information coming at them.” But the iPad remedies the situation for them so they begin to learn and express themselves with this communication interface, one that will eventually sweep away the world of education.

Essentially the iPad makes the difference between communicating with the outside world and being locked into a closed state, not only with autistic children but also with children in general who can all benefit enormously from this fantastic educational tool.

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The iPad lets kids have direct control over the interface, unlike a laptop that uses a keyboard and a mouse. For autistic kids, different programs provide ways for kids to communicate desires and feelings in a way that would not be possible otherwise. For young children, including toddlers, it is no different. This is a tool for even the youngest and will stimulate all who use it to grow and expand their awareness.

For severely autistic people, communication is often impossible, leaving them unable to convey what they want or need. The touch-screen apps designed for tablet computers like the iPad are now giving autistic people new ways to express themselves, some for the first time.

But it’s not only autistic children who cannot express themselves well. Depressed children are often as hopelessly locked inside themselves as autistic children can be and parents often feel that their kids understand more and know more than they’re able to communicate.

It turns out that autistic children show a real interest in the iPad with its easy touch-and-swipe screens. With specially-designed applications, or apps, these computers are helping these children communicate and escape from the isolation they feel.

The iPad gives a sense of control to children at all levels and phases of development. They know when they touch it that something is supposed to happen—and for them it happens upon first touch.

Electronic tablets like the iPad are a revolutionary educational tool and are becoming part of childhood. According to a late 2011 survey of 2,200 parents and children in Britain and the United States, 15% of kids between three and eight had used their parents’ iPad; 9% had their own iPad.

Descrição: A Brazilian boy looks at an iPad

Educators are finding a lot of practical applications for it. Jamestown Elementary School has a growing cache of iPads, about 100 for 600 students. The school uses its tablets for everything from writing to math to reading graphic novels. Special education assistant Lesley McKeever uses an iPad to get her student, an affectionate autistic boy who can’t speak, to learn to connect words with images by touching the right picture on the screen. Touch technology has been so helpful for students with autism that the school provides enough iPads for every student in the special education classroom.

Professor Sherry Turkle, director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self says, “I think that the touch pad is a very important moment because the touch pad makes our devices feel more like an extension of ourselves.” The touch-screen devices appeal to a sentiment that pretty much everyone can relate to, which is the desire to directly touch the universe through exploration through the senses. The iPad thus hits directly on the hearts of adults who desire to be a kid again.

“The fantasy of using your body to control the virtual is a child’s fantasy of their body being connected to the world. That’s the child’s earliest experience of the world and it kind of gets broken up by the reality that you’re separate from the world,” says Turkle.

Music teacher Adam Goldberg in Queens, NY has successfully integrated the iPad into his class. Most of Goldberg’s students are on the autism spectrum and often have difficulty communicating, socializing and concentrating. Yet, with an iPad in front of them, they have been able to play complex music compositions.
The iPad’s intuitive ease of use enables the students to get past the technical hurdles and steep learning curves of traditional instruments so they can start expressing themselves through music straight away. “So many barriers are broken,” Goldberg says.

And beyond the physical constraints the iPad has helped lift, Goldberg says he’s witnessed a social phenomenon occur in his classroom. Students who traditionally had issues communicating their wants or needs seemed to suddenly be unlocked by their music, expressing themselves creatively. “I see them supporting each other. They compliment each other. They help each other out,” Goldberg told “It is just magical, really a beautiful thing to see.”

The iPad has become a voice for students as well as their eyes and memory and many other things that children cherish. How we learn, who we learn from, how much we love the process, the flow of it all, and the result is what is important, and these factors are all maximized with what becomes the cherished use of the iPad.

The Knowledge Machine

Long before the World Wide Web or even PCs were, Seymour Papert was proclaiming the educational value of computers. He said, “Children, of course, come into the world as very powerful, highly competent learners, and the learning they do in the first few years of life is actually awesome. A child exploring the immediate world does that pretty thoroughly in an experiential, self-directed way. But when you see something in your immediate world that really represents something very far away—a picture of an elephant, for example—you wonder how elephants eat. You can’t answer that by direct exploration. So you have to gradually shift over from experiential learning to verbal learning—from independent learning to dependence on other people, culminating in school, where you’re totally dependent, and somebody is deciding what you learn.”

“So that shift is an unfortunate reflection of the technological level that society has been at up to now. And I see the major role of technology in the learning of young children as making that shift less abrupt, because it is a very traumatic shift. It’s not a good way of preserving the kid’s natural strengths as a learner.”

