Educating and Motivating Students on the Autism Spectrum


Read this article, and you will learn something new and useful.
Hopefully, the previous sentence activated your nucleus accumbens, a structure located deep in your brain that plays a key role in reward and learning mechanisms. Whether you’re playing a videogame, listening to music, eating chocolate, or learning something new and interesting, the nucleus accumbens supports all of these experiences. Learning and engagement are, in fact, intricately woven together by specific regions in the brain. Yet the relationship between learning and engagement often gets short shrift — as if fun can dilute the content of an education. Current research is showing us, however, that learning and entertainment go hand in hand: in fact, edu-tainment may be the future of teaching and learning.

Ed•u•tain•ment (noun /ˌɛʤəˈteɪnmənt/) is content with a high degree of both educational and entertainment value that is designed to teach something — using games, computers, films, or other media

We know that engagement and interest in academic tasks create positive educational experiences for children, which can spark curiosity and fascination for learning. And for children with autism, motivation and engagement are essential. However, many school-aged children — kids with ASD included — are often given academic tasks that can be overly challenging and mostly unengaging. Research suggests that mundane, uninteresting tasks can lead to behaviors, which can impede or interfere with learning. On the other hand, recent research has shown that having fun can improve learning: even abstract, complex information.

Currently, educators have effective strategies to help children with autism engage in a task and learn critical new skills — such as using a child’s “special interest” to connect to material, giving choices to promote involvement, reinforcing responses during a task, working for a reinforcer, and interspersing both easy and challenging tasks to mediate frustration. Combining these strategies as a “package” has been shown to improve motivation and engagement — while, at the same time, decreasing behaviors that negatively impact learning.

New mobile devices can help educators and therapists engage children on the autism spectrum, using the power of edutainment. With mobile technology — iPad, iPhone, tablet, and apps that literally fit in the palm of one’s hand — students on the autism spectrum are edutaining themselves and learning like never before. As a matter of fact, studies have found that mobile technology not only motivates but allows children with autism to concentrate during learning and demonstrate what they have learned.

The concept of edutainment is not new, as a matter of fact. In the past, we have been edutained by a number of now-famous shows — Schoolhouse Rock, Sesame Street, Bill Nye the Science Guy, and Smart Songs — to teach topics such as math, science, social skills, and history. Board and video games have also been used to teach social skills and academic concepts.

Edu-tainment and apps — how do we employ the powerful principles of edutainment to engage students in academic tasks and improve performance, using apps on mobile devices? Choosing a great edutainment app is more than just picking a math or reading app; here are a few tips on choosing apps that use edutainment to effectively teach important skills such as communication, social behavior, or academics:

  • Use the apps yourself prior to giving them to your children or students.
  • Choose apps that can be customized with the child’s information or picture.
  • Find apps that include reinforcers (verbal or sound).
  • Emphasize apps that have a point system or levels.
  • Pick an app that engages as many of the senses possible.
  • Download apps that use various themes and are not repetitive.
  • Encourage your child to “help” choose the app.

Technology is increasingly infiltrating the educational system giving students with autism access to tools that stimulate crucial areas of the brain responsible for learning and entertainment. Whether at home or in school, engagement and learning can go hand in hand.

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Feature Matching Checklist Gets an Update


What app should I use? This is a common question form family member(s), teachers and therapists trying to answer the question, “what are the best apps to fit with the individual needs of their child or student?” Unfortunately there is no one answer, every person is an individual with a unique interests and learning style.

There is an overwhelming flood of information, in the media today. Feature matching is an effective tool to assess the usefulness of a particular app based on characteristics of the user. By matching features available in an app with the user, their environment and abilities prior to purchasing that app you maximize the probability of a good fit. This allows you conserve your time and money and increases the effectiveness of your iPad as a learning tool. Download the
The Quick Feature Matching Checklist

As technology continues to progress and morph, so must our ability to gauge the suitability of this technology for our children and students. To this end, the Quick Feature Matching Checklist has been updated to include the features; animation, photo personalization and remote prompting.

By using the newly updated Feature Matching Checklist you can effectually wade through the plethora of choices to find the most suitable app(s) for your child’s needs.

Animations / Actions


Apps that contain animations or incorporate videos are becoming very popular for teaching language concepts, verbs, social skills, tasks, etc. They not only let the student see a model of the activity but are engaging eliciting increased focus and attention. Apps such as InnerVoice AAC, Noodle Words, WordToob, VAST Pre-Speech and First Phrases harness the power of action and go beyond flashcards to teach communication and important life skills.

