Educating and Motivating Students on the Autism Spectrum

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

Customization

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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.

Display

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.

Sensory

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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.

Self-Monitoring

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

Share / Email

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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

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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.

Price

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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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Best Holiday Gift Apps For Children With Autism & Special Needs

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Apps make great gifts; they can be fun, convenient engaging and unbreakable. Chosen wisely, they can also offer the added benefit of educating in one form or another, such as, building communication, language, fine motor skills, literacy and general life skills, now you have Edutainment.

Edutainment: any entertainment content that is designed to educate as well as to entertain. Educating our kiddos while they play sounds like win, win. It’s a gift that won’t put a hurting on your wallet either. These wonderful stocking stuffers range from free to $29.00. I’ll cover how to gift an app at the end of the article.

So let’s get to it! Following is a list of some of the best, tried-and-true apps. Recommended by speech pathologists, assistive technology specialists, occupational therapists and most importantly the children themselves; Kids love these apps. Remember, the kiddos should be engaging in that activity by choice.

1. InnerVoice AAC App: Making Communication Fun!

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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. With 3D animated avatars, pre-programmed vocabularies, TTS, remote prompting and much, much more this affordable app is a must for all those who have communication challenges.

InnerVoice incorporates Edutainment — teaching through a medium that both educates & entertains, surprises & amazes. Priced at a fraction of the cost of typical AAC technology, this app is the perfect gift for any occasion. To learn more visit the InnerVoice website, to buy click on the InnerVoice icon above or the Apple icon below.

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2. Toca Doctor: Let your Kids Be a Doctor for a Day

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Toca Doctor is a fun and puzzling digital toy for kids. Examine the patients and play puzzles and mini-games that take place in the human body. There are no timers or stress elements so that kids can play in their own time. If they can’t finish any certain game it still continues so that they never get stuck. It always works and it’s always fun!

Help your child identify body parts while giving them the language they need to identify and treat different types of “hurt.” Learning what hurt or ouch means and identifying where the discomfort is may be one of the biggest requests I have from parents. Toca Doctor is a stress free way to introduce the concept of pain, body parts and first aid to children.

Any Toca Boca app is a great gift and will bring many hours of fun, real life concepts and language. To learn more visit Toca Boca. To buy click on the Apple icon or the Toca Boca app icon above.

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3. This Next One is a Double-Header!

Two great, Kid approved apps that target the same skill. I have had great success with both in my sessions as well as my colleagues. I couldn’t choose between them, and that’s why you have the double header. Your child will never know they are practicing fine motor & literacy skills.

Touch and Write: Kids Love Learning to Write

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Created by real teachers using fun classroom techniques. Learning letters by writing with shaving cream, jello, finger paint, and more! Sign me up.

This app has been a great addition to my tool chest.

To Learn more about the app visit the developers website, FizzBrain. To purchase click on the icon above or the Apple logo below.

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Letter School: Makes Handwriting Cool!

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An amazing, intuitive game to learn all about letters and numbers: writing, counting, phonics and more. LetterSchool, has received many accolades from just about everyone for being a spectacular app.

In this app there is four games that correspond to each letter and number:
INTRO – discover the letter’s shape, name and sound,
TAP– learn where to start, change direction and finish by tapping the dots,
TRACE– learn the letter trajectory by tracing it,
WRITE – test your knowledge by writing from memory

To learn more about LetterSchool visit their website. To Purchase click the icon or follow the App Store link below

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Touch and Write & Letter School are sooooo much fun to use that children will use it in their “free” time. Even children who have had challenges with fine motor skills for years are motivated to write with their favorite texture and animations. Each app offers a multitude of choices such as embedded word lists (including sight words), letter styles, custom lists, writing paper and much more parents can direct the play and children never know they are practicing fine motor and literacy skills.

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4. My Play Home: A Digital Doll House for the iGeneration

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Massively interactive, your kids can explore and use everything in the house. The characters eat, sleep, shower, and brush their teeth and more. Want the room to be darker? Close the drapes! Fancy a change in music? Pop a different CD into the stereo!

