Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Autism Works: Hacking Autism


Autism Works is an across-the-board post I'm doing to help keep people informed of recent events affecting those who have autism and their families. The goal of Autism Works is to raise awareness of, and collect information for, people on the autism spectrum by providing news and information about autism-friendly businesses and developments in treatments and identification of this condition.

Michael Offutt, who writes the blog SLC Kismet, pointed out a while back that there are a great many autism-related apps on the iPad, and it looks like there might be more, so I'll take a look at those today:

First, autism apps. I have a Droid smart phone, one I got in part because Mr F's and Mr Bunches' teachers suggested an iPad last year as something to help the boys learn to communicate. Rather than invest $800 plus right off the bat on something that may not work, I went cheap by getting the touch-screen phone and trying that out.

Finding apps hasn't been difficult. Finding apps suited for autistic kids has -- there is, so far as I can tell, no "keyword" or "tag" type of search for the Droid store.

On the one hand, any app that lets the boys use the phone is a good one, and the smart phone (or touch screen pad) works great for that: Mr Bunches, who particularly likes the computer, had a lot of trouble originally learning how to use the mouse and keyboard, and still has trouble clicking, so a touch screen was great in getting them to play games and use the screen.

That let them play games -- they liked Angry Birds, in particular -- and watch videos all by touching, rather than clicking, and Mr Bunches in particular learned to get around Youtube pretty successfully on my phone, which was also portable enough for him to carry around.

Specific games that I found worked particularly well on the small touch screen included Fisher Price's online learning games: they have counting and ABC games that work well on a touch screen, and some "learning about opposites" and "animal sounds" games that even on a 3-by-1 inch screen look good and are easy to work. They're free and easy to access.

Another game Mr Bunches particularly enjoys, and which can be played on a small or large screen for free, is the "Jumping Box" game, where a person has to click-and-drag on a box to make it slide and jump through obstacles. (I like that one, too.)

"Talking Tom" was an app suggested by the teachers -- it's a cat that repeats everything you say in a slightly higher voice, and reacts to certain touches and other input. It's available for free and for $0.99, but don't bother paying; there's no difference between the two.



This site was suggested by the school teachers to find apps for an iPad. I'd give you the name, but it doesn't seem to have one. I haven't checked it out at all yet, but I'll try to download and review some of the apps in the future.

Then there's "Hacking Autism." This is a project I just learned about yesterday, an attempt to help "give people with autism a voice." They're going to have a Hackathon to get volunteer software developers in touch with autism specialists to develop new touch-enabled apps for the autism community.

You don't have to be a programmer or expert to participate: the site is seeking comments on existing ideas, and suggestions for apps to be developed, so if you have autism or are related to someone who does, weigh in and let them know.

You might even get some inspiration from the Hacking Autism's "Stories Of Hope," which includes a touching story written by an autistic boy who had never spoken until he was given a "Lightwriter," after which he was able to have a conversation with his older brother -- a conversation that was so special, they videotaped it for his parents and made it their Christmas present.

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