A new iPad app allows parents and therapists to create a simplified representation of the world for children with autism, enabling communication, behavioral learning, and social skill development.
FLORHAM PARK, N.J., July 23, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- While there has been an explosion of media attention given to the hundreds of apps that focus on allowing children with autism to communicate with others, a new app for autism strives to achieve the reverse -- bringing the outside environment into the autistic child's world.
The iPad has become a commonly used tool for allowing those with speech-language impairments to communicate and helping to teach those with special needs. Searching "Autism" in the iPad App Store yields 902 results, a number which has been increasing rapidly. The popularity of using iPad apps for this purpose is not surprising given that traditional alternative and augmentative communication (AAC) dedicated devices cost up to $15,000.
A new app named AutisMate allows parents and therapists to create interactive representations, or scenes, of an autistic child's environment. Since children with autism tend to be visual learners, these scenes can be used to teach them how to communicate and interact with the world around them. Jonathan Izak, creator of the AutisMate app and founder of SpecialNeedsWare, says, "By sharing a simplified representation of the world with autistic children, we are allowing them to communicate and learn important life skills more effectively and comfortably than ever before."
Izak began developing AutisMate for his 10 year old brother Oriel, who is on the autism spectrum and has struggled with other communication apps. "The grid designs used by Proloquo2Go and other alternative communication options were created for a wide variety of speech impairments, not specifically autism. They require generalizing and categorizing, which are often a struggle for those on the spectrum," says Izak.
Proloquo2Go was the first fully featured augmentative communication app available, and is the long time leader in the AAC app market. Apps like Proloquo2Go allow users to navigate grids of symbols to express themselves, which has been effective for high functioning individuals with speech impairments.
AutisMate, on the other hand, allows parents and therapists to create interactive scenes of their own environment using pictures, video, and voice recordings that can be created on the iPad itself. The app also leverages GPS technology to further reduce the navigation abilities required to use the app. Amy Lackey, a speech pathologist and educational coordinator of the Manhattan Children's Center, notes that, "Most communication apps require some level of understanding of categories, whereas the scene-based approach of AutisMate provides object-picture association that many students form around common objects within their homes, schools, and other familiar settings."
The iPad has become such a popular device for helping those with special needs that Apple will be releasing a new feature named Guided Access with iOS 6, the next version of the iPhone and iPad operating system that will be released in the fall. This feature keeps users from navigating out of a specific application, which is useful when using the iPad for therapy. In announcing the feature at Apple's World Wide Developer Conference, Senior VP of iOS software at Apple Scott Forstall said, "We've been surprised by the numbers of children with autism who've been flocking to our devices; especially our iPads. We want to make that experience even better."
AutisMate is the first product of SpecialNeedsWare, a tech startup geared towards helping those with special needs. AutisMate is currently only available in the iPad App Store, but the company has stated it intends to release an Android version in the future as well.
"This one is different from all of the rest," noted Joan Green, M.A. CCC-SLP and author of The Ultimate Guide to Assistive Technology in Special Education. "It can be a game changer for many individuals with complex communication needs. I am impressed with the creative developers who are truly trying their best to meet the needs of the user and consult with many communication professionals."
SpecialNeedsWare is a mobile technology company that seeks to take advantage of modern technology to help individuals with special needs. The company recently released AutisMate, a revolutionary, scene-based iPad app for individuals with autism.