Photo Personalization


The ability to personalize an app by adding a photo of yourself or your favorite character increases the “fun factor” and buy-in of any educational material. StoryBots, InnerVoice AAC, Toca Boca and others are taking the iPad to a whole new level for learning and communication. Look for photo personalization if you want to tap into the power of edutainment (educate + entertain). Research indicates that when communication is fun, people communicate more.

Remote Prompting

remote prompting

Remote prompting is a new approach to teaching communicative independence, using iDevices (iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch). This technique allows learners to receive a prompt on their iDevice that guides them to the correct response. Using InnerVoice AAC, prompts are sent via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth from the educator’s device to the user’s iPad to ensure the child will perform the correct skill and reduce the probability of errors and frustration. Remote Prompting reduces confusing verbal explanations that interfere with the communicative intent or message.

Data / Tracking


If you are an educator or therapist, then data/tracking student progress is not only important but a huge time saving option. Many educational apps not allow the user to collect and save data for a single or multiple students as well as take notes. Check data tracking features prior to buying to help increase your efficiency. Parents can also monitor progress on goals at home.

Voice Output


The proper fit for voice output can support the acquisition of both language and speech. Research has shown that students on the spectrum prefer synthesized voice output over the human voice. Also, students with auditory processing challenges may respond better to high quality synthesized voices. However, not all students have the same preferences or respond to voice output in the same manner. It is highly desirable feature to have a choice of both synthesized and digitized voice for those apps that have an auditory output component.



Having the ability to add personalized pictures and content to any app is highly motivating for the student on the spectrum. Having the convenience of customization features within the app can save time and allow the user to create individual lessons/communication boards on the fly.

Adjustable difficulty levels reduces frustration when a task to too challenging and allows a student to move up levels as they master concepts.


Does your student recognize icons or symbols or are real pictures preferred? Some apps give the user a choice of real pictures or choose from a library of icons/symbols.



Sounds & visuals can be motivating or distracting to a child trying to complete a task. Having the choice to turn them on/off without leaving the app is a feature that makes using the iPad a seamless educational tool.



Whether you are self-monitoring or being monitored by a parent/educator, having the ability to track progress can facilitate success.

Share / Email


Being able to share student work and accomplishments with others is my favorite feature. Parents may want to share a memory book with family, therapists may want to share student progress with other educators and individuals may want to share thoughts/ideas with friends via social networking.

Motor Skills


Know what fine motor skills an app requires prior to purchase. What are your child’s/student’s motor abilities? Do they have the ability to interact with a particular app, are they working on motor skills within the app or do they enjoy lots of tactile interactions.



The price category is for reference only. Price should not be a feature to consider when determining if an app is a good fit for a child or student.

Educational materials usually have a high cost. The introduction of the iPad and apps has significantly reduced the price of communicating and learning. A pack of flashcards, board game or workbook can cost from $9.99 to $ 89.99. I am happy to pay $0.99 to $49.99 for materials I can use over and over with high motivation, attention and interaction.

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InnerVoice Communication App

Engaging, fun, Effective Communication at a fraction of The Price

Introductory Price $9.99

Introductory Price
Click Image to Buy


iTherapy and MotionPortrait, Inc. are proud to give you InnerVoice, setting a new standard for Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) apps with never-before-seen features such as animated self-avatars and remote prompting.

InnerVoice will immerse you into a total communication environment — where you not only hear the desired message, but see it being produced. This award winning, patented, and affordable app takes full advantage of all the iPad has to offer.

As therapists working daily with students on the autism spectrum we saw a tremendous need for an affordable communication solution. We decided to make InnerVoice accessible to all individuals with special needs, by offering InnerVoice at a very affordable price of $19.99. Our goal is to give all families the opportunity take advantage of the powerful new features offered by this incredible app, InnerVoice.

Establishing a New Set of Standards For AAC Apps

Animated Avatars


Video Self-Modeling (VSM) uses positive self-imagery of an individual performing a task, such as communicating, encouraging the individual to imitate the behavior. VSM is a highly effective approach for children who are visual learners and have challenges focusing on live models. The idea is that the individual sees him/herself communicating successfully and can then imitate that behavior.

InnerVoice takes full advantage of VSM by animating the user’s image to successfully communicate a message thus providing powerful visual prompts with the added benefit of a more personal mode of expression.

These 3D animated avatars not only engage users and communication partners of all ages but also improve speech comprehension by displaying synchronized mouth movements. By animating self-portraits, users can see themselves produce target behaviors and in doing so learn how to communicate.

Remote Prompting


InnerVoice features remote-prompting, a patent-pending feature that allows a new approach to teaching communicative independence, using mobile devices. This technique allows learners to receive a prompt on their iPad that guides them to the correct response.