Language, concepts, social skills, life skills and much more can be absorbed while your children are amusing themselves with My Play Home. Characters in this app can be changed to fit the imagination of your child.

To find out more about this app visit myplayhomeapp.com To purchase click on the icon or follow the App Store link below

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5. The Monster at The End of This Book

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The Monster at the End of This Book enhances the classic Sesame Street book with a completely immersive experience that draws children right into the story. Join lovable, furry old Grover as he tries his very hardest to tie down pages and build brick walls— all to keep readers away from the monster at the end of this book. The all-time favorite you loved as a child comes alive for today’s young readers with interactive play, plus touch-point animation.

The Monster at the End of This Book will open-up the world of literacy for your child. Your child will read it again and again. After your child has mastered the iPad app, you can then get the hardcover book. Your child can then transfer their new reading skills to the hardcover and read for themselves. Encouraging a healthy love for books is a priceless gift for any child.

To purchase click on the icon or follow the App Store link below

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6. Injini: Child Development Game Suite

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Injini’s collection of learning games offers meaningful play to young children, especially toddlers and preschoolers with cognitive, language, and fine motor delays. The games contain an extraordinary wealth of content: 10 feature games with 90 puzzles, over 100 beautiful illustrations, 8 farm-themed mini-games and more. Injini is ideally suited for early intervention – it brings fun to learning and at the same time practices children’s fine motor and language skills, understanding of cause and effect, spatial awareness, memory and visual processing.


giving needs Injini is a superb gift for Christmas, birthday or any occasion. Check out all the apps by Injini for your gift.

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7. “The Talkers:” A group of apps that repeat what you say and interact with the user.

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This is a group of apps that foster communication by providing a fun motivating environment to practice expressive language skills. Each Character Talker has a unique set of reactions to your gestures and commands. Talking Ginger will help out with those important hygiene routines, Talking Rex and Talking Tom will encourage language concepts such as verbs, cause and effect and comedy.

Let your children express their creativity with Talking Characters. Then make a recording and share with friends, family and social network. These recordings can also serve as messages that allow your child to communicate their thoughts in a fun way.

To learn more about The Talkers visit outfit7.com

To purchase click on the respective icon, from left to right: Talking Ginger, Talking Tom, Talking Tom and Ben- The News and Talking Rex.

8. PlaySquare: WordWorld’s Happy Birthday Dog

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Touchable Television is a nutritious, active, engaging new media experience that’s a story and a game all in one. Touchable Television allows you to use your finger to draw on the screen and become part of the action. Kids are engaged from start to finish and when kids are engaged, they are learning!

Fabulous animation and loveable characters will keep your child’s attention through engagement best of all they don’t even realize they are learning to read.

To learn more about PLay Square visit them at PLaySquare.tv. To purchase click on the icon or follow the App link below

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9. Cake Doodle

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Crack the eggs, shake the salt, pour in the liquids, squeeze the lemon, mash the bananas, sift the flour, and toss in the dry ingredients. Blend the batter and bake your cake in our super-fast oven.

Eat the cake yourself when you’re done or save it to your photo album. Surprise your friends with a customized cake e-mailed to them on their special day.

All the Cooking Doodle apps make a great gift for children and teens as they teach important life skills and language concepts that can then be generalized into your home kitchen.

To learn more about this app visit them at shoethegoose.com

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10. First Words Professional

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First Words Professional uses the same intuitive interface that is so easy for preschoolers, kindergartners, and kids with special needs to use. They’ll giggle with delight at the beautifully drawn pictures and matching entertaining sounds, all the while learning how letters correspond to sounds and how letters sounds form words.

Believe it or not, kids love this app and adults have the control to adjust levels to match the individual needs of the child. Maybe it’s the clean friendly format or the sound effects and spin-outs that “hook” the children, never-the-less it is an entertaining gift app and great language, literacy booster.

To learn more about this app visit them at learningtouch.com To purchase click on the icon or follow the Apple App link below.


