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Assistive Tech for Autism

After some research I noticed that there are in fact many new ways to help individuals with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) cope and function better by using technology. We are in an age where all kinds of technology is easily accessible, with touch screens being extremely portable and the millions of apps to choose from to entertain and aid users in everyday tasks. There are a lot more options to help teach life skills and assist cognitive development in people with learning disabilities than before. This is especially helpful when parents or carers cannot be by their side 24/7.

Researchers at Monash University  developed tablet technology specifically to aid children with developmental disabilities like autism and Down Syndrome. Cornish (2015) did a study on 77 children with learning disabilities, providing them with teaching intervention using this tablet tech. They found improved cognitive attention and numeracy skills. She mentioned that as there are many apps out there claiming to help improve learning development, it is extremely hard to measure their effectiveness especially as none of them have been clinically tested. Still it is worth a try sometimes if you could find free or cheaper apps out there. Many parents and teachers have recommended using tablet apps to aid these children.

There are two purposes for these tech supports. One is for Alternative and Augmentative communication (AAC) and second is a motivating tool for increased independence. These two purposes help guide the development for particular apps. Here are a few apps I’ve discovered that piqued my interest in terms of aiding ASD:

Proloquo2go

Proloquo2go is AssitiveWare’s flagship product. The company was started by David Niemeijer after his friend became paralysed and needed the use of an on screen keyboard. The app itself is a symbol-based communication program designed to improve communication and language skills in children and adults with learning disabilities. It is said to accommodate a wide range of motor visual and cognitive skills. In the app you can customise buttons with 20,000 symbols and use your own photos. I do like the sound of this app and would definitely like to try it out on Chris. My worry is that he would treat it like a toy instead as he is 21 now and has mostly associated tablets as a form of play. 

Proloquo2go has otherwise won lots of praise for its ability to improve cognitive and social development in ASD. A study done by Kasari and co. (2009) found that autistic children undergoing speech therapy alongside the use of the tablet app had doubled the amount of vocabulary in 3 months. They also found that the earlier the tablet intervention was given the faster their learning progress.

The below video demonstrates how the app is used in the classroom:

Brain in Hand

Brain In Hand is an excellent new personal assistive technology that promotes independence individuals who others need constant assistance. It is an app that helps people write down situations where they have difficulties and plan solutions in advance to minimise stress and anxiety. The app even monitors mood and provides solutions to help alleviate their stress or alert the user’s person of choice to get in touch with them immediately. The brains behind the app are a team of researchers based in Exeter UK, including David Fry who is going to be speaking at Autech 2015 in Manchester this October (more info below). They originally intended for the app to assist ASD and have since extended its use for other users who have had brain injuries, other learning difficulties or mental health issues such as anxiety. This is a great app for ASD individuals with a higher degree of independence. Have a look at the video on the front page of their website if your are curious about how it works. 

BrainInHand link

First Then Visual Schedule App

First Then App (First Then App, by Good Karma Apps)

Similar to the previous Brain in Hand app,with it being a personal schedule maker, but would be more helpful for lower functioning ASD like Chris. It is a positive behavioural app that generates user created audio and visual cues of routines and transitions in order to improve independence and reduce anxiety. It is more affordable than the previous two apps and easy to use. It would definitely be a good replacement for the physical card prompts usually used in ASD classes. If Chris had it all the time I assume he’d stop having as many meltdowns as he does now as this would keep him busy and satisfied about his routines. I’m definitely going to try it out with him when I go back home. It would be very useful for anyone who likes repetition. 

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There are hundreds of apps out there to assist people with developmental disorders, however, choosing them may be difficult. Before this I had no idea apps like this even existed. Giving some time to research the usefulness of these apps would be a great idea before buying any of them as you could end up with bogus apps that haven’t been clinically proven to improve anything except the ability to press buttons!

So, Chris is a young adult now who still needs guidance in everyday tasks and has poor numeracy and reading skills, but I believe we can still get him to improve skills with further dedication. My goal, or should I say dream, is for him to be able to read one day!

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Autech 2015

I mentioned Autech 2015 earlier. This is an autism and assistive technology conference being held at Old Trafford, Manchester. Tickets cost from £175 and the event takes place on the 1st of October 2015. The conference will feature speakers such as Olga Bogdashina (Co-founder and lecturer and the International Autism Institute, David Fry (Brain in Hand), Yvonne Crowhurst and Yvonne Smith (Wirral Autistic Society) and many more. I would like to go but the tickets are a bit pricey for me at the moment. Technology will let me ready about it instead at least 🙂

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