With the iPad children are much freer to explore knowledge by direct exploration, whether it’s information or exploration by getting into his sources, or finding other people to talk about it.

Papert from the MIT Media Laboratory long ago proposed the term “Knowledge Machine” to describe the ultimate product of the present efforts oriented towards modern knowledge access systems. Primitive harbingers of the Knowledge Machine have already arrived in the form of the World Wide Web, multimedia CD-ROM knowledge systems, and interactive television, but now we have the iPad, which is an excellent educational and childhood developmental amplification tool that lets children touch their way to information, wisdom and experience.

According to Papert, we are entering the “age of learning” during which time the “competitive ability is the ability to learn.” It is the revolution in technology that has simultaneously brought about the need for improvements in learning as well as providing the opportunity to improve “learning environments.” New technologies will enhance learning particularly for children through “the creation of personal media capable of supporting a wide range of intellectual styles.”

Apple says quite correctly that the iPad inspires creativity and hands-on learning with features not found in any other educational tool—on a device that students really want to use. Powerful built-in apps and apps from the App Store, like iTunes U, let students engage with content in interactive ways, find information in an instant, and access an entire library wherever they go. And with iBooks textbooks, iPad takes learning to a whole new level.

For hundreds of years, textbooks have put a world of knowledge in the hands of students. But while the way people learn has changed dramatically, the traditional textbook has stayed the same. Apple has created a tool for publishing textbooks that kids will not want to put down.


A Multi-Touch textbook on iPad is a gorgeous, full-screen experience full of interactive diagrams, photos and videos. No longer limited to static pictures to illustrate the text, now students can dive into an image with interactive captions, rotate a 3D object, or have the answer spring to life in a chapter review. They can flip through a book by simply sliding a finger along the bottom of the screen. Highlighting text, taking notes, searching for content, and finding definitions in the glossary are just as easy. And with all their books on a single iPad, students will have no problem carrying them wherever they go.

Don’t laugh at this ease of mobility. Heavy backpacks literally weigh students down. It’s no secret that paper textbooks are heavy. But what you may not know is that backpack weight is an increasing problem among kids. Studies show that heavy backpacks can lead to both chronic back pain and poor posture—and many kids are carrying a quarter of their body weight in textbooks.

The iPad as a learning machine provides a more engaging learning experience, which improves student performance. Students at Riverside Unified School District have said that using an iPad makes learning and doing homework more enjoyable. Their teachers confirmed that students seem more eager to participate thanks to the iPad.

The iPad makes a great tool for self-directed, independent learning. There’s no shortage of educational apps on any given subject, from American history to advanced biology. Anybody interested in learning music theory or brushing up on a particular instrument has a wide range of tablet-based tools to help them do so.



It is truly difficult for us to face the truth that education, as we know it, does more harm than good. Today the word “education” means something quite different than what it means in the dictionary. Instead of being a productive and thought-stimulating process wherein the desire to learn takes place, it is often hurtful and abusive to our children. Schools, instead of creating ideal conditions for learning, create environments for the retardation of learning. Students themselves feel the wrongness of education and respond accordingly.

No matter what tests show, very little of what is taught in schools is learned, very little of what is learned is remembered, and very little of what is remembered is used. – John Holt

What students are forced to learn they forget quickly! The prime directive of my school for my own children is to find each one’s unique passion for learning—find and guide each child along a path that shines of their love of learning what they want to learn in ways that work best for them.

Then I will bring what we do into the far interior highlands of Brazil to a little sleepy town at the end of the world, which is where I built my Sanctuary. There our project will support the public school by giving out an iPad to as many students as we can afford.

Perceptual Psychology – The Rainbow Body

The foundation of the Einstein Galileo School rests on top of revolutionary insights gained through a multiple view of intelligence. It is not just about computer-based learning with advanced knowledge machines.

I have designed an educational approach that will bring out the latent talents and enthusiasm for learning in each student and we will do that by “blending intelligence in education.” This means our school will pay attention to physical, social, intellectual, emotional, conceptual, intuitive, and imaginative levels of teaching and learning. Each of these perceptual levels has an associated color that very much determines our inner processes in both personality and being.

One of the great aspects of the whole iPhone and iPod Touch eco-system, from which the iPad evolved, is the number of free and cheap apps written for these devices. The iPad takes advantage of this existing situation and, given the current financial situation for most schools, the resource of free and affordable software

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Dr. Mark Sircus AC., OMD, DM (P)

Director International Medical Veritas Association
Doctor of Oriental and Pastoral Medicine

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  • Indeed. iPad has been widely used to deal with autism. And it is resulting with great progress and positive outcomes too. This is also supported with the increasing number of apps you can get for people with special needs. Definitely, it is also great for children with autism since those apps can give so much differences in their education.

