By Tracey Dowdy
April is Autism Awareness Month, and there’s no better time to celebrate the diversity and strength of the autism community.
Over the years, there’s been much misinformation surrounding what causes autism – there’s no one cause – and possible cures – there is no “cure,” but behavioral treatments and interventions can be highly effective for many autistic individuals.
Autism is considered a “spectrum disorder” because it presents such a wide range of characteristics. A common saying within in the autism community is, “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.” In other words, two individuals, even within the same family, can present with different behaviors, challenges, and strengths. Ask any parent of an autistic child, a physician, or mental health professional, and they will tell you there is very little that is typical or predictable about autism.
Friends Brady and Nathaniel are both on the autism spectrum, but like any neurotypical friends, have distinct personalities, challenges, and gifts. Brady, diagnosed with Autism/PDD-NOS at two and a half, was non-verbal until he was nine, but is now a great conversationalist and lights up every room he walks enters. Nathaniel was diagnosed with Autism, ADHD Combined Type, Sensory Processing Disorder, and Anxiety Disorder at three years old and knows more about Pokemon than anyone you know. Both boys have learned how to manage the sensory overload and anxiety that they struggle with, enabling them to continue their education with goals of getting a job and the possibility of some kind of independent living.
When asked what apps are most valuable for supporting both the autistic individual and their families, these apps are highly recommended by parents, caregivers, and individuals with autism:
Find My Family, Friends & iPhone – Life360 Locator – Life360 Locator is great for children and teens with autism. An intuitive tracker app to keep family, friends, and caregivers connected, the app works across mobile devices. When you open the app, family member’s locations are immediately visible, eliminating the anxiety of not knowing when your child at home, work, or at school, and allowing them to check your location at a glance, so they know when you’ll arrive to pick them up. You can set alerts, send private or group messages, and even send a quick “check-in” to alleviate any concerns about personal safety. (Free)
Amazon Music, Spotify, or Apple Music – “Nathaniel uses Amazon Music daily to help manage his anxiety, prepare for transitions, and to stay on task with chores. Allowing him time to listen to music while completing chores results in much less grumbling about doing them. He will listen to a three-minute song to make sure he has brushed his teeth long enough.” No matter which platform you choose, music is a powerful tool to assist with transition, distract and redirect during meltdowns, and cheer an otherwise troubled heart. Amazon Music comes as part of your Amazon Prime Membership, Spotify can be bundled with Hulu with additional discounts for students, and Apple Music allows you to set up a Family Sharing plan. (Prices vary by service)
Time Tree – Mobile phones have native calendar apps, but if you need to go one step further, Time Tree a collaborative calendar app for Android, iOS, is an excellent option. When you set up the calendar, the app asks what it’s primary use will be – personal, family, friends, work, relationship, or group use.
Each category is clearly defined so you can make the best choice – the relationship calendar is made for two people to share, so it’s ideal for managing your child’s schedule and tracking appointments. You can create multiple, color-coded calendars within the app and events are displayed in an overlay providing an overview of what’s on your schedule any given time. (Free)
Proloquo2Go – Symbol-based AAC – Proloquo knows that “Not being able to speak isn’t the same as having nothing to say. The app is a full-featured augmentative communication application (AAC) that offers picture only, picture and text, and keyboard options for non-verbal or individuals with verbal communication challenges. The app uses natural sounding male, female adult or child voices, and the keyboard and picture/text grids can be used for sentence building. The buttons are SymbolStix images, however you can customize the pictures to make it an even more personalized tool. (iOS – $249.99)
Choiceworks – Choiceworks is a picture-based learning tool to help individuals stay on task and complete daily routines, chores, or schoolwork and helps them understand and control their emotions, improves their waiting skills, and empowers them to make right choices. It’s useful for assisting with transitions during the day or at bedtime and offers useful resources for re-directing anxiety and de-escalating meltdowns. The app allows users to create an unlimited number of schedules and practice waiting by using the “wait screen” that displays a timer counting down the amount of time left, and offers suggestions options for what to do while they wait. (iOS $6.99)
Peppy Pals Sammy Helps Out (Preschool), The Social Express II (Elementary), Sit With Us (Teen) – Each of these apps teaches empathy through age appropriate social learning by encouraging inclusion and acceptance for all individuals. Not only are they useful for individuals on the spectrum, the apps are particularly useful for neurotypical individuals who may be unfamiliar with autism and the challenges it presents as well as the abilities and gifts of these individuals. (Prices vary by app/available across platforms)
Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.