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The iPad: a Useful Tool for Autism

Updated on August 23, 2014

Computers, iPads, and Autism

Computers are useful for those with autism as they facilitate communication and aid in learning. In recent years, there has been some buzz in education and autism communities about the iPad. Like other computers, it is an effective tool for many people on the autism spectrum. Its flexibility and portability offer some additional advantages over laptops or PCs. The touch screen and layout make a tablet more accessible for children with coordination or learning difficulties; these children may find sliding and tapping easier than either typing or writing. A tablet, moreover, can be easily carried; thus it's helpful for calming and focusing children who are on the go.

The iPad can also be used as a communication board or augmentative communication device. Because of the customization options and because it's a 'cool tech device' that doesn't immediately mark a child as different, many see it as a more attractive option than the more traditional devices. Some children have been captivated indeed by the iPad, finding the motivation to master quite a few new skills in a short span of time.

I definitely would stop short of using the phrase I saw in 'the weekly' this morning: The iPad isn't a cure for autism -- I'm not sure 'cure' is even an appropriate term for a complex learning difference -- and there are autistic individuals whose abilities simply won't allow them to use an iPad or any other computer. Still it looks like Apple may have done something they didn't necessarily set out to do, which is provide one of the better adaptive learning technologies on the market.

On this page, I will share some research and resources that you may find useful if you are considering which communication and teaching tools to use with people on the autism spectrum.

Computer magic
Computer magic

Computers as Autism Teaching Tools

What's the buzz about computers and autism? It's a matter of brain wiring.

A person with typical neural wiring activates different brain systems when viewing a face than they do when viewing, say, a shrub. They notice subtle differences in facial features and expressions, even if they think those shrubs on the way to the bus stop all look the same. This is not necessarily the case for people on the autism spectrum; they may activate the same visual systems for faces as for inanimate objects. A person with autism may struggle to differentiate facial expressions -- or even to differentiate the faces themselves. Many people with autism feel more comfortable interacting with nonhumans -- even cartoon characters. They are often drawn to activity that is self-directed and predictable.

People diagnosed with autism have a range strengths and weaknesses as well as intelligence levels. Some communicate very well in writing even if their speaking skills are quite low. Many are visual thinkers and have strong technological and/or artistic skills. When engaged in a task, a person with autism may display a level of absorption and concentration that is lacking in the general population. And when he is strongly motivated, he may achieve far more than the expected.

Enter the computer. For many on the autism spectrum, computers have been a game changer, capitalizing on strengths and compensating for weaknesses.

Using iPads with Autistic Learners: a Success Story... and a More Mixed Success

I had some knowledge of computer-assisted learning for autism, but hadn't given much thought to the unique qualities of the iPad until I read an article in the Seattle Weekly. I was inspired to go online and learn more. In the blog post linked to below, we find the mom profiled in that news story, Shannon Des Roches Roca, writing eloquently of her son's experience with the device. She notes that he maneuvers it more easily than the iPod Touch and is far more engaged with learning. He has learned so many new skills that she sees the device as "a near miracle".

The article also includes a review by another special needs mom who has not found the device as life changing, but has generally positive things to say about it. The second mom reports that her daughter values the "coolness factor". She also notes that the device has a few flaws. One is the sound: Her daughter finds that the volume can be a little low when she uses it to speak in a crowded area. Another potential weakness is... its weakness. While relatively sturdy, it's not as sturdy as a communication board that's been specifically designed for special needs populations. (A person does have to exert some caution when using the device with youngsters who are prone to frustrated outbursts.)

We'll meet some more users -- through text and video -- further down on this page...

Cost: A Surprising Advantage?

The iPad isn't cheap -- with newer models ranging from about $500 to $900 dollars -- and yet this a good deal cheaper than many augmentative communication devices. For some people with communication difficulties, assisted communication devices still loom out of reach; thus the iPad's relative affordability is a draw.

