About educational apps for autistic children
There are many educational apps for autistic children and their parents. Most teach social, motor, communication, academic, play and daily living skills.
So how do you choose the right apps for your child? In many ways, choosing an app is like choosing an autism therapy. You can start by thinking about whether the app has been scientifically tested, and whether it’s a good fit with how your child learns.
You can also ask the professionals who work with your child to help you choose apps and show you how to use them.
Good-quality apps, games, TV and YouTube can support your child’s learning. It’s always best to choose video games, online games and apps that are appropriate for your child’s age and stage of development.
How educational apps can help autistic children learn
Apps can help autistic children learn by:
- getting their attention – this can make it easier to teach children new skills
- letting them explore ideas, create things, complete tasks and learn through trial and error
- letting them practise new skills more often and consistently – for example, matching and sorting shapes
- helping them focus on and practise a new skill like sorting without being distracted by other children – for example, in a classroom.
Apps can help autistic children learn new skills, but they might not always be good at helping children apply these skills to everyday life. Children might need support with this part of their learning.
Choosing and using educational apps with autistic children: steps
1. Set a goal
Having a goal will help you work out what sort of app to look for. So before choosing and using an app with your child, think about what you want your child to learn – that is your child’s learning goals. To do this, you can think about your child’s strengths, needs and interests. It’s important for the goal to be realistic and for you to be able to see your child’s progress towards the goal over time.
For example, you might decide that by the end of the school term, you want your child to put on their school uniform without help.
2. Consider how an app will add to your child's learning
Once you know what you want your child to learn, think about what you’re already doing, or what you could be doing, to help your child learn this skill through play and everyday activities. Then think about how an app could add to this learning.
For example, you already put your child’s school uniform on the bed each morning to remind your child to get dressed. You could introduce a scheduling app to help your child remember the steps to getting dressed, or a getting dressed game app to help your child practise the skill in a fun way.
3. Making a plan for using the app
You also need a plan for helping your child use the app. For example, you might spend the first week showing your child how to use the app as you help them get dressed. Then gradually give your child less support as your child gets used to using the app to get dressed.
You could talk to the professionals who work with your child to help you develop a plan.
4. Check whether the app is helping your child
You or your child’s professionals need to check how your child is going to make sure the app is helping.
If you’ve set some goals you’ll already have some ideas about how you’ll measure your child’s progress. For example, if you want your child to be getting themselves dressed for school by the end of term, you could count the steps to getting dressed. Each day write on the calendar the number of steps your child does independently.
If this approach is working, you might try it for other goals and activities. If it isn’t, talk with your child’s professionals.
How apps work with other therapies and supports
If you’re thinking of using an app, it’s a good idea to let teachers, speech therapists and other professionals know.
Some apps might work well with what your child’s teacher or therapist is already doing. For example, your child’s preschool teacher might recommend an early literacy app that supports the reading and writing activities your child is doing in class.
But other apps might work differently from the strategies your child’s professionals are using, which can make it harder for your child to learn.
For example, your child’s speech pathologist has been teaching your child to ask for toys using picture cards. You find an app that teaches the same skill, but it makes your child point to pictures on a screen rather than putting picture cards in another person’s hand. It also uses a different set of picture symbols.
Although the two approaches are teaching the same skill, they do so in different ways and your child might get confused and give up.
Finding apps for autistic children
Some apps are supported by scientific evidence that shows that the app helps autistic children.
But most apps haven’t been tested, and testing would probably find that many of them don’t really help autistic children. This might be because they’re poorly designed or don’t focus on the social, communication and behaviour difficulties that autistic children experience.
Also, many apps have been created by people who know very little about autism or how best to support children’s learning.
You can find out more about the evidence supporting an app by visiting the website for the app.
The Autism Association of Western Australia reviews apps it thinks support evidence-based practice on its Autism Apps website. The reviews are listed in categories, which you can search.