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Bonus App First Words has several versions including a Holiday Theme with 40 Christmas words and sounds

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These wonderful “Gift” apps were inspired by working and playing with children on the autism spectrum. They have been rigorously tested and used by educators, speech pathologists, assistive technology specialists, occupational therapists and parents. We’ve had significant success helping children meet their developmental milestones and it is our sincerest hope that you will too. Although these great “Gift” apps were compiled while working with children on the spectrum, we have found they work equally well for children with cerebral palsy, Down syndrome and various developmental delays, as well as typically developing preschoolers.

Gifting From an iDevice (iPad, iPhone or iPod touch)

  1. Find an item in the App store or iTunes store that you wish to gift.
  2. Tap the Share icon in the upper right.
  3. Tap the Gift icon from the resulting screen.
  4. Sign in to the iTunes Store with your Apple ID.
  5. Type the email address for the person you wish to send the iTunes Gift.
  6. If you like, add a message.
  7. Pick the day you want to send the gift.
  8. Select a theme for your gift.
  9. Tap Buy, and then tap “Buy to confirm.”

Gifting from a Mac or Pc

  1. Sign in to the iTunes Store with your Apple ID.
  2. Find an item in the App Store or iTunes Store that you want to gift.
  3. Click the arrow to the right of the price and select Gift This.
  4. Type the email address for the person you want to send the iTunes Gift.
  5. If you like, add a message.
  6. Pick the day you want to send the gift and click Next.
  7. Select a theme for your gift and click Next.
  8. Confirm your gift purchase and click Buy Gift.

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InnerVoice Communication App

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

Introductory Price $9.99

Introductory Price
$9.99
Click Image to Buy

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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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Hackng Autism Hackathon

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

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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.

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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

Description:

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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iPad Technology for Non-Verbal Individuals with Autism

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VAST (Video Assisted Speech Technology)
“Brings true meaning to the educational power of apps for kids. Extraordinary work”
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Exciting New iPad Technology for Non-Verbal Individuals with Autism

According to recent statistics, autism is the fastest growing developmental disability in the U.S. today. Autism affects 1 in 88 children and 1 in 54 boys. About 40% of children with autism do not talk at all. Another 25%-30% of children with autism have some words at 12-18 months of age and then lose them. Others may speak, but not until later in childhood. In 20 years there has been a 600% increase in the cases of autism. About a third to a half of those individuals will not develop enough natural speech to meet their daily communication needs.

Thanks to recent technology like the iPad/iPod Touch a groundbreaking and exciting therapeutic technique to teach non-verbal students to use spoken language has emerged. VAST Autism 1 – Core, VAST Pre-Speech and VAST Songs (apps available from iTunes) combines best practices, video modeling, music therapy and literacy with auditory cues to provide unprecedented support for the development of vocabulary, word combinations and communication. What this means is that students simply watch a video of a syllable, word, phrase, exercise, functional activity or a song being produced, see the visual representation and hear it auditorily. It’s like watching a close-up movie of someone talking, singing or performing oral motor activities with subtitles. The VAST technique is also extremely effective in providing specialized therapy to help individuals with motor planning disorders, non-fluent aphasia, apraxia, deaf and hard of hearing, speak for themselves.

App Screen shots

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Speech has always been a challenge for individuals on the spectrum. Therapies for non-verbal students may include teaching sing language, gestures, picture exchange and/or voice output devices. To teach verbalizations therapists attempt to have students repeat sounds or words from their model. The idea is that a student watches the therapist articulate the target word, sound and movements then attempts to reproduces those movements or sound(s). This technique does not usually work well due to the challenges students on the spectrum have with making eye contact or looking at a person’s face. It is difficult to see how the articulators move when the ability to look at the face is fleeting. Technology, iPad and iPod, along with the VAST technique, has made it possible to effectively demonstrate how sounds, words, movements and word combinations are produced without the challenges of face to face interactions. Students with autism will intently watch VAST videos on their devices free from the distraction of personal interaction.