In Autism and Apple, a parent writes of how the school district provided his nonverbal son with a $3000 ChatPC device... but not forever. When the young man reaches the age where the public schools will no longer be responsible for his needs, he will have to return it. Even with the additional cost of special needs apps to help the young man speak, the iPad still cost the family less than half as much. They have tried it, and consider it an effective communication tool.

On the subject of cost: Who should pay for augmentative communication devices? Some people are interested in donating iPads. Some believe insurance companies should foot the bill -- something they have been reluctant to do. Part of the reasoning is that are some people who would try to game the system. People aren't apt to fake the need for a wheelchair. An iPad, on the other hand, they might. But how do we put these devices in the hands of those who need technology to live more normal lives?

More Perspectives - From Family Members

Here is a father who didn't start out with the intent of exploring how tablet computers could be useful for autism, but made a fortuitous discovery. He was moved by how his autistic preschooler took to the Angry Birds app on his iPhone. He was so moved by his own child's response to the technology that he eventually decide to develop a communication app for autism.

Video: Child With Autism Using First Words App - On his iPod

Leo is the nine-year-old profiled in "The iPad: a Near Miracle for my Son with Autism". Here we find him happily engaging with his tablet, using the app "FirstWords". Watch his fingers slide as he moves letters across the screen.

iPad Donations for Kids with Autism: Danny's Wish

Danny's Wish has a campaign underway to put iPads in the hands of children with autism. You can donate an ipad at their site.

And what if you don't have -- or can't afford to purchase one? There are multiple ways to support the cause, through the Danny's Wish site, as well as through their fan page on Facebook.

More Foundations to Help Children with Autism

Many people have a vested interest in putting iPads into the hands of autistic children. Seven-year-old Asiedya grew tremendously with the aid of her iPad. Tragically, a house fire took her life. Her parents want to put iPads in the hands of other needy children with autism. You can help them continue the legacy.

Payment Controversies

Insurance/ payers have a history of favoring the expensive over the inexpensive when it comes to augmentative communication. That's because the expensive products have one purpose only and can't be used for entertainment.

Using the iPad for High Level Communication

Here's a bright teenager (now an author!) who can't talk and also has a hard time controlling bodily movements. His breakthroughs didn't begin with the iPad -- in the pre-iPad world of nine years ago, his mother began to grasp that the child who couldn't talk could spell -- but technology has made things easier.

Videos: Special Needs Learners and the iPad

Here is a view of Autismate, a multifunctional app.

New Ways to Help

The third annual Traverse Traveler scavenger hunt was in April 2014.* The date has come and gone, but you can still help.

You may even find (or want to start) a similar program in your own community.

Thoughts to Share? - On iPads, Autism, or...?

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    • bsalas lm profile image

      bsalas lm 

      6 years ago

      Wow, you clearly understand this topic. What a great, authoritative lens

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Thanks for the insight! I am an elementary education major and this information helps a lot! Just a tip for you, it is so important to have an iPad case to protect kids' iPads. A new company called Domeo Products just launched and I checked them out at I am very impressed with the iPad cases I saw!

    • Moon Hunter profile image

      Moon Hunter 

      6 years ago

      It is amazing what technology has done for working with kids with special needs. My mom teaches in an SXI (severe multiply impaired) room and they use iPads all of the time!

    • KarenTBTEN profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      @shauna1934: There are Android apps, but a small fraction of the selection. I have been doing a little research these past couple weeks and posting it on my lens on iPad apps. I found information on a couple augmentative communication apps. I have seen quite a few social skills apps -- generally quite cheap -- but I haven't found reviews from people who have actually used them.

    • KayeSI profile image


      6 years ago

      What a great lens! And YES, the prices have dropped for the older models. My senior mom got an iPad a couple of months ago and we went with the iPad2 - still very robust but less expensive than the new one.

      And what a good point about it being slightly fragile which can be a concern for kids and grandkids who might not be careful enough with it. I would recommend getting it at Best Buy or Amazon as both have excellent warranties including breakage.

      Thanks again for the excellent information!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Learning is much much easier with tablets around? Eh. My niece now knows how to write and type a few words, including her complete name at 3 because of the iPad.

