Most of you probably know of at least one family with a child on the autism spectrum. The current prevalence rate has been estimated to be about 1 in 68, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Because the range of symptoms varies so widely, it can be difficult to quickly describe what this condition is in a way that applies to all children on the spectrum (contrary to public perception, autism can be variously expressed in different people).
Generally, these children have speech and social deficits. Tantrums can be a common expression because they lack the communication skills to communicate their needs and feelings.
While some show extraordinary aptitudes in certain areas, many have trouble learning in the same way as their non-autistic peers. Therefore, teaching has to be highly specialized to accommodate the unique ways these children take in and process information. Proper educational tools and strategies can help these kids better integrate with social settings and even the world around them.
So how can Gamification help?
According to Natalie Webber, M.S, “The iPad has become a great tool when working with students on the autism spectrum because it gives them the ability to control a piece of their environment and an opportunity to communicate.”
The number of apps being developed for autism spectrum children has soared due to the high demand for such tools. Here are ten that are highly recommended.
1. Book Creator
Though Book Creator is not an app that is explicitly intended for autism spectrum kids, it is nonetheless a great tool which can be adapted to serve as a highly customized learning tool for individual children.
Typical teaching programs for many autism spectrum children (ASC) relies on flash cards and rote learning. But learning (for anyone) can always be enriched by creating new associations between the information and real life.
With the help of an adult, Book Creator gives autism spectrum kids a chance to form deeper and meaningful connections by creating and arranging photos, voice recordings, videos, music and text into an actual book. A book can be made around different themes within the child’s own life such as: school, meal times at home, outings, taking care of pets, etc.
Also the process of creating a book and exploring the content gives kids a greater sense of autonomy and the ability to make better sense of their surroundings, a good utilization of Core Drive #3, Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback.
Kids on the autistic spectrum need to be taught how to interact in a variety of settings. This includes simple activities like washing hands or brushing teeth, using utensils for eating, or learning how to play at school or in the playground.
Teaching rules of engagement and simple processes in life can be met with enormous resistance. A child with poor language comprehension and communication skills may find such lessons to be frustrating.
Many of the children on the autism spectrum, however, do enjoy looking at images and drawings. Therefore, it can be helpful to use dynamic media like AutisMate where kids can explore different scenarios and settings in a way that helps them feel a sense of control over their learning (Core Drive #4, Ownership & Possession). This can be a great preliminary step prior to practicing new skills in a real life setting.
Additional features within the app include:
(1) A visual scheduler to help kids understand linear sequences of steps and/or activities.
(2) A section for constructing sentences to help kids communicate what they’ve learned in a proper sentence format.
Communication is a major challenge for children on the autism spectrum. Proloquo2Go offers an entire library of nouns, actions, sentence fragments and other parts of speech. There are over 14,000 language components. Each of these items can be compiled into a personal set or collection which has to do with a particular theme. For example, a parent may want to create their own library of language items that have to do with going to the grocery store.
An adult would need to show the child what sentences to use to express certain needs or ideas.
At the grocery store, the child can choose these keys on the visual display screen of their app. Each of these sentence fragment keys also includes audio, so the child understands how the words sounds..
They can construct their sentences and verbally speak them to communicate with their parent, instead of feeling upset and throwing a tantrum. This gives them a strong feeling of Core Drive #4, Ownership & Possession and Core Drive #2, Development& Accomplishment).
Although it may not be immediately obvious, many children on the autistic spectrum enjoy high degrees of structure and routine. Since they experience language and comprehension delays, being directed by adults from one activity to the next can be a difficult source of anguish.
Abrupt transitions from doing homework, going to the store and sitting down for dinner can cause kids to feel huge amounts of stress since they don’t quite understand what is going on. Instead, it is often best to visually present a sequence of activities so that they can anticipate what is coming next, well ahead of time.
Choiceworks allows parents and caregivers to construct these types of schedules to help autistic kids feel a greater sense of predictability over their day (Core Drive #4, Ownership & Possession).
Also this format is far more engaging and interesting to them, compared to the more traditional tools such as cards and poster board schedulers.
