2 experts and 1 parent have answered
Complex question; short answer is "Yes when tablet computers work as an accessible tool for children's communication and learning."
Let me deconstruct my short answer and you'll see why it's more complicated than "yes" or "no." --
"Accessible tool" -- tablet computers must be accessible if it were to be useful as a tool. This means the child must be able to use the tool in a meaningful way, including physically. There are some children who has coordination issues and this makes it difficult to make certain movements required for typing or manipulating the application. Is the tablet computer portable for a young child? Is the tablet computer operable (ease to turn on/off, changing settings for the child's visibility or hearing) for the child?
"Communication and learning" -- tablet computers need to be useful to help children on the spectrum communicate and learn, to be "helpful." Communication may be done with picture-based communication when the child is still learning language. Tablets may also offer a means (although clumsy and heavy given the size of the tablet and age of the child) of facilitated communication of the child has challenges in expressive speech. Learning may be done with applications, but children on the spectrum need to generalize their skills to the native environment (NOT computers, but with people), thus tablets may be useful to begin teaching a skill that is then practiced and applied in the child's natural environment.
One of the most powerful uses of tablet computers as a tool for children on the spectrum, is that the computer offers that "bridge" of communication in cases where speed of processing is important. Verbal speech comes to my mind as one of these uses: some children may know what they want to express, but due to a disability in processing verbal language, they are unable to speak what they are thinking. Being able to access that mode of communication via a tablet computer gives the child that needed "voice".
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Here is a very nice Apple video on such subject: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GEqV_8ahr90
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Just thought I'd add to this discussion by signposting you to a very recent article about how the iPad is giving autistic children a voice in Canada.It's from IDG Connect web site http://Apple’s iPad Gives Autistic Children a Voice in Canada Some great examples given.