With InnerVoice, prompts are sent via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth from the educator’s device to the user’s iPad, without saying a word, to ensure the child will perform the correct skill and reduce the probability of errors and frustration. Most importantly, remote prompting reduces confusing verbal explanations and auditory overload that interfere with learning communication-related concepts.

Edutainment–Education meets Entertainment For a Positive Outcome


Users can animate most images and make them speak: what they say is only limited by their imagination. This entertainment factor enables users to practice new skills through play — heightening engagement and interest in learning.

InnerVoice was collaboratively developed by iTherapy, LLC and MotionPortrait, Inc. — two companies committed to making communication an enriching, fascinating, and entertaining experience. iTherapy is a speech pathologist-owned and -operated company, which designs multisensory learning and communication tools for special needs populations. MotionPortrait, Inc. is an entertainment solution company that evokes surprise and impression through creative technological innovations. MotionPortrait’s technology automatically creates a 3D face model from a single digital photograph.

Features Include

  • 2 embedded vocabularies that are research based and incredibly easy to use, lets you get started immediately.
    1. Core Vocabulary is essential to spontaneous communication. According to research, Core Vocabulary comprises approximately 85% of conversational speech.
    2. Basic Vocabulary, which includes core and extended vocabulary words.
    3. Color-coded organization – the buttons are organized to provide simple access for users.
  • Genuine Text-to-Speech children’s voices from Acapela Group to give a voice to those with challenges such as autism, cerebral palsy, stroke, downs syndrome, etc.
  • Record feature lets you record your message or sound effects in any style or language.
  • Build your own vocabulary to meet your specific requirement.
  • Customize buttons and folders with written words to support literacy as Dr. Temple Grandin describes in her Teaching Tips for Children And Adults With Autism, “so that the child can hear the word and view the picture and printed word simultaneously.”
  • Enhance buttons and folders with pictures using the built in camera, camera roll or standard emoji keyboard.


Lois Jean Brady and Matthew Guggemos are practicing speech-language pathologists in the San Francisco Bay Area. Matthew was the recipient of the 2013 Mensa Education & Research Foundation Award for his patent on technology including the features of InnerVoice. Lois is an award winning author and producer of the public broadcast show Autism TodayTV. Read more about Lois and Matthew at Innervoice

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Hacking For Autism: Life Changing Apps

Twilio and Autism Speaks Host Hackathon

From right to left: John Fairchild, Gary Bryan, Lois Brady, Doug Goldie1st place with VIP (Virtual Interactive Practice)

From right to left: John Fairchild, Gary Bryan, Lois Brady, Doug Goldie 1st place with VIP (Virtual Interactive Practice)

This past weekend was a blast. Coming together with a room of programmers, designers, developers and supporters for a 24hr marathon of brain storming, code crunching and demoing is an experience to remember.

This was my second Hackathon and like the first, I saw many great minds developing apps to support individuals on the autism spectrum. Read more about it at Autism Speaks and Cnet

A shout out to Twilio for the hospitality, food and prizes

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Hackng Autism Hackathon

AT&T Mobile App Hackathon – Autism Speaks (San Francisco)


Through the years I have implemented more and more technology into my therapy sessions, not as a solution, but as a bridge to reach set goals. To many students, this technology has been a conduit to varying degrees of independence.

I have used hundreds of apps some good and some good in theory only. Many of the latter ones are evidence based and use core principles of education, but lack one very important thing. The ability to engage the student, without the student’s interest anyone or anything, no matter how good, will be hard pressed to make any type of measurable progress.

I use many apps depending on the goals we’re working towards, social skills, communication skills etc. When you consistently work with apps you start to notice their strengths and their deficits. I find myself saying, “if only this app would take data, if only this app would give feedback, if only I could import images directly from Google and so on. I have compiled a list of “if only” The idea of the list is to one day use it to build an app that will have as many of the “if only” items on the list incorporated thus maximizing it’s potential to make a difference for the autism community.

When I found out that Autism Speaks was partnering with AT&T to sponsor an app hackathon in my backyard, San Francisco. I thought, what a great place to meet software engineers, designers and overall techies that get together to do some social good. A perfect opportunity to see one of the many apps I have in mind become reality.

With that in mind, I eagerly registered and confirmed two attendees, my husband and myself. Although my husband was unaware at this point that he was going, I was sure he would agree, this endeavor was well worth the effort. I failed to tell him, it was six to midnight the first day and ten in the morning to potentially midnight the next day. He didn’t ask, however.

We arrived at the Hattery and took a seat. It was a rather casual scene; plenty of food and energy drinks were served. It started promptly at 7, mind you, it was supposed to start at 6; it was only later that I found out, we were supposed to be mingling between 6-7, rookie mistakes.

