Special Needs App of the Day - AutisMate

Special Needs App of the Day - AutisMate

This review is courtesy of Wynsum Arts' Every App Has a Story, the stories behind Wynsum Arts' distinguished apps


“I knew my brother understood the world around him even though he had not mastered the language skills to communicate with the world around him.”

-- Jonathan Izak, founder of SpecialNeedsWare and creator of AutisMate

 

AutisMate

Jonathan Izak’s younger brother is on the autism spectrum, and Izak has seen firsthand how limited verbal skills can affect some kids with autism.

“My brother is mostly non-verbal,” Izak says. “I knew my brother understood the world around him even though he had not mastered the language skills to communicate with the world around him.”

“Six years ago, when my brother was beginning to use a dedicated [AAC] device, I thought it was large and cumbersome. When smartphones and the iPad started to become popular, I looked into augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) apps, but found that the existing apps were focused on speech and they required language skills too advanced for my brother,” says Izak, who has a degree in computer science from the University of Pennsylvania.

He notes, “The existing apps helped users build sentences and relied heavily on categorization, and that didn’t work for my brother. These apps were also time intensive for caregivers to program.”

Why Did You Create AutisMate?

Jonathan Izak: In July 2011, I started working on an app that would eliminate the cognitive barriers that I saw in other apps. I was developing the app for my brother and his needs, but as the app evolved, I recognized an immense need for this product. I began working with speech-language pathologists and behavior therapists, using their feedback to improve the app. My company, SpecialNeedsWare, now includes 10 employees. We’ve also worked with an advisory board featuring well-known autism and speech-language experts, including Howard Shane, the director of the Center for Communication Enhancement and the Autism Language Program at Children’s Hospital Boston.

We released the beta version on the App Store in April 2012. After continuous improvements, we’ve launched the full version just this month (February 2013).

How Does AutisMate Work?

Jonathan Izak: The app addresses both communication and behavior by providing visual tools that are easily personalized to each child’s changing needs. It is very effective at the most basic level of communication, and it grows with the user’s changing needs.

The app provides visual support for communication. You can use customized photos to create interactive scenes that are intuitive for users with limited language skills. For example, a parent can take a picture of their own kitchen and add hotspots to the image. The child or parent can activate a hotspot by touch. If the child touches a hotspot on the refrigerator, the app can display vocabulary images that would allow the child to request a favorite food or drink.

Hotspots can also launch visual stories, videos and visual schedules in the app. For example, a hotspot on a bathroom sink can show a video on how to brush your teeth. A hot spot on a classroom scene might show a social story on how to handle a recurring stressful situation at school.

A hotspot related to the child’s bedroom scene might launch a visual schedule for bedtime routine -- and the schedules can include timers as well as a series of videos to help the user through tasks. Parents and teachers can make their own custom videos and social stories or download content available through the AutisMate library.

AutisMate also has a GPS feature, and caregivers can associate certain scenes with different locations. This means that the app can use GPS data to automatically display school-related scenes at school and home-related scenes at home. This feature makes the app easy for children to navigate without needing to understand categorization that comes with developing language skills.

We  have also worked to make the app user-friendly for parents and clinicians. Users can download content from the app’s growing content library, including 12,000 SymbolStix images and video content developed for children with special needs. For example, Watch Me Learn and Anything is Possible Inc. -- both founded by parents of children with autism -- provide video modeling content on topics such as table manners, pretend play skills, and daily living skills. Users can also email custom content from one iPad to another, enabling teachers and parents to efficiently share scenes, videos and social stories.

Although a full sentence-building platform exists in the app, users do not need advanced language skills to use the app. We really focused on making the app visually intuitive. And we integrated the tools for both communication and behavior that have been proven to support people with autism. AutisMate is where these proven tools intersect with modern technology, making the tools more portable, more efficient, and more fun.

To find more apps to help your child with autism, download Wynsum Arts’ free app, i.AM Search - available on iTunes.


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Written by: Wynsum Arts, Every App Has a Story See other articles by Wynsum Arts, Every App Has a Story
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