Five-year-old Quentin, who is autistic, uses an iPad to help him communicate
My name is Melissa Morganlander and my 5-year-old son, Quentin, has been diagnosed with PDD-NOS, a form of autism. Here are five great apps that have helped him greatly, which I have reviewed on my blog, the iQ Journals.
1. Kid in Story – Social stories are step-by-step picture books that help children with autism understand a social event that might otherwise be confusing, frustrating or simply upsetting. This app allows you to create your own social stories and include your child’s photo and record your own audio. I loved using it to prep my son for our trip to Disney World.
2. Model Me Going Places – This great little app does not get nearly enough praise as it should, in my opinion. It uses video modeling to depict some social situations that children with autism often struggle with. Quentin has watched all the videos, multiple times. The best part? It’s free!
3. VAST Autism 1 – Core – This app uses video modeling for speech. Like so many children with autism, Quentin learns best with visual imagery. This app is packed with extreme close-up videos of a mouth speaking basic words and phrases. It’s a little odd to watch at first, but for children who struggle with expressive language, it could prove to be really helpful.
4. Toca Boca Hair Salon – While this app is not specifically for children with autism, I discovered it helped my son so much with something he struggled with: getting a haircut. Like most apps from Toca Boca, this is about open-ended play. Being able to be in control of an animated client in the salon chair can really put your haircut-fearing child at ease after several rounds.
5. Go Go Games – This app, designed by graduate students at Stanford University, is a set of games specifically designed for kids on the autism spectrum. The games focus specifically on the skill of matching objects, which can be difficult for some people with autism.
- The New Social Story Book (engagekids.wordpress.com)
Video games help autistic students in classrooms
Click the link to view the video: http://bcove.me/nl38ettj
ASHBURN, Va. – Onscreen, Michael Mendoza’s digital avatar stands before a wonderland of cakes and sweets, but his message is all business: “I. Get. Frustrated when people push me and call me — and call me — a teacher’s pet!”
In real life, 9-year-old Michael has autism, as do his two classmates. All three have long struggled with the mental, physical and social rigors of school. All three now get help most days from video-game avatars — simplified digital versions of themselves doing things most autistic children don’t generally do. In Michael’s case, he’s recording “social stories” videos that remind him how to act. In his classmates’ cases — their parents asked that they not be identified — they’re playing games that help with coordination, body awareness and cooperation, all challenges for kids on the autism spectrum.
Can off-the-shelf video games spark a breakthrough in treating autism? That’s the question researchers are asking as educators quietly discover the therapeutic uses of motion-controlled sensors. The devices are popular with gamers: Microsoft this week said it had sold more than 19 million Kinect motion-sensor units since introducing it in November 2010.
Now autism researchers, teachers and therapists are installing them in classrooms and clinics, reporting promising results for a fraction of the price of typical equipment. Could a teacher armed with a $300 Xbox and a $10 copy of Double Fine Happy Action Theater do as much good as months of intensive therapy?
“Nobody thought of it as a therapeutic device,” said Marc Sirkin of Autism Speaks, a New York-based advocacy group. Earlier this spring, when he first got wind of computer engineering students at the University of Michigan hacking the Kinect to develop autism games, he bought a ticket on a red-eye flight to see for himself. “It turns out you don’t have to look very far, you don’t have to scratch very deep, to go, ‘Wait a minute. There’s something really cool here.’ ”
Microsoft’s Radu Burducea stops short of calling the Kinect a therapeutic device, but says he hears every day about teachers and therapists adapting it in new and creative ways: math instruction, book criticism, counseling and physical coordination, for instance.
“We’ve lost control,” he admitted, “and thank God that we have.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in April that about one in 88 children are on the autism spectrum, a 78% rise from 2002 to 2008.
In many cases, researchers have found, autistic children easily interact with an onscreen avatar that mimics their motions — the game world is more predictable and less threatening than real life, said Dan Stachelski of the Lakeside Center for Autism in Issaquah, Wash. As a result, teachers can help even the most isolated child interact with teachers and peers. In one case, Stachelski said, a student playing a Kinect game for a few moments moved his arms up and down in unison for the first time, “something our therapist was trying to do for six months.”
Lakeside preschoolers now regularly compete in Dance Central dance-offs, and more recently, eight students shared a tiny classroom space with the help of Happy Action Theater, a sort of rule-free, multiplayer digital sandbox. Tim Schafer, the game’s designer, said his team built it with “zero assumptions” about players’ abilities. “We were thinking of a birthday party full of toddlers,” he said. “The main mantra was, ‘No failure.’ ”
At the University of Michigan, software engineering students this spring designed several Kinect games for children with autism, an assignment from instructor David Chesney. Among the titles in testing: Tickle Monster, in which kids tickle imaginary creatures onscreen and learn about both appropriate touch and facial expressions. “For kids with autism, there’s a certain social awkwardness and a lack of ability to recognize emotion, and to respond to emotion and verbal cues in an appropriate manner,” he said.
Teachers at Weller had worked for years to help autistic students cope with the everyday demands of school — following directions, staying in a prescribed space, getting along with one another and working together, among others. Even talking to one another is often a challenge, teachers say.
A few weeks ago, Michael’s teachers invited him to step in front of an Xbox equipped with a Kinect. He has since recorded four “social stories” that help him cope with social dilemmas as they happen. Teachers create digital QR codes that students access with a smartphone or iPad and up pops the student’s video.
One teacher, Adina Popa, recalled that an autistic classmate recently watched Michael’s “getting frustrated” video and reminded him of his own prescription: Tell a teacher, don’t push, hit or use “inappropriate” words.
“That was a very neat conversation,” Popa said.
One Place for Special Needs scoured the Internet to come up with the most complete list of free social stories covering everything from behavior to toilet training. We also have included stories showing sequential processing, the steps for what to expect in a variety of activities. Some are text only and others include pics.
Dawn Villarreal runs One Place for Special Needs, a national disability resource that lets you find local and online resources, events and even other families in your neighborhood plus thousands of online disability resources! Stay awhile and check out the site. She is also moderator of Autism Community Connection, a Yahoo group for families of children with autism spectrum disorder.