Welcome to iAutism. Here you will find information on apps for tablets and smartphones that have been developed for people with ASD and other special needs. You will also find book reviews, news and some advice on technology.
Over 600 iPad/iPhone/iPod touch apps suitable for people with ASD and other special needs. Go to the list
Over 200 apps for Android devices also suitable for people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and other special needs. Go to the list
Reviews of books on ASD and other special needs, from novels to scientific texts. Go to the list
We are revamping iAutism, and it is a longer task than expected. Perhaps you see some strange things. Sorry for the inconvenience!
Technology focused on people with ASD has been on the market for a few decades, and has grown rapidly in the last few years with the appearance of smartphones and tablets. However, the literature on what can be done today with so much technology and how to apply it is scarce.
Politics, UDL, inclusion, virtual reality, and robots
The first section deals with the policies —primarily in the U.S.— related to autism and the use of innovative technologies to improve the services for people with ASD. It continues with a chapter devoted to UDL (Universal Design for Learning). UDL defines a group of principles for the creation of a curriculum which provides learning opportunities to all individuals, adjusting them to the possibilities of each one, and it is a framework or focus which is defended in various parts of the book.
The second section then tackles the subject, and starts off by introducing the technology that helps towards the inclusion in ordinary schools, from communication apps (AAC) or graphical word processors to tools as common as Word or PowerPoint and a set of pictograms. The next two chapters are much more advanced and focus on virtual reality and robots.
Focusing now on more usual technologies, the third section is about language and communication. The main types of vocabulary and grammar learning applications are described first, and those for sentence-level semantics and pragmatics after. This section continues presenting apps for receptive language learning, the expressive communication ones —which in general other authors would identify with the acronym AAC— and organizers or visual planners. And it finishes with applications for the improvement of literary abilities, both reading and writing: speech therapy, creation of digital stories, reading comprehension, text-to-speech (TTS), handwriting, etc.
Emotions and social interaction
For teaching the recognition of emotions, the authors —Simon Baron-Cohen among them— defend in the fourth section the systematic teaching of empathy with LEGO, robots, videos, and software, listing those applications that have scientific evidence. Regarding social interaction, it is commented that various technologies can contribute: video modeling, robots, collaborative virtual environments, communication with computer mediation, and videogames.
The fifth section is dedicated to applications for data collection by family members and professionals or by the person with autism themself, such as the aid provided by some of these tools to help overcome certain situations once it has been detected that they are taking place (i.e., stress).
Implementation and training
The last two sections deal with several separate but interesting topics. First, some ideas —very conceptual— on how to implement the technology in the classroom and an entire chapter explaining how it was done in one school. Second, the use of technology for distance learning (online) for parents and professionals. The main programs used today are discussed here. And third, support in the transition from school to work, based on an app for iPad developed by the authors.
As often happens in books that combine chapters written by different authors, the style and focus of the book is quite variable. As a whole, this writing, clearly directed at educational professionals and academics, offers a good review of many of the available technologies and provides many ideas to be used, such as the state of the art in areas like virtual reality and robotics.
The reader will get examples of applications and other technologies to work on learning each of the main areas (language, emotions, social interaction, etc.), and many inspirational ideas about education for people with autism in general. But of course with so many subjects and only 360 pages, the most pragmatic part on methods and implementation is limited.
SpeakColors is much more than an app to learn colors, and provides exercises to learn diverse vocabulary, to work receptive and expressive language, and to practice various basic structures of sentences.
The main menu of SpeakColors allows you to get help and personalize the app. The main button leads you directly to the work screen.
There are various elements in the work screen. In the center and very big, a color square and a photograph of a real object of that color. Touching each of these two elements we can hear an audio clip with the pronunciation of the corresponding word. And in the center, below, we have a button of a microphone which allows us to record, and then play, an audio clip at will.
The idea is simple. The student sees combinations of colors and objects and can practice the receptive and expressive language. The arrow buttons below allow you to see other objects of the same color, and the color buttons above allow you to change the color. SpeakColors allows working with seven basic colors: white, black, blue, green, red, yellow and orange.