A multimedia approach is a great way to present information to autistic kids. Pictello is another great tool which uses different forms of media to help parents and autism spectrum children prepare for new situations, including social engagements.
Users have the ability to create books and “talking photo albums.” It offers a visual reference, which helps enormously with language comprehension and the simultaneous audio allows them to understand how to pronounce words. The app aims to support children in developing greater levels of expressive speech.
Parents and educators can use Pictello as a tool for teaching behavioral expectations as well. It can also be used to reflect on a challenging event and communicate alternate ways for acting upon the situation.
With Pictello, new activities and settings don’t have to be a source of anxiety for kids and their parents. Instead, they can be transformed into valuable and rewarding learning opportunities (Core Drive #2, Development & Accomplishment).
6. My PlayHome
Besides language, social and reciprocal interactions are also challenging for many kids on the autisic spectrum. In the past, therapists would manipulate simple pretend play toys and have their students passively model their actions. This, of course, does not feel like play to the child. Queue gamification to the rescue!
My PlayHome uses the natural inclination that many autistic spectrum children have towards digital media to help them engage with others through contexts presented on the app. With some help from adults, these skills can be transitioned into more real life settings.
7. Word SLapPs
While flashcards are common teaching tools, they are not terribly engaging or interesting.
Word SLapPs offers a new alternative to help autism spectrum children learn about household items, different foods, and even better remember and understand their friends and family. Images can be imported into the app and then accompanied by an audio recording, using the voice of an adult, or better yet, the child’s own voice. This can include questions that the adult or teacher formulates.
Programs can be customized to suit the unique needs of individual children. This is a great tool for:
- helping kids build and develop expressive and receptive language skills
- being able to recognize people in their lives and use their name
8. ABA Find IT
ABA stands for Applied Behavioral Analysis. It is a conceptual framework used to shape new behaviors which consists of three components:
(1) antecedent – the trigger for a specific behavior
(2) targeted behavior
(3) consequence or reward
This framework can apply universally to many different settings and situations. However, it is used quite predominantly to help autistic kids learn new vocabulary, concepts, and even skills.
In traditional therapy sessions, flashcards and 3D objects are used. For example, the teacher might lay out a simple array of plastic toys in front of the child and ask them to “touch the ball.” (antecedent). If they respond correctly (behavior), they are given an appropriate reward (e.g. high five). As the child masters responses, they achieve a sense of Core Drive #2, Development & Accomplishment which propels them to continue engaging and learning.
ABA Find It uses multi-sensory features and evolving levels of complexity (including real life backgrounds) to help kids master new levels of skill. It turns identification lesson plans into an actual interactive game.
9. Puppet Pals
With this app, parents teachers and caregivers can turn the photos they take as valuable teaching tools. Real life social situations can be confusing for kids on the autistic spectrum. Actions and events can happen very quickly. And due to language difficulties, it can be difficult for adults to help kids reflect on situations to discuss better forms of behavior or language to use.
The use of customized stories can be a powerful teaching tool. With Puppet Pals, photos of other kids, the child, adults etc. can be used (Core Drive #5, Social Influence & Relatedness). Through the use of a recording feature, users can create voices for the puppets. The overall format can be enormously helpful for replaying situations and teaching alternate ways of behaving, communicating, or interacting.
10. Kid In Story
Many kids on the autistic spectrum are good at recognizing words and saying them out loud. However, they have much more difficulty with reading comprehension. Instead of regular story books, a better way to help them understand what is going on within a larger context, is to help the child create their own stories with themselves as the main character.
The iPad camera can be used to photograph the child. The image can then be inserted into a story setting and the adult can use their voice to narrate what is happening. As an additional step, it may be helpful to transcribe the narration in writing. This can help the child learn how to become better at processing and understanding whole passages.
Gamification to Improve Lives for Autism Spectrum Children
With so many children now being diagnosed on the autism spectrum, the need for customizable teaching tools and individualized education is becoming increasingly important. Apps like the ones listed above can be truly fun and engaging while stimulating basic to advanced levels of learning and social development. These apps can help take some of the frustration and boredom out of learning routines and help autistic kids improve their functioning skills in an otherwise confusing and chaotic world.