Alex Donn from the AT&T Developer Program gave us the details of the event. Everyone present walked to the front and introduced themselves and said whether they were programmers, designers, marketing gurus, idea people (me) and so on.
Now it was time to make connections and build a team.

The "making Friends" Team

The “making Friends” Team

The first person we met was Gabriel Adauto, an iOS developer from “Motion Math”, wow; we were off to a great start. I pitched my app idea, and he was on board. Next, time to look for a designer. We pitched our idea to Rachel Blue; she was on board as well. As I was detailing the app idea to Rachel, a guy off to the left, Lance Vikaros, a game designer, listened in; he was interested and wanted to contribute. With that our team was formed, so we thought. A young man, full of energy, approached the group and inquired about the project. Come to find out, Jay Zalowitz was the last member of our team.

This being my first hackathon I was unsure of what t expect next. A seasoned team member explained the sequence of events; I was told that the hardest part was killing babies. What! Killing babies! We’ll come back to this term.

Yes, it's a flow chart

Yes, it’s a flow chart

The team gathered around a white board and created the flow of the app. Scenes, scripts and features were discussed. Due to the time constraints, some of my important app features had to be dropped. It was painfully hard to accept the fact; I had to choose which ones were dropped knowing that all were equally important. Hence the term “killing babies.”

It was approaching midnight so we agreed to continue work from home and communicate using Google+ Hangout. With work delegated, each team member got busy. For someone who can’t stay up past 10pm I was doing pretty good considering the clock was telling me it was half past two in the morning.

The next morning we all convened at the Hattery at 10am. Everyone was nose deep into their computers only coming up briefly for a bite to eat or ask for files they needed from other team members. I was busy working on the presentation due a 6pm. The app slowly came together. By 6pm the finishing touches were being implemented.


At six in evening, it was time to present. A total of twenty-seven teams were presenting their work. The apps presented that night were nothing short of amazing. Amazing because to produce an app from scratch to a presentable piece in one day is an incredible amount of work. All those energy drinks make sense now.

Our app “MakingAFriend” was a winner. We made the app’s code available as open source so that anyone could use or improve on it, our way of giving back to the community and doing our part in doing social good.

This past weekend I met an amazing group of people doing great things for a great cause, I am happy that I got the opportunity to be part of it. I look forward to doing it again.

Here are the app details:

Name of the app: MakingAFriend
Device intended for: iPad


Making Friend will give individuals the practice and confidence needed to meet new people and build relationships. Through “game-like” activity individuals can practice interpreting facial expression, body language, personal hygiene, self-regulation and social pragmatic skills of initiating and maintaining appropriate conversations. Earn confidence points while making new friends.

Designed to meet the needs of everyone with three levels of play and multiple language choices.

You can find the source code Here

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Autism TodayTV Explores Fitness and Autism

What’s good for the body is good for the brain.


Some studies suggests that physical activity may help with students’ cognitive control and ability to pay attention which can lead to better school grades. That sounds like a no brainer.

Many of us think that exercise is something we do in the gym, tread mill, weight lifting and so on, however; to a kid, exercise means playing games like tag, green light red light and generally just being active. Many get exercise at school during gym period, recess or even riding their bikes.

To our kiddos on the spectrum, exercise may not come as easy for reasons like, socialization challenges, coordination challenges. While it may take extra effort to get a child with autism to be physically active, the benefits are well worth the effort.


In addition to the aforementioned, physical activity plays an important part in fitness strength and flexibility, it decreases anxiety, depression, tension, fatigue and anger, and protects against disease and injury while promoting creativity, cognition, attention and communication.

The key is to make fitness a fun experience.

In this episode, we go to Sonoma State in California to explore two programs that are designed for students with special needs. It gives them the opportunity to participate in physical education while building social skills.

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Halloween- Costumes, Pumpkins, Apps and Seeds

While many kids run around in costume during this always exciting holiday without a problem. Some of our kiddos need a little help and support to make this an enjoyable day for them as well.

In this episode of Autism TodayTV Lois and America talk about costumes and what to look for and more importantly what to avoid. Halloween wouldn’t be complete without some pumpkin fun; America and Lois demonstrate some no carving pumpkin fun everyone can do. Our beloved chef, Tom Dickinson is in the studio and will be giving us some tasty pumpkin seed recipes. Also, Lois sits and chats with Dr. Temple Grandin, from holidays to the disability mentality. Lastly, Lois explores some Halloween apps to complement this Halloween day.

Happy Halloween Everyone from Autism TodayTV