This way, the student can practice simple model phrases, such as “I play with a …” or ” In my house, I have a….”.
SpeakColors comes preloaded with a basic vocabulary and 200 photographs that allow over 1,000 phrases. But SpeakColors allows you to add new words to the vocabulary (including it’s text, image and audio clip), deciding in which phrase templates they can be used. You can do this in a configuration screen that is very similar to the work screen and easy to use. The same functionality allows you to change the preloaded audio clips and the photographs. When taking photographs, you can scale them -something typical- but also rotate them -less typical but useful also.
SpeakColors is a relatively simple app that you can control in a matter of minutes. Thanks to its ability to be customized, it can serve as a basis for working with a very large vocabulary set.
I would love the opportunity to work with only those colors first and then later without them, or to have a registry, but as always the list of possible extensions is very long. In the Spanish version (SpeakColors Spanish Pro), the audio clips have an American accent.
Anyway, SpeakColors can be a very useful app to practice expressive and receptive language, color associations and structures of simple phrases. And the free Lite version allows you to test it.
Finding entertainment apps adapted to children with special needs is one of my favorite activities, but can also be frustrating. Sometimes a simple text button can be enough to ruin the usability of a game that initially looked very attractive. At other times, the educational elements that have been included in an app are not compatible with the cognitive levels of all children.
Two years ago, the search for apps (entertainment, communication or learning) and their analysis led me to start iAutism. This has also led me to getting involved in the development of Happy Geese, an app that essentially is an adaptation of the game of Snakes and Ladders and the Game of the Goose (more popular in Europe) for children with special needs.
With a design that is suited for these children and variety of visual aids, Happy Geese allows me, at last, to play board games with my whole family.
Two games in one app
The first thing you see when starting Happy Geese is a menu with two panels that correspond to the two games included in the app: Snakes and Ladders and the Game of the Goose.
Tapping any of the two boards takes you to the configuration screen of the corresponding game. Happy Geese allows you to create hundreds of combinations of items, which is great but requires a slightly more complex configuration process than with a typical board game. This aspect is partly addressed with help screens that describe each configuration option one by one.
On the left of the configuration screen, you can choose the board you want to play with. There are 5 boards per game with increasing difficulty. The free app for iOS includes two “easier” boards for each game and you can buy the 3 more advanced boards through an in-app purchase, while the full version for iOS and the Android version include all the 10 boards.
On the right you will find 5 settings buttons. The first allows you to choose the type of cells to be used on the board (colors, white or colored letters, white or colored shapes) and dice (the same five options, plus dice with numbers and dots -one or two dice-).
The next two buttons allow you to set whether snakes and ladders or geese and bridges should be included on the board. These are items that involve more complex rules and taking these away allows you to simplify the game during the initial rounds with your child.
The last two buttons allow you to enable visual aid (if you do, the cell where you have to move your chip will always be highlighted) and to decide whether you want the final cell to be multiple o not. If you do, the cell will show all colors, letters or shapes, and there will be no “rebound”.
In total, this gives you 280 different possible configurations per game. In addition, the sequence of letters, shapes or colors on the cells of the board will be different between each round, which produces an enormous variety of scenarios.
Three types of chips
Happy Geese allows you to choose between three types of chips: drawings of faces of 16 children and adults, 8 faces of animals and the option to use your own pictures to create custom chips (which serves as another visual aid during the game).
As an additional treat, you can select a player as the King (or Queen) of the game, in which case the app will influence the dice to help that player win. This is an interesting option to help avoid disappointments with children who are learning the game and can be put off by several losses in a row. Just make sure that your children don’t see how to set that option in the configuration screen!
When the game begins, there is an initial draw to see who goes first. To help you see whose turn it is, the chip and the die of that player are highlighted. Each player has a cubbyhole for his die on his side of the iPad, along with his name, and the die only appears in front of the player whose turn it is. With visual aids turned on, or if a player waits a long time without moving his chip or moves it to the wrong place, the destination cell is highlighted too.
A typical die with dots or numbers can be a real challenge. Happy Geese solves this by offering dice with colors, shapes or letters. With these dice the chip has to be moved to the next cell with the color, form or letter that is drawn.