When Jake first saw that mouth covering the iPad screen, he looked up and gave me a sweet and silly giggle, but then he instantly zeroed in on those lips and the words almost magically popped out. Now a month and a half later, he is still enjoying these apps. He has mastered the words and phrases and now he is working on the sentences and songs
–Moving Forward in the World of Apraxia Jake’s Journey to be a Little Man – – http://jakes-journey-apraxia.com/tag/vast-autism-1-core-app/

The VAST Autism 1 – Core– Videos are organized into a hierarchy of 5 categories beginning with syllables and ending with sentences. Each video gives a spoken target utterance that is preceded by the written word(s). Each word, phrase and sentence is concrete and has meaning that can be generalized and practiced throughout the day.

Providing the written word(s) will prevent a student from labeling a picture of a frog jumping as “go,” a person lying on a mat as “break time” or labeling a swing as “wee.”

Furthermore, there is significant research that suggests pairing picture symbols with words may actually increase confusion, especially when they represent abstract concepts, have multiple meanings, or serve more than one grammatical function. The ability to recognize the written target word(s) will increase functional communication and enhance acquisition of reading, writing and spoken language.

The progression of VAST-Autism Videos is as follows:

  1. Syllable Repetition
  2. Single Syllable Words
  3. Multi-Syllable Words
  4. Phrases
  5. Sentences
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“I absolutely love using this new app with my students with autism. It is without a doubt the most effective oral language app I have used to date with this particular group of students. They love the way the video focuses just on the speaker’s mouth, and they will get right up close to it as they attempt to say the words and phrases along with it. I am just thrilled with the impact it has already had on their speech development. It is clear that a lot of research went into this, because the effect it has on these students is just amazing.”

–Dina Derrick, Speech Pathologist on using VAST Autism – Core

VAST Pre-Speech– Children with apraxia of speech have difficulty planning speech movements of the tongue, lips, palate and jaw (articulators), hindering their development of verbal speech. Some children on the spectrum may have challenges with everyday activities such as blowing their nose, spitting out toothpaste or pocketing food.

This app utilizes the highly effective concept of video modeling and auditory cues to promote awareness of oral structures, coordination, strength, tone, chewing, the swallowing of food, saliva and speech clarity; eventually working towards students gaining the ability to speak for themselves. In clinical trials, the VAST videos have been highly effective in increasing a child’s ability to attend to a communication partner’s mouth in the natural environment.

The VAST Videos are organized into 4 categories:

  1. Pre-Exercises
  2. Oral Motor
  3. Exercises
  4. Making Sounds
  5. Functional
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We absolutely LOVE this app!! We practice a little everyday some days more then others. My nephews face lights up seeing the other kids doing the variety of activities. This is a great app to help realize sensory and actions. I have been trying to get him to blow kisses for a year now having no prior interest in it he shocked me by blowing me a surprise kiss out if the blue!!!
I am so happy I discovered you. There are no words to describe my gratitude for what you are doing and offering people like us!!

–By mammakbare

VAST Songs– Singing has been used as an accepted treatment technique in speech therapy for many years. It’s also well known that music stimulates several different areas of the brain. Multiple research studies have shown that stimulating different areas of the brain results in improved speech production. Singing in unison with a visual model has also been demonstrated to have a positive effect on speech production when using familiar songs.

VAST-Songs supplements the accepted use of singing in speech therapy by providing extra cueing, simultaneously hearing the song while following the oral movements. The application was designed to accommodate and then challenge individuals with speech production or fluency problems.

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All VAST Videos can be played in full-length or separated playlists this allows the therapist to choose the individual target(s) that best fit their student’s needs. We are in the process of expanding upon this offering through future applications and via the SpeakinMotion web-based platform.

Ongoing clinical trials indicate that students are highly interested in VAST videos, and will almost immediately attempt lip movements or touch their lips in response to the models. After a few short weeks, many students who were essentially non-verbal began word approximations and word attempts more readily. Perhaps, the best and most unexpected therapeutic improvements have bee I the student’s ability to generalize skills. Students actually begin attending to the speaker’s oral motor movements during daily communication and continue learning speech in a more traditional, naturalistic manner.

