Look for multisensory apps to promote skills of young children with autism

You may want to integrate the use of mobile devices into instruction for young children with autism because they gravitate toward technology, but recognize that not all apps will engage these children and promote their fledgling skills.

“I think a multisensory approach really appeals to children [with autism],” said Frances Amato, a STEM educator and technology liaison at Public School 37 Richmond in Staten Island, N.Y. “Using tools with a multisensory approach allows children not only to learn but to express themselves.”

Amato has been reviewing and using apps for students with disabilities for as long as they have been available. She looks for multisensory educational apps that:

  • Incorporate a component for parents as well as teachers so everyone can stay on the same page.
  • Allow for customization, such as different fonts and languages.
  • Offer differentiation within the app so children can start at and advance through different levels.
  • Provide support when children get wrong answers, so they can learn from their mistakes.

Review this chart of apps that can improve skills of young children with autism:

App Benefit
Avokiddo Emotions Young children with autism have difficulty reading faces to understand what they are feeling, Amato said. This app, available for Apple and Android devices, features animated illustrations of animals, including a sheep and a giraffe, that children can interact with to practice identifying the emotions on their faces. “An animal may have a face of disgust or smile to show it’s happy,” she said. “It’s a great learning tool.”
Tiny Words US This app teaches vocabulary with the help of auditory and visual supports, Amato said. The app may ask a child, for example, to match a dog with one of three photographs. The lessons feature vivid photographs, rather than illustrations, that represent the words children are learning, such as “dog,” so they can recognize them when they encounter them in real life. Only available for Apple devices, this app has five different levels and children can advance up levels as they master language.
Spellyfish This is another Apple app that is useful for teaching early literacy, Amato said. This sea-themed app concentrates on teaching short consonant-vowel-consonant words, such as dig and zip. “It gives you a picture, auditorily tells you what the spelling is, uses the word in a sentence, then lets the child type out the spelling on the keyboard,” she said. “There’s a hint button if the child needs help.”
Cake Doodle Young children with autism who need to work on their fine-motor skills and food refusal issues may enjoy virtually cooking and decorating cakes through this app, Amato said. For example, a child can shake an Apple or Android device to add salt to a bowl on a screen. The app also has real-life recipes, so you can make the cakes as a class. “I found out a kid who had only six preferred foods wanted to try a strawberry cake, so we made it as a class,” she said. This led Amato to cook all sorts of things on Fridays with all her students to help expand their palates. “Giving them opportunities to try things is wonderful,” she said. “The student [who wanted the strawberry cake] left eating 70 different foods.”
i Get… My Schedules at School This Apple app allows teachers to make customized schedules featuring social narratives and photographs, Amato said. Staff members can print out what they create so the child can hold his own concrete reminder throughout the day. A child may just need a classroom schedule for the day. Or he may need every detail of the day, such as getting off the bus, going through the hallway to class, and unpacking his backpack. “It takes away anxiety to be able to prepare for what comes next,” she said.

Cara Nissman covers autism, school psychology, and IEP team issues for LRP Publications.

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