  • Dear Dr. Sircus,

    Concerning iPad and wireless radiation, please take a look at these new videos:

    Then read the letter written by Dr. Martha Herbert, a Harvard Neurologist who specializes in Pediatric Neurology, explaining her research and concern that WiFi damages children’s brain function, and that children with compromised neurological condition are at even greater risks.

    And the advice from these doctors’ groups:

    Wireless technology offers convenience, but the stake for children is high. Not worth risking their health and safety. Better use wired computers.

  • Dear Dr. Sircus,

    Whenever your emails come in, they are always the first things I read that day. I have learned SO MUCH from you. Imagine my surprise when I found today’s topic is about teaching your little children to read in English! Now, I am delighted to have an area in which I can share and give back something of value to you. You see, your book on magnesium gave me the necessary beginnings two years ago to help my husband deal with the cardiologists’ statement that he “must go home, put his affairs in order, and stop driving ” (ventricular tachycardia! Get ready to die at any moment!) Because of your knowledge, he deferred their vision of his limited future, and is healthier than ever, free of virtually all cardiac issues, and able to work and play like a man at least a decade younger than his age. How can I ever repay you? Your shared information enabled us to take those first frightening but determined steps to save his life!

    Watch your inbox. I am going to send you an email with several attachments. They have nothing to do with technology, and are in fact at the furthest extreme from technology. You will find samples of a unique method for teaching reading which I developed more than twenty years ago when I was a school psychologist. They are the same samples people write to request after reading about our “visual-conceptual method” on our website. These materials were my effort to help children who had been unable to learn to read by the usual methods. Some were “special needs children,” beyond the ordinary ADD/ADHD student. Some were bright and motivated, but were “right brain visual learners,” lost in a world of phonics which expected them to connect arbitrary sounds to arbitrary shapes and then be able to blend those sounds into whole words. Soon, regular class room teachers found ALL their students learned faster with my program and incorporated it into their regular curriculum, with startling results. Home schoolers found them a godsend. Please try the samples out with your youngest, and let me know if they liked them, and if they were successful. Then, please go to our website, and read all about this program that allows beginning readers of all ages, abilities, and descriptions, to typically make six MONTHS of reading progress in just six WEEKS of exposure. If you find your children enjoy the fun of learning to read with this unusual method, it will be my distinct honor and joy to send a gift of PMR materials for you and your children!

    I hope you will take a few minutes to read the story of How It All Began on our website. Since the days twenty years ago, when I made funny little picture words on cards by hand for little failing girls and boys, Picture Me Reading! has helped many thousands of children in all fifty states and at least twenty foreign countries in the delightful adventure of learning to read. >From the heartwarming feedback we receive, autistic children and other special needs students are especially successful with PMR! when nothing else has worked. How fortunate is that! Forty years ago, when I was in grad school, only 1 in 10,000 children was autistic; now the rate is 1 in less than 100! With PMR, children for whom English is a foreign language learn to read AND speak the language at the same time, at a remarkable rate. No expensive tech tools are needed; no computers; just a deck of 220 flash cards and the book(s) you and your child wish to read! It is so simple a young child of eight or nine can teach younger siblings to read! NO special training is needed. Your school may be your deck, your living room, in the park or beside a stream. I have even taught a lesson in the back seat of the family van on the way to Disneyland!

    This is how it works. We specialize in teaching the most used abstract words in the language, those which are called “sight words” because so many of them must simply be memorized and cannot be decoded phonetically — words like “once, laugh, eight, was, of, could, etc.” The list is called the Dolch Word List, after the man who determined this vocabulary is critical for reading at any level — but especially critical for beginning readers because early reading texts consist of up to 80% of these abstract words! The child who can recognize instantly 8 out of 10 words in the sentence he is reading, can generally decode the remaining two using context clues, phonics, or even the illustrations of the story. When the 220 Dolch Words, usually strung out over three years of instruction are taught FIRST, they make the acquisition of phonics MUCH easier, and students joyfully read with comprehension for information and entertainment from the first day. We don’t teach a list of words, we teach the children the words they need to read meaningful and entertaining material, right from the first lesson. Many of our students are reading Dr. Seuss books within a couple of months!