    • shauna1934 profile image


      6 years ago

      Have a nephew with autism and partial hearing loss. He loves his iPad. Do you know if there are comparable androids out there that run similar software?

    • profile image

      sybil watson 

      6 years ago

      Public schools in the US can apply for technology grants from the ARRA (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, aka the Stimulus) which offers grants for technology that is not already in place in the school. The elementary school where I work was able to use our grant to purchase 34 iPads, since we didn't already have that technology at our school. I have personally seen a 5 year old friend of mine who is autistic absolutely bloom when given an iPad to use during his occupational therapy.

    • srsddn lm profile image

      srsddn lm 

      6 years ago

      Yes, computer-assisted learning is getting increasingly helpful to the children with special needs. Autism has caught attention of many educators even in under-developed countries and iPad is certainly a good alternative irrespective of cost factor. Nicely done.

    • selah74 profile image


      6 years ago

      Someone mentioned this to me once, but I never got much information from them. This could be good for me know as a SPED teacher

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      all these great stories make me sob tears of joy,yet im bursting w tears of saddness also for my autistic son i have been doin endless applications for grants and funding ect to get him a ipad w no luck to help him i hope we can get him one soon to help him,as for those who are gettin help and doin well bless you all and your children!!!

    • KarenTBTEN profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      @chris-briarpatch: I understand the 1st generation iPads have come down a lot in price. I see them advertised regularly on eBay: new, used, refurbished. I don't know any sellers personally, but I understand some sellers have satisfaction rates of 99% to 100%. I understand there are quality of life grants for individuals with autism.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      My son Ean, age 28, shown in the red shirt on my face book page returned home from a group home, was not a good experience for him. My aunt suggested an I pad might help with his lack of understanding, help with his behavior- ability to get his anger out another way other than acting out. He does not have many hobbies but a lot of time just sitting in his chair. The i pad could help him learn and express himself.

      Does anyone know where we could buy a used i pad or a grant we could apply for? Thank you so much for reading.

    • Mandy Stradley profile image

      Mandy Stradley 

      6 years ago

      Technology amazes me every day!

    • goo2eyes lm profile image

      goo2eyes lm 

      6 years ago

      ipads are helpful for autistic kids. i would like to have one for me too. thank you for visiting my lens. by the way, congratulations for winning the purple star and i am so sorry to be late in replying. blessings.

    • bjesparza profile image


      7 years ago

      Wow looks like this could be of big help!

    • Emdagny LM profile image

      Emdagny LM 

      7 years ago

      We use Proloquo2go. Our daughter is low verbal..and Proloquo2go is helping her expand her commenting. The IPAD is definitely an essential.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      @nicks44: technology now is very helpful. that inspired me to do an article about ipad and ustism. please check it out. It might be helpful to you.

    • marigoldina profile image

      Heather B 

      7 years ago

      We have an autistic child at our school, and he has made leaps and bounds thanks to his iPad. It is amazing what technology can accomplish.

    • nicks44 profile image


      7 years ago

      This quite a good observation, if we may call it like that, still my personal thoughts are that it is free advertising for Apple ... again ...

    • joannalynn lm profile image

      joannalynn lm 

      7 years ago

      My good friend and colleague Ann has an autistic daughter. Gracie is very functional; I'm not certain where she falls on the autistic spectrum. Ann has been extremely proactive with Grace, her treatment, socialisation, and education. I know they have an iPad, but I am now going to ask if Grace uses it educationally. Ann developed an app about potty training that includes a special section "About Grace". It describes how to address the potty training needs of autistic children. Great lens. I am going to pass this on to my friend.

    • bushaex profile image

      Stephen Bush 

      7 years ago from Ohio

      SquidAngel blessings. My own iPad journey would represent a walking and talking ad for this superb communication tool. Several years ago I made a pledge to myself to never ever buy another laptop computer. When the iPad first came out, I was skeptical of its capabilities (and also was not sure if this was just a laptop with a cloaking device). I kept my eyes and ears open, though, and made a personal iPad plunge with the second generation. Perhaps the best buying decision involving technology and communications that I have ever made.

