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Innovative Technology Helping Those with Autism Connect


This blog is by Jonathan Izak. He is the CEO and Founder of SpecialNeedsWare, the creators behind the AutisMate app. Jonathan founded SpecialNeedsWare in 2011 with the vision of using modern technology to help those with special needs including his 12-year-old younger brother who is diagnosed with autism. He leads the 10-person startup that is based in NYC. Prior to founding SpecialNeedsWare, Jonathan was a researcher in the field of speech recognition at the University of Pennsylvania. 

Imagine being locked in a room with no doors. Such was the reality for my younger brother, Oriel. Rendered nearly mute by autism, he had the full capacity to process the world around him, but was unable fully participate in it. Thankfully, technology has evolved since then. From lugging around a large, metal communication device around his neck to using new apps on the iPad to help him communicate more comfortably – things were getting better.

And yet, our frustrations persisted. While these apps paved new ways to help, I realized there was so much more that could be done to utilize the visual strengths that those on the spectrum often possess. A year and a half later, AutisMate is finally opening the doors for its growing network of users and truly connecting them to the world.

AutisMate’s unique approach combines visual tools for both communication and behavior that are personalized to each individual and grow with their changing needs. Families can easily import their own images, video, audio and information into every aspect of the app, whether it’s creating a scene through a picture of a child’s kitchen to aid them toward requesting something from the refrigerator or building a social story to prevent a tantrum at the doctor’s office. Presenting familiar content, as opposed to generic images and video, greatly reduces cognitive demands, as generalizations create a huge obstacle.

Most are aware of the alarming data related to autism and its common impact on speech. While one in 88 children are diagnosed with some form of autism, up to half of those on the spectrum do not develop enough speech to meet their daily communication needs. While AutisMate provides a platform that makes communicating easier than ever, the app doesn’t come close to stopping there.

Providing tools to develop and improve a child’s behavior, such as video modeling, visual schedules and social stories, is where this autism app truly sets itself apart from the rest. I once was told that some of the sensory issues associated with autism are a lot like a bag filled with Jello. If a person presented you with a paper bag with $100 inside, and upon reaching in you felt something cold and slimy, you’d recoil in disgust. But if the same person told you the money was covered in Jello, your reaction wouldn’t be nearly as jarring. It’s all about knowing what to expect, and AutisMate provides social stories, along with the ability to create your own stories, that will prepare a child for the future ahead – circumstance by circumstance. This is why AutisMate is so powerful. How can you develop behavioral skills without bridging the communication gap? It’s our unified approach that combines communication with behavioral development that makes AutisMate such an important tool for many on the spectrum.

To save time and effort, users also have the option of uploading previously created videos, stories, and schedules geared specifically for those with autism from a vast content library. A GPS feature allows scenes to change according to the individual’s location, making the software even more intuitive and applicable in real-time. This platform grows with the individual as those unique needs change over time.

Additionally, AutisMate acts as a reliable companion for caretakers. The user-friendly platform effectively eliminates the time consuming tasks of creating visual aids and programming devices for a child with autism.

It enables a parent to spend more time nurturing, educating and enjoying their time with their child. Those on the spectrum, meanwhile, are able to become more independent and gain a greater ability to express themselves. Just because my brother couldn’t speak, didn’t mean he had nothing to say. For him, AutisMate has helped bridge the gap between being aware and being connected.

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The Autism Speaks blog features opinions from people throughout the autism community. Each blog represents the point of view of the author and does not necessarily reflect Autism Speaks' beliefs or point of view.