Using portable touch screen technology to promote play and communication in early development



Practice Report

    • Melanie Ross (Keycomm Resource Centre)


An occupational therapy perspective and discussion of the merits and disadvantages of using touch screen devices to promote play, and thus enhance communication and interaction.


As part of Lothian’s communication technology service, I provide an assessment and toy library service for children at a pre or early cause and effect level who have a disability which prevents or creates significant difficulty accessing play and mainstream toys. I am aware that many of the children I see are having contact with touch screen devices, such as their parents’ iPads or iPhones, and am interested in promoting discussion about the positive and negative aspects of this. Over the last two years, I have looked for ways in which this widely available, accessible and quite immense technological capability can be harnessed to promote development of communication or interaction and enhance play experience for those at the earliest stages of development. I am particularly interested in the potential for those who may have a diagnosis or characteristics of Autism Spectrum Disorder.


I found that there is research and advice about ‘screen time’ for the early years and early development, and plenty in the popular or social media about the possible uses of portable touch screen devices, but, as yet, little scholarly research or scientific analysis (that I could find). I have begun to compile a list of apps for developing early interaction and touch screen skills and have had positive feedback about this from parents and carers who have used it. It is hoped that this will remain an evolving and dynamic document.


Whatever our professional opinions about the advantages and disadvantages of touch screen technology for children at an early developmental stage, such devices are being actively used by them in many settings. It seems important that professionals working in this area have considered this and reached informed conclusions about appropriate and beneficial uses.

Level of Session


Age Group



Special school