    • blessedmomto7 profile image


      7 years ago

      Great lens! Never even thought about the iPad as a tool for Autism.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      My friend has autism and I second this lens... Yes she loves her Ipad.

      She likes to play that card matching game on it. It has nice Memory testing games.

      She told me that she got better at her skills because of it.

    • andreaberrios lm profile image

      andreaberrios lm 

      7 years ago

      My 14 year old son is a high functional autistic with Aspergers Syndrome and this is a great idea. He loves computer and games. Thanks for sharing this :)

    • Nanciajohnson profile image

      Nancy Johnson 

      7 years ago from Mesa, Arizona

      My 4 year old grandson's speech therapist recommended the iPad for him this summer. She felt it would work better for him than a therapist coming to the house once a week. He can use the application everyday and he loves it. I am so glad to have found this lens. It is so deserving of the Purple Star! I am so glad you have shared this information with us.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I recently purchased an Ipad 3 for myself and well as to try an get my son to learn maths etc in a more fun way. It is good to see new technology being put to such good use.

    • earthybirthymum profile image


      7 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Great Lense! I can see many reasons why a tablet can be helpful for people with autism.

    • squid-pinkchic18 profile image


      7 years ago

      Very nice lens here. What a wonderful discovery!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      You r with autism really need to be entertained and introduced to the modern workshops of life

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Interesting, I usually am anti-technology, but this is a great way to use it!

    • ceejaycmarshall profile image


      7 years ago

      Love this lens!

    • Keeah profile image


      7 years ago

      My experience with the iPad is teaching my 40 something autistic brother AND my 70 plus parents to use it. I'd say all three are getting something out of it.

    • piarejuden profile image


      7 years ago

      My nephew is eight and autistic.. and his school made it compulsory that children bring along their ipad for learning and therapy sessions. The apps are easy to use and the graphics engage the children aptly... Thanks for sharing this, it does deserve a purple star! Cheers!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Always keep creating those lenses KarenTBTEN!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      This is really a brilliant lens. Awesome job and Im happy to see so many people have given it this a share.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      We use iPads and iPhones at our program to help people with autism. I love the new communication tools that are coming out that allow people with autism to be part of the social world :)



    • Spiderlily321 profile image


      7 years ago

      Great lens! I added it to my featured lens list on my lens called "Want to be part of a support circle for amazing moms and dads..." under the section, Autism.

      Thank you for sharing

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      My oldest daughter is autistic and the computer is the greatest breakthrough we've had. Awesome lens!

    • HelpMarcProject profile image

      Forrest McKinnis 

      7 years ago from West Richland

      As a teacher and the author of a number of lenses dealing with tech tools for education; it does my heart good that you are sharing the power of technology in reaching a sensitive student populations. Good work!

    • Cari Kay 11 profile image


      7 years ago

      I think this is just awesome. We've had to deal with Asperger Syndrome which is now just morphing into the Autism spectrum. Although my son is very high functioning we've known plenty of kids who were not and would absolutely benefit from this. Thanks for sharing.

    • Lee Hansen profile image

      Lee Hansen 

      7 years ago from Vermont

      I find it so exciting when new technology gets used in creative and helpful ways like this. I remember when Stevie Wonder was helping Digital to refine computer speech and we were encoding books with generic markup similar to HTML to produce printed, electronic and Braille documents from the exact same sources. My granddaughter is fascinated with my Kindle Fire so I've added a few story books and games for her to use when Mum permits. Great lens!

