Today, April 2, 2013, is World Autism Awareness Day, as designated by the United Nations. Every year, autism organizations around the world celebrate the day with unique fundraising and awareness-raising events, and these events lead into Autism Awareness Month. The US recognizes April as a special opportunity for everyone to educate the public about autism and issues within the autism community. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) now estimates that a staggering 1 in 88 children, including 1 in 54 boys, in the US has been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.
While the tools technology offers students can be useful for anyone, they can be particularly useful for those with limited abilities in some areas. Parents, teachers, and medical caregivers of individuals with autism know this for sure, and the technology world has followed suit – there are hundreds of apps, web-based tools, and technologies to help those with autism learn as much as possible and be as functional as possible. The tools available range from free to really expensive. Some focus on one particular skill or task and others encompass a wide array of functionality. We’ve selected a few apps that are particularly awesome and/or useful to share with you!
AutisMate is an app for iOS and Android devices that focuses on improving both communication and behavioral skills in both verbal and non-verbal individuals. Using personal visual scenes and highly interactive activities, it aims to enable the user to converse and interact better with the world around them. For example, you can take a photo of a room in your home, and include sounds and explanations of different items or areas in the room.
Often, those with autism feel safer in places that are familiar to them, so the personalization aspect of this tool holds a lot of promise. The app also includes sentence building, extensive video modeling, visual stories, and a visual scheduler. At $150, it isn’t cheap, but given the cost of many other autism-specific tools on the market and the heavy functionality it offers, it offers a lot of bang for your buck.
Proloquo2Go is one of the more well known (to the general public) apps out there for individuals with autism, due to the heavy dose of promotion that it got when it was released for iPad a couple of years back. (It had been previously available for iPod touch and iPhone, but tablets tend to be more useful for children with autism). In fact, we’ve written about it before.
The app functions as a full-featured augmentative and alternative communication solution for anyone who has difficulty speaking. There are Text to Speech voices, a high resolution library of over 14,000 symbols, powerful automatic conjugations, two researched-based vocabulary organizations, advanced word prediction, multiuser support, and the ability to fully customize vocabularies.
The app uses buttons to portray words, and the user can tap the words to form sentences or phrases that the app then ‘speaks’ for them. ($189.99)
TouchChat is an augmentative and alternative communication app, quite similar to Proloquo2Go. The app offers buttons to portray words and phrases, which the users touches, and the app speaks. It offers a lot of customization (colors, buttons, images, record your own voice, etc) to allow users a more personalized experience.
The ability to record your own voice is particularly awesome, since familiar voices can be more effective than unfamiliar ones, and it also allows for the recording of words in other languages (or household names/colloquialisms) that may familiar to the user but not available in a dictionary/other app. ($149).
Autism Tracker Pro is a relatively inexpensive app ($9.99) that offers useful tracking for families that have an individual with autism. It allows you to track important items like mood, behavior, food, health, and more so that you can look at patterns, progress, and just keep track.
While the other apps we’ve highlighted here focus on higher level communication functionality, this one helps keep track of the activities and processes of everyday life. Since repetition, schedule, and familiarity are so often key for parents and teachers dealing with autism, a tracker such as this one can be an extremely helpful tool!