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New iPad Apps for Autism

October 18 2010 | by

the ipad

OK, admit it.  The iPad is the new gadget for the technologically savvy, as well as the merely technologically competent.  Perhaps one of the best features of the iPad is not the device itself, but the plethora of apps that span every interest from Netflix film buffs to Bloomberg news junkies to fantasy football fans.  Now, those with autism, a complex developmental disability that affects social interaction and communication skills, can bask in the mesmerizing glow of the iPad.

Proloquo2Go, an iPad and iTouch app that allows users to touch icons that correspond with “spoken” words or phrases, is an excellent tool for those on the non-verbal end of the spectrum and one that has been mentioned previously in abledbody’s text-to-speech coverage.  With thousands of pictures, a default vocabulary of over 7,000 items and a price tag of $189, the Proloquo2Go is far more comprehensive than your average emoticon.  AssistiveWare, which developed the product, shows some user videos of how the app works. It’s easy to combine words and phrases to type out a conversation, and the app has a kid-friendly interface.  Attentive details like a larger keypad and a saved history of conversations, are great features, too.

AssistiveWare also just released a new iPhone and iTouch app, Pictello, which lets users create talking photo albums and talking books. Each page in a Pictello Story can contain a picture, up to five lines of text, and a recorded sound or text-to-speech using high-quality voices. It costs $14.99, and an iPad app is in development.

While many of Proloquo2Go’s icons allow kids to express emotion, those on the autism spectrum can’t always identify emotions in the first place. A new robot developed through the Autism Center of Pittsburgh might help. The robot, named Popchilla, looks like a big, blue, fluffy donkey-esque animal, and has features that change to express many different emotions — happy, sad, angry — that kids can work to identify on an iPad app. Popchilla also “speaks” through pre-recorded messages or through a voice box run by a therapist, to help kids interact with others more effectively.  The robot and iPad app are slated to come to market later this fall, at a cost of around $150.

While the iPad was certainly created as a mainstream consumer device, perhaps its greatest asset for those with autism is the same for the average consumer is — it’s portable.  One key autism therapy is applied behavioral analysis, or ABA, which continually reinforces positive, targeted behaviors through repetition.  Because the iPad can be both a visual and audio means of reinforcing positive behavior, researchers are beginning to look into the larger ramifications behind Steve Jobs’ techy toys.

For example, last year the Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions found that video modeling, using videotaped sequences to reinforce or correct behaviors, has the potential to be used as a teaching tool for those with higher imitative skills.  On the flip side, some on the spectrum love repeating favorite video or audio clips sometimes ad nauseam.  Where your old VCR cassette tapes would surely break with excessive fast-forwarding and rewinding, YouTube lets you play forever (headphones are strongly advised).

Other iPad programs of note include:

  • First Then Visual Schedule, which takes the user step-by-step through daily events such as getting dressed or using the restroom in order to positively reinforce the correct way to do these activities. ($9.99)
  • AutismXpress is designed to help “people with autism to recognizes and express their emotions through its fun and easy to use interface.”  The emotions range from happy and sad to sleepy and gassy. (Free)
  • Stories2Learn is a more general literacy program developed by a school psychologist and a speech therapist, where the user can upload photos, audio, and text to illustrate personal stories. ($13.99)

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