Snakes, ladders, geese and bridges come with fun animations that help understand their functionality. Other nice details are included in the games, such as the chips that move out of the way of the chip that is playing to help see the letters, colors or shapes on each cell.
Each time a player gets to the final cell, a podium appears with his chip together with a celebratory melody. The game continues after that to allow everyone to get to the end of the board, even when only one player remains (pressing the pause button on the board allows you to stop the game earlier if you wish).
Over time, players can gradually learn to play with the different items in each game (like snakes or ladders; each of them can be added or removed in any order) and can progress to the more difficult boards. The most advanced board of each game looks quite similar in shape and length to that of the original game and once a child is comfortable with that one, the jump to the original game is not that great anymore.
Compared with the many versions available of Snakes and Ladders and the Game of the Goose, Happy Geese presents a more accessible option for very young children and children with special needs. Its wide range of possible configurations allows you to adapt the game to the capabilities of every child. The help in managing turns, the chips with pictures of the players or the dice without numbers (never mind dots!) greatly increase the accessibility of these games.
Having participated in the design of this app, I find it hard to criticize it, but I can think of many things I would like to see added to the game, like the ability to play with larger cells and chips, especially if you use an iPad mini.
In summary, I think Happy Geese should be seen as an interesting addition to the category of gaming apps adapted to children with special needs.
- Francesc Sistach is the Editor of iAutism and has been actively involved in the development of Happy Geese.
In part, this book is the second edition of one with a very similar title published in 1991 by Dr. Reichle and several of his doctoral students. Two decades later, history repeats itself, this time with a much longer list of much more experienced coauthors.
In short, this book provides methods of implementing strategies from ACC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication), always combining great academic rigor with a high level of practicality. Its audience is special education professionals and speech therapists who work with people with severe learning disabilities (including, but not limited to, autism).
The authors aren’t providing a unique method, but a combination of procedures, based on proven scientific and empirical evidence, that help practical implementation of the AAC in many ways.
The first chapter focuses on how small children in general become active communicators. The second chapter explains the main types of AAC and how to select the most appropriate one for each case. Hence, it talks about the use of real pictures, various types of pictograms, or communicating with gestures, providing rules and recommendations for choosing among these options, and answering questions about whether using these methods affect the development of verbal language.
Chapters 3 and 4 present the different systems of AAC, including non-electronic ones, and explain the main points of value in each AAC system. This book doesn’t focus solely on autism, so you will find many references here to systems based on scanning and light switches, for example.
The first part of the book, devoted to laying down the groundwork for intervention, ends with three chapters centered on learning strategies (different types of aid, reinforcement, etc.), on defining the strength of the intervention and educational context most suitable for each case, and on how to monitor student performance.
The second part of the book is dedicated to establishing functional communication. It begins by explaining how to show a student the relationship between written symbols and objects or events, including recommendations about how to generalize and about the physical properties of the symbols, making reference to the well-known PECS method. It continues on about how to establish functional communication that is effective for accessing objects or activities or for rejecting a suggestion, making an alternative one, or asking for a break or help.
Chapter 11 focuses on strategies for beginning, maintaining, and concluding a social interaction. The twelfth is about using AAC to strengthen oral communication with the disabled person so as to help them understand your communication. An example of this is the visual planning that is used to explain the steps to follow in order to complete a stated task. The final chapter explores AAC as a method to support people who are able to communicate orally but with difficulty.
Bridge between research and practice
The book’s structure really helps to build bridges between research and practice. Each chapter begins with an introduction, its intended objectives, and a list of key words. The chapter’s content follows, which includes many small sections with tips, vocabulary, and basic principles, or boxes labeled “What does the research say?” that summarizes studies or academic articles related to the topic being discussed, always presenting supportive scientific evidence. Also abundant are instructions about steps to take when applying a certain strategy, and case reviews that are examples of these strategies. Each chapter ends with a summary and an extensive bibliography.
So many resources can make it seem exhausting, but what it actually does is to present well-thought-out and proven methods, and a lot of information about how to apply them in practice. All of this, and the amount of content explained, makes this work a very valuable contribution to the field of AAC.