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Autism SmartPhone Apps

Today’s “Got Questions” answer comes from Andy Shih, Ph.D., Autism Speaks vice president for scientific affairs.

How helpful are smartphone apps for children or adults with autism?

Autism Speaks has heard from many individuals and families about how smartphone apps are proving helpful in their lives – from managing daily routines to easing communication – the latter especially important for those with limited verbal abilities.

Users and their families tell us that an app’s strongly visual and graphic interface makes it easier for those with limited verbal abilities or reading comprehension to master their use. They tell us that the touch-screen allows for an almost intuitive interaction with the technology. “What you see is what you get.” Quite a few users also appreciate the mobility of smartphones and iPads. It allows them to fully integrate the apps into their daily activities.

In addition, the whole “app” approach has made it easier for content developers and members of our community to interact to brainstorm and meet the needs of individuals or families in a more targeted way. We don't need to rely on professional programmers or engineers to develop applications. The development tools are already in the hands of hobbyists. In theory, the right mix of apps – and the widespread ability to tweak them – will allow for a more customized user experience that best supports each person’s learning and communication style.

Since the use of mobile devices and apps in autism is a relatively new phenomenon, very little research has been conducted to evaluate the effectiveness of these apps. But we are receiving an increasing number of  app-related research grant proposals from scientists. Autism Speaks plans to support more scientific evaluation of these technologies so individuals and families living with autism can better identify the technology that best meets their needs and give them the most value for their money. We even have a special initiative – Innovative Technology for Autism – to facilitate the development of technology that can improve lives – both directly and indirectly through tools that advance autism research.

Meanwhile, our Family Services department has created an Autism Apps webpage with information and links for the many apps that members of our community have found useful. These vary widely in theme and usefulness, and how well they reflect an understanding of the needs of those on the spectrum. We’re working on a feedback system that will allow both professionals and consumers to better share their experiences and rate these apps.

If you have a favorite app you'd like to share with the Autism Speaks community, please email us at FSDB@AutismSpeaks.org. Thanks!

Read more autism science news and perspective in our news column and blog. You can also explore the research our community is supporting with our Grant Search. Got more questions? Send them to GotQuestions@autismspeaks.org. Thanks!