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Autism App Developers Compete at Autism Speaks Autism Investment Conference

Autism app developers share tips for success and compete for $10,000 in prize money to develop life-enhancing digital tools
March 05, 2014

Today at the Autism Speaks Autism Investment Conference, app developers met to discuss tablet and smart phone applications designed to enhance communication, social skills and daily planning for individuals affected by autism.

“Today, the phrase ‘there’s an app for that’ includes hundreds of apps designed to service those with autism and their loved ones,” said Michael Rosanoff, Autism Speaks associate director of public health research. “Today we will hear from those who have successfully developed and launched autism apps that are already making a difference in people’s lives. Then we’ll hear from some of the brightest up-and-coming developers for a first-of-its-kind autism apps PitchJam.”

Rosanoff co-moderated the session with educational app pioneer Rob Tedesco, co-founder and CEO of HandHold Adaptive. Since its founding in 1998, HandHold has received numerous Small Business Innovation Research Awards from the U.S. Department of Education to develop interactive visual learning tools for students. Its products include iPrompts, AutismTrack and StoryMaker. Rosanoff and Tedesco joined expert panelists Ankit Agarwal of SpecialNeedsWare, Lenny Greenberg of TapToTalk, and Marc Zimmerman of The Social Express to discuss successful strategies for app development.

Autism App PitchJam (Watch the full Autism Apps Pitchjam below.)

The panelists then served as judges for a “Shark Tank” style competition between five entrepreneurs developing apps that promise to improve the quality of life for individuals and families in the autism community. The prize: a $10,000 award from Autism Speaks’ nonprofit venture philanthropy affiliate, Delivering Scientific Innovation for Autism (DELSIA).

“This PitchJam award from DELSIA is an investment aimed at catalyzing science and technology entrepreneurship in the autism space and contributing to important product development activities for the winning company,” said DELSIA President Daniel Smith. Dr. Smith is also Autism Speaks senior director for discovery neuroscience. 

Each contestant had four minutes to pitch their applications, followed by four minutes to answer panelist questions. 

Birdhouse for Autism co-founder Ben Chutz described how parents can use Birdhouse to track a child's sleep cycles, help identify meltdown triggers, organize medications and supplements, track symptoms, record notes from therapy sessions and improve parent-teacher communication.



iTherapy co-owner Lois Brady described the firm’s InnerVoice platform as “the next generation of augmentative and alternative communication apps.” Designed by a speech pathologist, InnerVoice provides button-activated speech generation for individuals who have speaking challenges. It also incorporates video self-monitoring exercises that improve speech, communication and social skills.



AutismSees founder Danielle Feerst and partner Devika Patel showcased iPresentWell. They called their mobile application the world’s first public speaking iOS application to integrate speech-to-text software, an iPad camera and a virtual audience. The inspiration for AutismSees was the design of an iPad app for higher functioning individuals that will increase eye contact, assist speech making and presentation skills and provide visual and auditory feedback.


InteractAble founder Allison D’Eugenio described her group’s interactive social skills game for children with autism. The video game leads children through a variety of social situations and encourages decision making while reinforcing interpersonal skills such as face reading and personal management skills such as calming strategies.



Cognitopia Software CEO Tom Keating, the competition's eventual winner, pitched his company’s new app ScanDo! The app allow visually oriented individuals with cognitive challenges to scan the bar code or QR code on a product such as a microwave dinner and receive simple video instructions for using it. 



At the end of the session, the judges withdrew to make their selections, leaving the competitors in suspense until Autism Speaks Chief Science Officer Rob Ring and DELSIA President Dan Smith announced the winner at the conference's close.

Watch an interview with Autism Apps Pitchjam Winner Tom Keating below.



Watch the full Autism Apps Pitchjam below.

For complete coverage of Autism Speaks 2014 Autism Investment Conference, click here.