Using apps for kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) can be useful for learning and social development, according to Dena Aucoin, M.Ed., the Assistant Academic Chair in the Educational Studies program at Kaplan University.
"[They allow] for learning to take place in many environments, which helps aid in generalization of the attainment of skills," she told Parenting.com. "For example, if we are only teaching the skill of greeting others in the classroom, we may see less success when attempting to greet others at the grocery store."
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"[They] can be helpful to provide visual supports, to provide structure, a schedule, and language or pictures to facilitate communication," adds Patricia Aguayo, MD, MPH, Medical Director Autism Services, Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist at Hospital for Special Care. She explains the most important thing to consider when choosing an app is what the specific needs of the child are and what your goal is for introducing it.
Aucoin adds, "Anyone can make an app so do a little research. What company is presenting this app? Are there supportive applications that go along with it? Is it credible? These considerations can help in making choices that fit the need."
Aguayo urges parents to use an app in collaboration with the school team.
"It is important that everyone involved in the child's life is consistent and use the same app or device," she says.
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She recommends two books to help parents narrow down their app options:
- "Apps for Autism" by Lois Jean Bradley, MA, CCC-SLP
- "Top 60 Recommended Apps for Autism" by Linda Hodgdon
But here are 11 that our experts recommend trying:
This app provides visual schedules to help with transitions and decrease anxiety. "First-then support can offer children of most intellectual and language abilities to understand what is expected of them, and what will come next, or what the reward will be," explains Aguayo.
Cost: $9.99, available for iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch and Android.
"iPrompts is a highly recommended app for supporting organizational skills, setting expectations for performance, and setting up subtle supports and reminders," says Aguayo. Users can create and modify visual schedules, as well as use a countdown timer with picture supports to indicate how much longer a task or activity will last.
Cost: $49.99, available for iPhone and iPad.
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3. Autism Track
This app is brought to you by the creators of iPrompts and is designed for parents of children with ASD to help them track data. "This customizable data tracking tool allows parents to easily track behaviors, interventions and symptoms in one place," says Aguayo. "Behaviors and symptoms can be rated, as well as particular medications and their doses, diet changes and therapies. Parents can also review trends in their child's data and share these data with school and medical providers to inform treatment planning. This app is especially helpful for children with challenging behaviors, psychiatric conditions or both."
Cost: Free to $9.99, depending on the version, available for iPhone and iPad.
"This app uses a child-friendly character to teach emotion words, facial expressions associated with emotions, and to identify emotions in others," Aguayo says, and it may also help with the development of language, communication, and social skills.
Cost: $4.99, available for iPhone, iPad and Android.
This customizable, bilingual app is designed for augmentative communication using a family's own pictures. Aguayo says it's free, but time-consuming to set up and customize.
Cost: Free, available for Android.
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"S2L offers parents and educators the ability to create personalized stories using photos, text, and audio messages," explains Aucoin. "These stories can be used to promote an individual's literacy, leisure, as well as social skills." The app supports reciprocal play, non-verbal communication, playground and school rules, turn taking, and more.
Cost: $13.99, available for iPhone and iPad.
"[This] is a great visual teaching tool for helping your child learn to navigate challenging locations in the community. Each location contains a photo slideshow of children modeling appropriate behavior," says Aucoin. Locations include the hairdresser, mall, doctor's office, grocery store, restaurant and playground.
Cost: Free, available for iPhone and iPad.
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This online interactive program addresses core deficit areas standing in the way of school, social, and life success for kids with social learning challenges. It uses "highly interactive and visual presentation" and animations to encourage children to practice social skills in an interactive way. According to Aucoin, this app "employs rich graphics and audio and offers a high degree of quality in every aspect of the app."
Cost: Free for version II, monthly and annual rates available for iPad.
Dr. Clara Lajonchere, former VP of clinical programs at Autism Speaks, helped to develop the Cognoa evaluation tool, which not only identifies autism in kids, but also tracks a child's behavior and milestones for doctors and teachers. "Features include expert-recommended activities, which can help autistic children who have issues with fine motor and sensory, socialization, tantrums and more," she says.
Cost: Free, available for Android and Apple products and online.
Pictello is a simple way to create visual stories and talking books, explains Aucoin. "Each page in a Pictello Story can contain a picture, a short video, up to 10 lines of text, and a recorded sound or text-to-speech using natural sounding voices." The app can be used to teach social skills or to help kids remember events, and supports non-verbal children in communication with others. Better yet, stories can be shared with other Pictello users and even non-users.
Cost: $18.99, available for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch.
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This unique app uses a pillow with embedded transducers that play relaxing music through vibration to induce relaxation and sleep. A study on kids with autism conducted by Dr. Sarah Schoen of the SPD Foundation concluded all 15 participants showed improvements in sleep initiation, duration of sleep, reduction in night waking, and improved daytime behavior.
Cost: the pillow is $169, and the accompanying app is free; available for Android and Apple devices.
Check out Assistive Ware and I Get It apps for more apps that support autistic children. Parents should also note that while not specifically created for kids with ASD, developers, such as Toca Boca, Oceanhouse Media, Duck Duck Moose and Spinlight Studios are consistently developing apps being used in treatment settings.
But Aguayo wants to caution parents: "It is also important to keep in mind that, just as with typically developing children, electronics can become an obsession, and their use for breaks, reinforcers, and during free time should be monitored and limited. Apps, even those that can help children with ASD, should never replace real-world interactions and interventions that help to develop social and communication skills in natural settings."