The iPad has become a commonly used tool for allowing those with speech-language impairments to communicate and helps to teach those with special needs. Searching “Autism” in the iPad App Store produces 902 results, a number which has been increasing quickly. 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.
AutisMate, a new app, allows parents and therapists to create interactive representations, or scenes, of an autistic child’s surroundings. 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, established AutisMate for his 10 year old brother Oriel, who is on the autism spectrum and has strained using 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.
The first fully featured augmentative communication app available was Proloquo2Go, and is the long time leader in the AAC app market. Apps like Proloquo2Go allow users to guide themselves through grids of symbols to express themselves, which has been productive for high functioning individuals with speech impairments.
On the other hand, AutisMate, allows parents and therapists to develop interactive scenes of their own surroundings using pictures, video, and voice recordings that can be created on the iPad itself. The app also influences GPS technology to further decrease 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 since becoming such a popular device for helping those with special needs, Apple will be releasing a new feature named Guided Access with iOS 6, the next version of the iPhone and iPad operating system that is due to be released in the fall. This feature keeps users from navigating out of a particular 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.”