Popular communications apps include Proloquo2go, one of the first apps to facilitate language, Touch Chat and Scene & Heard. Social skills apps include Hidden Curriculum, which helps kids and adults learn unstated daily rules through real-life examples and Sosh, which teaches social skills while helping kids relax.
The I See-quence series of apps by I Get It was developed for I Touch and I Phone to use photo stories to teach children about specific social situations they may have difficulty understanding. Going to a Birthday Party, Going to Fireworks and Easter Social Skills are just a few.
In January, Jonathan Izak, a 25-year-old inventor with roots in Bal Harbour, developed Autismate, an IPad app to help children with language challenges. When Izak was 16, his brother Oriel, 3, was diagnosed with a severe form of autism that affected his ability to speak, make eye contact and swallow solid foods. “I grew up seeing him face a lot of struggles,” Izak says.
As a kid obsessed with playing and making his own video games, Izak majored in computer science at the University of Pennsylvania.
Oriel had extensive speech and behavioral therapy that improved his ability to communicate and navigate the world on his own. Several years ago, he began using a device to facilitate communication.
“That device was very large and very heavy, and he had to carry it around his neck,” Izak said. “It was heart-wrenching to watch him need to wear this equipment around his neck to be able to communicate.’’
With input from educators and therapists including some of Oriel’s clinicians, Izak developed a prototype for Autismate over two years.
The app uses photos of the child’s own environment. On Izak’s IPad is a view of his family’s kitchen. As he tapped on the image of the refrigerator, the app zoomed in. With another tap, the door opened to display a variety of food choices.
“May I have a banana ?” a voice asked.
“It starts off with very simple communication like tapping on your fridge to communicate, but helps you build up to understanding language concepts and categories and then all the way up to the more traditional system to build sentences and spontaneous speech,” Izak said.
Autismate, which has received good reviews on various industry websites, also combines communication and behavior learning, he said. “In the kitchen I can be both requesting an item to eat while learning proper table manners or how to wash your hands or do the dishes.”
Oriel uses Autismate at home and at the Samuel Scheck Hillel Community Day School, near Aventura, where he is enrolled in the Kesher program for children with special needs.
Parker said the apps can be broken down into several categories: social skills, regular learning for academic or other skills and occupational therapy like handwriting, cutting with scissors, even discomfort with textures. Children with autism generally have trouble with fine motor skills and sensitivity to textures.
Parker cautions that apps are no substitute for therapy. In fact, she said, a therapist should help determine which of the thousands of apps on the market is best for the child based on an evaluation and the goals set for the child.
“There’s more and more research showing that even kids with significant intellectual disabilities can learn to read and write,” Parker said.
And then there is the “cool factor” for kids with special needs.
Parents, she said, “are much more willing to accept this technology. It’s a lot cooler to have an Ipad.”