According to the most recent research by the CDC, 1 in every 68 school-aged children in the U.S. has been identified has having autism or a related disorder -- defined as an impairment in social interaction and communication and by restricted, repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behavior.
As the incidence of autism increases, so have the tools to help treat it. Mobile technology, such as the iPad, has been extremely helpful for parents and teachers of autistic children, as apps have replaced dedicated devices that cost upwards of $2,000. As part of Autism Awareness Month, we've highlighted the best iPad apps that help address various aspects of autism.
One common symptom of autism is a difficulty in speaking or an inability to speak. Proloquo2Go is an augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) app that teaches children how to construct sentences using symbols and pictures. It also has text-to-speech (in American and British children's voices), word prediction, and a customizable vocabulary and interface.
Similar to Proloquo2Go, TouchChat HD is another AAC app, which uses pictograms to help individuals construct sentences. TouchChat has seven English-speaking voices, and sentences can be shared on Facebook, Twitter, text message and email. TouchChat HD Lite ($9.99) lets users build sentences, but does not have audio playback.
Another issue facing children with autism is that they require a clear, set schedule to help prevent them from acting out as a result of something unexpected. First Then Visual Schedule HD lets you create a pictogram-based schedule, with a timer for each event, that the child can then check off as each task is completed.
AutisMate combines features of several apps into one. Parents can set up dynamic scenes, such as a kitchen, where a child can tap on the faucet, and see a video of the proper way to wash one's hands. There's also a visual scheduling feature, and a sentence construction section.
iCommunicate is a visual schedule planner that lets users record their own audio. The app incorporates text-to-speech with 20 voices including English, Canadian French, Italian, Norwegian, German, French, Spanish, and Swedish. You can also share pictures and boards via email or iTunes file sharing.
Some children with autism will respond to loud noises by acting out. EASe Personal Listening Therapy helps to address this issue by playing short bursts of sound, so a child becomes accustomed to that kind of stimulus. Parents and therapists can adjust the type of sound, duration, aggressiveness, and a number of other factors, depending on the child's responsiveness.
ABA Flash Cards helps children recognize different emotions and nonverbal cues in others by using flash cards. In addition to the cards that come with the app, users can create their own, and can incorporate audio, too.
Kid In Story places the child as the main character in one of several stories, helping him or her to understand appropriate social behaviors. Using the iPad's camera, you can superimpose your child into the tale, and then use your voice to narrate the story. Eight templates cover topics from washing ones hands to a trip to San Francisco, and users can create their own stories, too.
Designed to help children learn how to form natural-sounding sentences, aacorn features a word tree that suggests next words instead of making your child hunt for them in a grid. The app uses children's voices in US, UK and Australian accents instead of robotic audio, making it more expressive. Its adaptive engine learns your kid's behavior over time to remember preferences and favorite words.
Autism Tracker Pro uses a visual calendar so you can track and chart patterns over time, from mood to behavior to health to food. The app also lets you share calendars via email or Twitter, and, for $15, you can track an unlimited number of individuals.
A simpler version of an AAC app, TapToTalk has an album of images that children can use to construct sentences, which the app then speaks. While not as robust as other apps, it's good for those starting out, and want to get a feel for how these apps work.
Your child can express himself or herself by turning pictures and videos into talking story books with Pictello. Each page in a Pictello Story can contain a picture, up to five lines of text and a recorded sound. You can also add text-to-speech with one of the included voices.
Tom the talking cat responds to your child's touch and repeats everything he or she says in a funny voice. Poking and petting Tom or grabbing his tail will make him purr, fall over or scratch the screen. Your kid can record the cat's reaction and share the videos via YouTube, Facebook, email or MMS as a novel video message.