Posted by Autism Speaks Senior Vice President for Scientific Affairs Andy Shih and Autism Speaks Assistant Director for Dissemination Science Lauren Elder.
A decade ago, only a few could imagine how touch-enabled mobile computing would open up a new world of communication, learning and social possibilities for individuals with autism. For years, Autism Speaks has been actively involved in the development of “apps” that improve the quality of life for those with autism and their families. (Read about our “Hacking Autism” activities here.)
We also began posting your recommendations to our website’s Autism Apps page, which quickly became one of the site’s most frequently visited. When the trickle of recommendations turned into a flood, we knew our families needed help sorting through the options.
Working together, our family services, social media and science staff considered how to help our community members find the right autism apps for their needs. For instance, we wanted to help them evaluate the evidence behind the claims for any given app.
We dug into the research literature. We looked at user reviews and gathered information on cost. We began sorting the hundreds of autism apps already on our website by intended use, age appropriateness and device platform.
An autism-app search engine takes shape
The end result is an interactive Autism Apps search engine that allows our community to easily access all of this information. Just as important, it also allows you to rate apps and share your experiences. (See screen shot below.)
It’s the first of its kind as far as we know, with a database that already contains more than 450 autism apps. We’re eager for you to try it out. Here’s a quick tour of its main functions:
1. Search for an app using the drop down menus to select what you want it to do, the device you want to use and the age of the intended user. (See screen shots at left.)
2. Read the supporting evidence behind an app’s claimed uses and benefits. Just hover your cursor over the apps’ entry in the “Supporting Research” column (below left).
Please note: Few apps have been directly studied. What we’ve gathered are summaries of general research behind the broader claims being made about a type of app. Our intent is to give you the best, evidence-based background material to inform your choice. But this shouldn’t be construed as proof that any given app will perform as claimed.
3. View an apps’ user/parent rating in the far right column. (See below.)
4. Want to rate an app you’ve been using? Read comments from users? Click on an app’s name to visit its detail page. There you can access cost and user comments, as well as rate an app you’ve used by selecting one to five stars. We’ll also be inviting experts to share in-depth reviews on some of the more popular apps.
5. Have an autism app you'd like to add to the list? Comments you’d like us to post? To recommend a new app for the list, email a brief description including platform, cost, intended age group, any relevant research and the download link to FSDB@AutismSpeaks.org. You can also use this email to contribute your comments for an app already in our database.
We added these new interactive features because we believe that individuals and families are our most important source of information on these tools. The more feedback we receive, the more useful this resource will become. We will continue to update our search engine with your recommendations and to deepen it with additional evidence and research as it becomes available.
We hope you’ll visit often and encourage your friends to do so as well.