“The VAST-Autism app is more than AWESOME. My students showed immediate results. To my surprise, after the FIRST trail, they started to vocalize some sounds. You will see amazing results, especially with students who do not respond to traditional speech therapy.”

–Harumi Kato, MS, CCC-SLP

VAST Autism has been extraordinarily effective with older (18-22) non-verbal students with autism. In two individual cases students were attempting word approximations and speaking several one syllable words after one session of watching the VAST videos. One of those students was diagnosed with severe sensory neural hearing loss and autism. He was able to produce four words by the end of his first session.

A word about video modeling-

A significant amount of research has shown video modeling to be rapid and highly effective not only in teaching new behaviors, but also in generalizing and maintaining these behaviors as well. Video Modeling involves the individual or child observing a videotape of a model engaging in a target behavior and subsequently imitating that behavior (see resources).

I love to use the VAST applications with every child that I work with. It has great use for children who are disabled and non-disabled. I recently have been using the app with two children who are considered non-verbal or are limitedly verbal. One of these children suffers from speech apraxia. After using the first lesson I was amazed at how engaged each child was to the app. After using the first lesson three times with the child who has speech apraxia, he was moving his lips as best he could mirroring what words were said on the lesson on my iPad. He has now able to say mama, pa, da, moo, boo and more. The results were incredible and he loved to keep watching the first video over and over again, trying so hard to make the sounds. Just from the first video. He is trying very hard with making the other sounds such as weee, la, oooo and pop. It is easy to see that he is so proud of his progress. He is happy and smiling and utilizing the lessons are not work but are more like a fun game.

–One By One Review

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Resources-

  1. Johnson, C.P. (2004). Early Clinical Characteristics of Children with Autism. Gupta, V.B.ed: Autistic Spectrum Disorders in Children. New York: Marcel Dekker, Inc.,85-123.
  2. Noens I, van Berchelaer-Onnes I, Verpoorten R, van Duijin G (2006). an instrument for the indication of augmentative communication in people with autism and intellectual disability. J Intellect Disabil Res. 50(9):621-32
  3. Hatch, P. (2009). The effects of daily reading opportunities and teacher experience on adolescents with moderate to severe intellectual disability. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  4. Downing, J.E. (2005). Teaching literacy to students with significant disabilities. Baltimore: Brookes.
  5. Erickson, K, Clendon, S., Abraham, L., Roy, V., & Van de Carr, H. (2005). Toward positive literacy outcomes for students with significant developmental disabilities. Assistive Technology Outcomes and Benefits, 2(1), 45-54.
  6. Pufpaff, L.A., Bilschak, D.M. & Lloyd, L.L. (2000). Effects of modified orthography on the identification of printed words. American Journal on Mental Retardation, 105(1), 14-24.
  7. Mass, E., et al. (2008). Principles of Motor Learning in Treatment of Motor Speech Disorders, American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, Volume 17, 277-289.
  8. Blythe A. Corbett, Ph.D., Video Modeling: A Window into the World of Autism, The Behavior Analyst Today, Volume4, No. 3.

English-Language Arts Content Standards Cross-referenced with Technology- iPad Apps

According to the Content Standards for California Public Schools-“The ability to communicate well–to read, listen and speak- runs to the core of human experience. Language skills are essential tools not only because they serve as the necessary basis for further learning and career development but also because they enable the human spirit to be enriched, foster responsible citizenship and preserve the collective memory of a nation.”

The English-Language Arts Content Standards will serve as a guide for teachers, administrators, parents and other support personnel on when to introduce knowledge and how to sustain the practice of skills leading all students to mastery. This framework will also address the delivery of content-rich curriculum to special-needs students (ELA Content Standards for California Public Schools).

The table below will highlight technology that supports the English-Language Arts (ELA) of Listening and Speaking. The table below is based on California Content Standards For Students with Significant Disabilities.

* The apps & computer-based interventions listed are only a small representation from the thousands of apps and computer based interventions available to support Standards in Education.

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