Mobile devices reduce the barriers associated with the support of an interactive interface, which facilitates their use and assimilation of information presented on them. This is especially important in the case of children with autism.
In the field of health, mobile technologies offer great opportunities to create innovative and versatile tools. There are many extremely useful applications used in post-operative care or supporting communication between doctors, nurses and hospital administrative staff. Mobile devices also have great potential for science, communication and social interaction for autistic children.
Social navigator app
Gestures such as tap or swipe do not require additional effort to be taken with the mouse, joystick or pencil. Touch interface is intuitive, fast, easy to use and attractive. The social navigator content of the apps for kids with special needs can be very wide and can be easily changed. Icons and other graphic elements combined with the synthesis of voice and form writing, help to better understand vocabulary. Creating a mobile app is much easier than creating a desktop software (there are online tools like ibuildapp that allow you to create special needs apps for kids in a short amount of time).
We have collected 5 mobile applications from https://www.additudemag.com/social-skills-apps-for-kids-with-special-needs-top-picks/ (some of them are prototypes, others are already available on the market), which distinguishes the reference to cognitive functions, such as: emotions, language or attention. It is worth noting that applications 2 and 3 were developed for parents of children with autism.
- Emotion recognition: Face Training App – the first application is in the form of a game. The user’s task is to determine the type of emotions expressed on the faces. In addition, the game „sits” on the map, and the whole game starts in one of the cities. By correctly identifying specific emotions (such as sadness), the user is able to move to the next location on the map. Similar app posted on Ipad Autimo.
- Language stimulation with support for devices: TapSpeak – the application has the form of an interactive keyboard. Every time a child touches a letter, writes a word or button, the system says out loud the name of that element.
- Building sentences: Grace App – the role of the third application is the ability to communicate using a set of images. By choosing photos and related words and phrases, and putting them into phrases, the child creates sentences, such as „I want”, expressed by a button that shows the hand. The social navigator grace App contains basic pictures of food, places, colors, sizes or shapes. It has been extend the functionality of uploading images that will be useful to the user.
- Attention and guiding views: FindMe – it uses a simplified version of the fun „Where’s Waldo”, the player must find on the screen a person present in different situations. At subsequent levels, the environment becomes more complex, enclosing more and more elements (flowers, trees, etc.) that encourage the child to focus on the task and explore the screen (so that he avoids focusing the view in one place).
- Interactive friend: Ball.e – the French label behind the name Ball.e means „Autonomous, fun, glowing ball for kids.” The ball is equipped with a touch screen with which the child can interact by performing daily activities. The device allows the child to learn the environment in an independent but controlled way.
Special needs apps for kids
The described applications use a behavioral approach (e.g. face Training, FindMe) and constructive (e.g. Grace app, Ball.e, TapSpeak). Probably need years of research to prove or similar special needs apps for kids will only support in the study, as well as the necessary tools in the development of the child. One way or another, they open up interesting prospects. According to the website of autism, there are currently 335 mobile applications designed for people with autism.
Until now, one of the methods of treatment of children with autism was the use of „action plans”, which helped to independently perform various activities. With the help of tips in the form of pictures or inscriptions, children „step by step” saw how to perform these tasks, for example, wash your hands, get dressed, build a tower, or establish interaction with another person. „The study of activity schemes allows people with autism to function more easily in society, and even to take a job in the future,” the technical University of Gdansk reports.
The disadvantage of this solution was, in particular, the way in which such plans were prepared. Therapists created them in the form of „paper” – in the form of a folder with sheets on which there were photos or inscriptions. „Each educational task and even entertainment was assigned a separate catalogue, and for each child it was necessary to prepare individual activity plans,” the technical University of Gdansk reports on its website.
However, specialists from Gdansk managed to simplify the whole process of creating plans. The apps for kids with special needs supporting the therapy of children with autism was prepared by the students of technical University of Gdansk, headed by Agnieszka Landowska PHD and specialists Of the Institute for child development in Gdansk, under the guidance of Anna Budzinska PHD and Ivona Ruta-Sominka.
Apps for autistic children
The app highlighted the share for the child (to display and execute the plan), the therapist (to create and modify plans), and the apps that allows you to share your plans with other therapists. It features a very simple interface: no excessive graphics, colors, animations and buttons, making it convenient for autistic people.
According to the technical University of Gdansk, due to the use of appropriate locks, the child can not proceed to the next activity until the current task is completed. The software can be installed on mobile devices with Android operating system. Thus, it is possible to use activity plans also outside the therapeutic center.
„This is especially important for people who may have to use this type of leadership for the rest of their lives. A person who moves and uses during various life activities from a bulky, extensive binder looks eccentric and pays attention to his dysfunctions. Currently, the use of mobile devices, such as a tablet or laptop, is quite natural,” says Agnieszka Landowska PHD.
The psychiatrist app allows you to create and customize a sequence of tasks to perform on a child throughout the day. „We were able to create specialized apps that will easily allow you to use the potential of mobile devices for laying and filling the activity plan. It will also minimize the work therapists do every day when preparing therapeutic materials for children,” explains Landowska.
The solution, which should be completely free of charge, is currently being tested by the pupils of the Institute for the promotion of child development in Gdansk. „The first tests show that children are more willing to accept the task and perform it faster,” the technical University of Gdansk reports.
In the near future, the application can be downloaded and used in homes, schools and centers. Each user will be able to download the source code of the application and independently develop its functions or adapt it to the specifics of the therapy used.