Ask the Developmental Doc

Dear Developmental Doc,

My son is 10 years old with a moderate form of autism. He struggles in almost all areas of development, particularly since he is non-verbal. I have recently read that there are iPad apps that help kids like mine become more aware of the world around them. He does seem to enjoy playing on the computer, but I am not well versed on the actual mechanics of the programs and am concerned that he’ll get too self-absorbed and that the whole endeavor might do more harm than good. Your thoughts?  -Marilyn P. Silverlake, CA. 

Dear Marilyn, 

Whether a child is verbal or not, if they are impacted by a developmental delay like autism, they may have serious difficulties with communicating. They may understand the literal meaning of words but not the tones in which they’re spoken. They may have trouble processing nonverbal cues like facial expressions. They may not look at people’s faces at all because there are underlying individual neurological causes that might be over-stimulated by eye contact. They might crave predictability and routine and their confidence levels may be low. Here is an introduction to some apps designed to develop communication skills and improve social interactive ability. 

Popchilla--designed to teach skills like recognizing emotions or imitating physical actions. 

Stories2Learn--allows families to create stories that teach routines and social conventions.

First Then--a visual schedule that provides predictability.

Speech with Milo--helps children increase utterance length and build basic storytelling skills.

Model Me Going Places--a free app that helps children prepare for difficult places and challenges to their routine.

Look in my eyes--a game to help children develop comfort looking into another’s eyes.

First then--this app reaches routines and increases predictability.

For children impacted by autism, the challenge to understand the world around them and be understood, in regards to their desire to communicate their thoughts, can create enormous frustration and deepen potential emotional shut down. Technology has only just recently begun to make accessible to most everyone inexpensive computer apps, like the kind that you can find on iPad. The following are factors to take into consideration before involving your child in this form of technology:

  • How easy is the app to use (from a physical standpoint as well as an intellectual one)?
  • Does it have the ability to grow with the child (especially if there is significant cost involved)?
  • What level of vocabulary and structural language is it appropriate for?
  • Are the pictures engaging and easy to understand?
  • Are there opportunities to customize the program with your own pictures and voices?
  • How easy is the program for the parent to customize/manage?

The world of technology is offering opportunities to potentially open up the world for our children impacted by autism. I suggest that you cautiously and thoughtfully move forward,

Esther Hess, Ph.D., a.k.a. the Developmental Doc