Global News

July 20, 2012

10 Apps to Help Children with Autism and Their Parents

You’ve probably heard the marketing slogan: 
“There’s an app for that,” and the truth is, regardless of what you’re searching for, there probably is an app designed to make it easier. Recently, many parents of children on the autism spectrum have found that there are an abundance of apps on the market to help manage the challenges that come with autism. Some apps communicate for autistic people, while others help them learn the skills to interact with others on their own. There are even apps to track the progress of a child’s treatment, so a parent can decide on the next best course of action.
While there are similarities between all autistic children, there are also many differences. This is why there is no one app that is perfect for every autistic child or adult. You must find one that has features that play on the end users strengths and work on his or her weaknesses. Which app is appropriate for each child is up to the parents and professionals who know him or her best.

Below are 10 APPS that are helpful for autistic children and their parents

1. The  Grace Picture Exchange was designed to allow the user to communicate by building sentences from images. It can give a voice to an autistic person who has trouble communicating verbally, and it can be taken with them virtually anywhere. This app is perfect for an autistic child whose spelling skills are not fully developed. Available for iPhone, itouch or iPad.

2. Behavior Tracker Pro – This application allows behavioral therapists, teachers and parents to track and graph a child’s behavior. Designed by a board certified behavior analyst to capture video and track data to help evaluate the efficacy of your child’s treatment plan. Available for iPhone, itouch, iPad, Android and Blackberry.

3. MyVoice is another communication aid that can help children overcome the language challenges that often come with autism. MyVoice allows users to program and save phrases and explanations that they commonly use. It even suggests relevant words and phrases based on the user’s physical location, making it one of the most user-friendly apps on the market. If the user is at a movie theater, he or she will see prompts related to buying popcorn or movie tickets. If the user is at a train station, the prompts may help him or her learn how to ask about the train schedule.

4. Model Me Going Places is an iPhone and iPad app designed to help people with autism learn to navigate places in his or her community. Each of the 6 locations (including playground, grocery store, mall, doctor, restaurant and hairdresser) is linked to a slideshow that displays appropriate behavior for that setting. Consider this a pared down version of MyVoice. It doesn’t detect the user’s location, nor does it have as many locations, but it could be helpful to those who want to start with something very simple.

5. Fizz Brain: Quality Learning Games by Real Classroom Teachers – This app was specifically designed for autistic children. It includes games that help them practice social skills like eye contact and expanding their minds with other fun and educational games. Fizz Brain does not help the user communicate directly, but it does offer a fun way for him or her to learn communication skills that can be practiced later.

6. iMean – iMean was among the first apps designed for Apple’s iPad as a learning tool to help autistic people with communication. This app will transform the iPad screen into an oversized keyboard, which will allow the user to communicate with others through text as opposed to words. The user can see the text displayed and as he or she writes, the program will begin predicting the typed words. After using this program for some time, you can expect the user’s communication skills and vocabulary to improve.
7. My Choice Board – My Choice Board is an app that presents the user with visual choices for different categories. It can be customized to the user’s preferences. For example, if he or she likes to drink grape juice and apple juice, those choices can be programmed for him or her to access whenever they need to make a drink choice. This is a very straightforward app without a lot of bells and whistles, but it can really help the autistic user simplify the decision-making process, which can be especially beneficial in uncomfortable social situations.

8. See.Touch.Learn is an app that was specifically designed for the parents of children with special needs. With this iPad app, a parent can program lessons, using his or her own voice. For example, the mom of an autistic child can setup a picture of an apple to show on the screen and record her voice saying the words “Click on the apple.” The child will associate a familiar voice with this unfamiliar method of learning and will be more likely to feel comfortable using the program. Of course, that translates to increased learning.

9. Smile at Me – This app developed for the iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch, was designed to help children with autism interpret social cues to determine when smiling is appropriate. The program involves repetition and rewards children for smiling in the appropriate situations.

10. Sosh was developed by a pediatric psychologist to help autistic children build social skills. It divides social functioning into five areas: Relate, Relax, Regulate, Reason and Recognize. Through these categories, autistic children can learn how to relate with other children and adults.
Apps like the ones listed above are changing the way we communicate with autistic people – and more importantly, how autistic people communicate with the world. In the past, communication devices were available for autistic people, but they were not portable or user-friendly. It can be difficult for some to understand how revolutionary it is to have this technology at the fingertips of autistic people. Just think of how difficult it would be to navigate an unfamiliar city, if you had to leave your map (or GPS) at home. You’d be weaving in and out of the streets, trying to find your way based on memory or the kindness of strangers. You might feel frightened or confused, and that would be understandable. This is similar to the way many autistic people feel navigating through social settings without any guidance. These apps give power to autistic people, allowing them to communicate on their own in order to live a more independent life.
What are your thoughts on the use of apps for this population? Have you had any experience with any of these apps? Which ones work? Which ones don’t? Are there others we should add to the list? We welcome your feedback!

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