    • Gypzeerose profile image

      Rose Jones 

      7 years ago

      This is a wonderful lens - angel blessed and social bookmarked so that other people can get the information.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Hi my daughter has celebral palsy and mr shes turning 2 april 12 and she don't walk or talk or eat so Iwish for her to have i pad so i can get her apps that can help her

    • Camden1 profile image


      7 years ago

      One of my friend's daughters is autistic and has Down's Syndrome - the iPad has made an enormous difference in her life.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Great lens, I know, many children, teenagers with autism and they all love to use the computer. Thanks, for shring this wonderful, lens

    • suzy-t profile image


      7 years ago

      Great lens on an important topic. I work with underprivileged children with autism so cost is the #1 factor. No doubt that they can be a useful tool and it is unfortunate about the lack of involvement (for the most part) of insurance companies...Thank you for assembling this information and raising awareness about the topic.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Thanks for sharing :)

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I think this is a great idea, great share and write up.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Like LoKackl who posted before me, I know they are using iPads with the brother lives in a group home and our family just purchased one for the group home to use for communication and use by the residents. They had tried it with some in the past and found it was helpful in different ways with different residents.

    • LoKackl profile image


      7 years ago

      Although I am retired I substitute sometimes and so have seen the wonderful tool that iPads are with learning-disability kids. There is one pretty severely autistic teenage boy who moved into our system from California. The difficulties of ANY readjustment for teens seemed all the more difficult in his case. Working complicated jigsaw puzzles and using an iPad has helped tremendously. Great lens. blessed.

    • TonyPayne profile image

      Tony Payne 

      7 years ago from Southampton, UK

      This is an excellent resource and congratulations on a well deserved Purple Star. Blessed.

    • PaulaMorgan profile image

      Paula Morgan 

      7 years ago from Sydney Australia

      My brother is having success using an ipad and specific apps for autism. Fantastic page!

    • LittleLindaPinda profile image

      Little Linda Pinda 

      7 years ago from Florida

      Thank you so much for your insight on such a great learning too for Autism.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      How timely see following

      Amazing video which proves autism is not what most doctors and everyone else think it is.

      A girl in Toronto who has autism reached out via computer to communicate with her family even though no one until then knew she could actually read or spell! Now she communicates regularly with them. Truly an astounding story.

    • iPadGeek profile image


      7 years ago

      Very educative. The usage of technology in special situations has made life much more enriching. Thanks for sharing :)

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Yes, and its popularity as a learning and development tool is growing constantly.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I did not realize it could be so good for autism, great idea and a cool tool.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Very cool lens! I feature educational app for kids on iPad :-)

      Thank you!

    • norma-holt profile image


      7 years ago

      Fabulous tribute to this innovative tool. Featured this on Brain Matters

    • iijuan12 profile image


      7 years ago from Florida

      Great lens! I know someone was just talking about getting an iPad for Christmas to help with his daughter who has autism.

    • gamecheathub profile image


      7 years ago

      This is a really great lens chock full of information. I'm going to forward the link on to some autism groups here in Tulsa. Not sure if they'll care or not, but this is really good info.

    • PromptWriter profile image

      Moe Wood 

      7 years ago from Eastern Ontario

      I watched a news piece on this last week and thought it was fascinating. Whatever helps as long as it is made available to those who can't afford it too.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Awesome lens, Quite informative.

    • patsydoo profile image


      7 years ago

      Great lens with really useful info - thanks.

    • blogvicar lm profile image

      blogvicar lm 

      7 years ago

      Yes autism is a poorly understood condition and lenses like this both raise awareness of it and provides helpful suggestions and assistance to people affected by it. Nice lens.

    • Lemming13 profile image


      7 years ago

      My teenage son has Asperger's, and he loves his iPad, and I heartily recommend the things to autism sufferers and their families; it has widened his social horizons immensely (as well as making his college work easier because he can take notes on it). Great lens.

    • FitVision profile image


      7 years ago

      Very informative article. Spreading awareness about conditions like Autism is so important

    • tobydavis profile image


      7 years ago

      Hi! Just tweeted and shared this lens all other the interweb - hopefully, you'll get a bunch of new views :-)

    • profile image

      ThomasJ4 LM 

      7 years ago

      Its great of you to spread awareness and share these ideas, keep up the good work

    • whoisbid lm profile image

      whoisbid lm 

      7 years ago

      I live with a boy suffering from autism and anything that works is good news. That boy is my son and I love him dearly

    • Sylvestermouse profile image

      Cynthia Sylvestermouse 

      7 years ago from United States

      Truly awesome! I have seen many great uses explored for the iPad, but I do believe this is my favorite! Truly Most Excellent!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Very nice and useful information for helping people with autism. Very creative and helpful guidance indeed!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Great ideas, and great lens.

