Most people with Autism already have an intense relationship with digital technologies. Digital Assistive Technology (DAT) is just a step further from the visual supports concept: it is fast, versatile and motivating to people with Autistic. More importantly, it has quickly developed a range of accessible options for users with autism to participate in a large range of activities (i.e. academic/educational, self-care, communication, choice-making, schedules, creative, sensory and self-regulating, etc.).
DAT consists of any electronic equipment or adaptive devices that enable a person with a disability to access a range of functional activities such as communication, play, academic work, leisure interests / games, etc. Some examples of DAT can include an adapted laptop, specialist mice and keyboards, switches, iPads and Tablets, mobile phones, iPods, etc.
The main interface with the technology is predominantly visual and tactile, which makes it attractive, predictable and simple to the person with autism. Additionally, most digital devices allow two-way interactions for the users and are not merely passive visual rewards. The special needs market is currently flooded with offers of software, hardware and applications (apps) for people with autism, to help with participation in a range of areas. There is also plenty of ‘anecdotal’ evidence from parents to support the use of devices for children with autism, although this should be treated with caution, as more rigorous research has not been carried out at this stage.
As DAT options continue to change, with new products and updates being launched every week, the following sections aim to summarise some of the most useful software and apps that have been developed so far and proven useful in assisting people with autism in the area of visual supports:
- Visual Supports Software
- Pogo Boards www.pogoboards.com
This is a web-based solution to create personalised boards, with many features such as speech output (in different languages) and access to good quality images through an integrated Google image search, plus thousands of unique, custom symbols with SymbolStix© and the new PiCS© symbol system. The board can be shared between different users and devices, and there is an app version for iPads.
- Picto-Selector www.pictoselector.eu – FREE resource
A free Windows application, Picto-selector is able to create boards and sheets, inserting the user’s own pictures or symbols or choosing from over 24,000 pictures and symbols in the programme. It saves as a PDF and copies can be printed as well.
- ConnectABILITY www.connectability.ca – FREE resource
Their Visuals Engine offers the possibility of creating quick social stories and charts. Resources can be created within the webpage’s templates and with access to Boardmaker symbols or any other personal images. There are many templates to choose from, such as choices, time, rules, schedules, personal stories, etc. It can be printed or saved as PDF to be shared.
- LessonPix www.lessonpix.com
Similar to Pogoboards, this is an easy-to-use online resource that allows users to create various customized learning materials and social stories. Resources created can be saved, shared and printed.
This programme is one of the first and most widely-known visual resource creator that also can double-up as a communication system. Their range of symbols has become familiar in many educational settings, due to their simplicity and quality. Their large online community has thousands of already-made resources, books, charts, schedules, etc. that can be readily used by subscribers. It is based on their own ‘symbol set’, Picture Communication Symbols™ (PCS), but other graphics or images can be added as well.
A ready-made board created with Boardmaker
Similar to Boardmaker but with the popular ‘Widgit’ images is the symbol-based programme Communicate in Print: http://www.widgit.com/products/inprint/index.htm
- Visual Supports Apps
The following are a few useful applications (apps) available for Apple (iPhone, iPod and iPad) and Android devices to create social stories and other types of visual supports. Most of them have symbols/picture libraries, but can be modified to add the user’s own images and even familiar voices / sounds / music. Most visual supports created with these apps can be are editable, printable and can be shared among devices afterwards.
The following is not meant to be a comprehensive list, but a few useful apps that can assist setting up visual supports in a range of DAT devices (all for iPad, with some Android versions as well):
- StoryMaker for Social Stories
- Stories About Me
- i Create… Social Skills Stories
- All about me Story Book
- My Life Skills Box
- First Then Visual Schedule (Android version as well)
- iPrompts (Android version as well)
With over a thousand apps now available to help individuals with special needs it has become increasingly difficult to find and choose the right special needs app. It is worth looking at websites that regularly review and update apps and software for people with Autism, but even these sites keep increasing in number and frequently updating their content. In some cases, it might be worth to trial the Free or ‘Lite’ version of the app first, before a decision is made to purchase it. Some trusted reviews can be found in the following sites:
- OTs with Apps, a professional site with a specialist section on autism. http://otswithapps.com/2012/05/30/autism-5-point-scale-ep-app/
- The Friendship Circle App Review http://www.friendshipcircle.org/apps/
- Autism Apps by Touch Autism. This is an iPad app that contains a comprehensive list of apps that are being used with and by people diagnosed with autism, Down syndrome and other special needs, with handy categories, reviews and information about existing and new apps.
OTHER RESOURCES and USEFUL WEBSITES:
NAS – National Autistic Society
The National Autistic Society has excellent and free handouts on visual supports and social stories with examples, reading materials and other ideas for resources.
Do2Learn provides special learning resources for individuals with disabilities and professionals and caregivers around them. They freely offer many pages of FREE good quality visual resources, with templates and ideas to incorporate them in daily situations.
Most software packages that contain Widgit symbols can be found here: http://www.widgit.com/
MORE FREE RESOURCES:
Free downloadable databases and picture dictionaries that can be used as visual supports for a variety of situations:
- www.enchantedlearning.com/Dictionary.html English Picture Dictionary