    Typical picture dictionaries feature a sketch, accompanied by a word below or above it. Our flash cards feature a word with a sketch incorporated within the body of the word, which helps the child learn the concept of the word. A sentence using the word is given on the back of the flashcard, for use in teaching. This is necessary because most abstract words cannot be represented by a picture, without explaining it. Thus far, we have combined right brain visual learning with left brain language learning. For the English speaker, this is sufficient. After a few exposures in games and fun exercises such as Sight Word Tic Tac Toe, the child has memorized the word and its meaning and will recognize it whenever he encounters it in print. One more important step is necessary for the child learning the language, too! Dolch Sight Word Mimes are provided for each word, as the teacher acts out the meaning of the word while she shows the picture words, and reads the sentence aloud in the child’s own language, then in English. Now, a third modality, the kinesthetic, has been added, and little children love to act out the words they are learning.

    Interesting, but does it work? Here are a couple of personal examples. Four years ago, I taught an African immigrant family who came to our church to read and speak English using this method. The family came to America at the end of November; placed in an age appropriate 2nd grade, the son had learned the letter sounds by June, when I began working with them, three times a week. He also had picked up some rudimentary language from classroom and playground. By September, when he was placed in 2nd grade to repeat, he was reading with comprehension at the middle second grade level! His parents also were learning, but I must confess, they did not progress quite as fast as their son, now an honor student four years later!

    Last summer, two of my middle school age granddaughters taught a six week beginning reading class using PMR. One child, a little girl named Sunah, had come to the US in February from Viet Nam, speaking no English. She was shy and could not read or speak much in the summer class; however, by the end of the six weeks, she could read fluently at the middle first grade level and was more than ready to enter first grade. I heard recently that she is one of the honor students in her class, and her mother and teachers are grateful that Sunah had an opportunity to learn to read last year. You can read about Sunah and her class results on the page of our website Some Group Results, the Trinity School class of 2011.

    Keep up your incredibly important work of educating parents about the dangers of vaccines and other hazards to their children’s health and cognitive development. Meanwhile, my husband and I will keep trying to educate parents and educators about a wonderfully simple, easy, and inexpensive way to teach their children — ALL their children! — to read!

    Bless you for all you do!

    Marlys Isaacson, Ph.D.

  • Renee and Dr. Sircus the EMF is a concern because our biology is electric, but our Study’s current quote is “What we have here is a failure to communicate.” The entire autistic spectrum, cells communicating with cells the way we are all supposed to communicate,Then the geniuses of virology decided they could kill all the pathogens no matter how many kids enter the autistic spectrum. Just plain study to completely lost in their own minds.
    That and more diseases than ever before is what vaccination have done for humans, and monkeys, but please consider those we love who have no idea what that means, our kids do, our moms know love again from their child.
    When the primary caregiver and the child both take sulfur twice a day 100% of the kids have come back, and 100% of the seniors with adult onset autism, its called Alzheimer’s also vaccine damaged have come back and two have left the home.
    The heavy metals of pHarmacology and industry are the cause of these kids lost in their own minds. Organic sulfur is a crystal food, what does you child have to loose? What do you have to loose, mom or dad? You may get your kid back.
    We have attempted to kill every study member, unsuccessfully, even the kids.
    Mark thank you for sharing a tool for parents who really do what their child to be able to care for themselves when the parents are no longer there to do so.
    Before condemning Steve Jobs, who is dead, worry about the smart meters your utility is installing, now we are talking deadly EMF.
    Get the kid back then address the EMF.
    Pub Med when searching sulfur and radiation says sulfur can protect and repair the damage of radiation exposure, please share this with any Japanese or anyone downwind from Fukushima, oh that is all of us.
    Got sulfur?

  • Anne

    Very shocking article. Dear Doctor Mark Sircus, I always appreciated your fine work, this time, however, I am more than disappointed.
    i-pads are connected to a wireless or wifi network. This isn’t good for anybody, but nobody wants to know the truth. Poor children, silly adults.

  • Renee

    Interesting to note not an single mention of level of EMF’s generated by iPads, nor those effects on children, especially relative to length of exposure.
    Surely this is a vital health topic that must be addressed with every review or evaluation electronic frequency devices, to inform and educate the public on the dangers of chronic EMF exposure.
    The downside of technology is there are certain risks that always must be weighed in light of perceived benefits. With enthusiastic support of technology there tends to be a blind eye as to its risks and dangers. Not a balanced article in my estimation.

    • Yes you are absolutely correct there Renee and I just finished writing an essay about the dangers of the iPad and will publish it on Monday. Sorry in all my excitement forgot about this particular danger that I have faced before.

      • Rita Vail

        Check out the Pong ipad case. It reduces exposure.