    • letmelearn profile image


      7 years ago

      iPad is fabulous! Thank you for posting this and thank Apple for creating it and starting the revolution in tablets. I wouldn't be without my ipad now. Being dyslexic it really helps me organise my thoughts.

    • tea lady 2 profile image


      7 years ago from Midwest, USA

      Thank you for visiting my lens on Visual Spacial Learners and thanks for this excellent lens. So much information is focused on children with these difficulties. As you have pointed out, some adults struggle with this every day, but there are no teachers saying let me help.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I never would have thought an IPAD would help with Autism but that is pretty neat. I am truly learning something new every day.

    • gottaloveit2 profile image


      7 years ago

      Wonderful lens. I hope it reaches the population struggling to raise a child with autism. I'm, for one, passing the link over to my niece whose child has Asperger's.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      For someone who works with kids this is an excellent article!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      One of my daughters was educated in Elementary School with a severely autistic boy and he was amazing on the PC so I can see how an iPad could be a useful tool for some autistic children.

    • sudokunut profile image

      Mark Falco 

      7 years ago from Reno, Nevada

      Very interesting lens. It's amazing how many different uses this device can be put to.

    • Grandmaster3 profile image


      7 years ago

      Where I live they gave ipad2s to kindergarteners.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Love your lense! My son (he's autistic) carries his iPod Touch EVERYWHERE! There are so many learning apps, and it keeps him occupied during mealtimes. Everyone is always so amazed when they see this 3-yr-old manipulating his iPod like a pro! ha! Technology is a definite plus.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Great lens, good to see people use the iPad for more than playing Angry Birds ;-)

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Very very interesting lens. Gave me a new perspective on the iPad

    • bames24 lm profile image

      bames24 lm 

      8 years ago

      this is a great lens... I had no idea an ipad could be so useful :)

    • Dianna206 profile image


      8 years ago

      This is great! I would love to get an ipad for my son, though he is higher-functioning and verbal. He'd still have fun with it.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      This is such useful and great information. Thank you very much for sharing this.

    • nuestraherencia profile image


      8 years ago

      I could not agree more. Great information. I have a Mac, not an iPad and an autistic son. It is amazing how much he can learn from a computer. In addition, I have read that although originally I wanted to buy him a mouse for the computer, using the touchpad that comes on the computer helps them more...Thanks for sharing!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Very interesting... I never would have thought to use such a tool to help autistic learners. Great lens!

    • VarietyWriter2 profile image


      8 years ago

      Blessed by a Squid Angel :)

    • profile image

      George McCasland 

      8 years ago

      I sent the article to my daughter. I have a grandson who is autistic.

    • chinchan profile image


      8 years ago

      Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) often can be reliably detected by age 3. In some cases even earlier than that. Recent studies suggest that kids may eventually be accurately diagnosed by the age of 1 year or even younger. One thing for certain is that if your child shows any of the early warning signs of autism then they should be evaluated by a professional who specializes in autism disorders. Visit my site to learn more about autism signs and symptoms. American Austism Society

    • katiecolette profile image


      8 years ago

      I didn't know that Ipad can benefit kids with autism. I know a few kids with autism, and I know that their parents can use all the help they can get. Thank you for sharing this.

    • sushilkin lm profile image

      sushilkin lm 

      8 years ago

      Like your lens. Thanks for sharing on Squidoo!!

    • Krafick profile image


      8 years ago

      Great lens. I hope all those affected by autism benefit from your information.

    • sidther lm profile image

      sidther lm 

      8 years ago

      Wonderfully presented lens regarding the usefulness of ipads for people with ASD. We will likely be getting one this summer! Lensrolled

    • elyria profile image


      8 years ago

      Very informative and helpful Lens!

    • jackieb99 profile image


      8 years ago

      Yeah for Ipads!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      you can use other tablets too:-) there are coming more alternatives every week...


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