Mobile Apps for Autism
Autism is a combination of neurodevelopment disorders marked by, among other things, an inability to communicate openly and effectively. But what if there were ways to use mobile devices to help those with autism improve their communication and comprehension capabilities? With apps for iPads, iPhones and other devices, parents of autistic children no longer have to ask 'what if?'
'Giving a Voice' to Autistic Children
A small finger touches a picture on an iPad screen, and the picture is audibly identified. While this may sound simplistic, for children with autism it is a very helpful tool. An array of mobile apps are currently available that target not only autism but other special needs. Some combine audio and video technology. Some use photos, others don't. Still others provide children with the ability to make their own choices. But all have one common goal: to help special needs children develop skills for communicating and learning.
While not all such apps are designed specifically for autism, parents and programmers have found that many of these programs are turning out to be used successfully in this area. Other apps have been designed to be used for autistic children, sometimes by parents frustrated with what's out there and desperate to supply their children with the right tools. One such parent was commercial software expert Ted Conley, who designed a series of programs called 'TapSpeak'.
Some experts have suggested that autistic children respond better to images on a computer screen rather than on paper, but often have difficulty in associating a mouse and cursor with what's on the screen. The finger-to-screen applications remove that obstacle.
Gary James of Connecticut told the San Jose Mercury News in July, 2011 that these types of apps are 'giving children a voice.' James' 6-year-old son has autism, and James reviews apps on his own website, Apps for Children with Special Needs (www.a4cwsn.com).
A Selection of Apps at Your Fingertips
So, what's out there? Plenty, varying in platform availability, quality and price range.
Game Factory, for iPad and iPhone users, allows parents to choose which images they want their children to learn. It also allows for family pictures to be uploaded. iAssist Communicator uses photos rather than drawings. Learn to Talk, for iPhone and iPod Touch, uses flash cards for basic vocabulary words. And the one-of-a-kind Speech Tutor, for iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch, provides animations of the mouth and tongue as they form words.
Not all apps are designed only for children; some target parents and therapists. One such program is Behavior Tracker Pro. An app for iPhone, iPad, Blackberry and Android users, it allows for the recording, analyzing and graphing of behavioral data for autistic children. More practical than carrying a notebook or clipboard, the app can be used to determine if a particular type of treatment is working.
And the apps aren't stopping there. Hewlett-Packard recently announced a project called 'Hacking Autism', wherein people can submit ideas for touch-screen apps focusing on assisting those with autism. Working with the nonprofit group Autism Speaks, HP will bring together volunteers and autism specialists in a 'hackathon' in October to select and develop the best ideas.