Communication apps for autistic children

Communication is at the heart of learning. Traditional arguments about whether or not technology can help in education have become more complex in the context of children with autism and their communication needs. Much has been discussed about the potential of mobile applications for children with autism, which can be easily seen in the field of communication, particularly in augmentative and alternative communication (AAC). Mobile devices running these apps have opened up a new world of opportunity for those with limited expressive communication skills. But the enormous potential of mobile technologies has not been fully exploited. Rather, these technologies are primarily implemented as speech prosthetics in a limited range of activities.

Parents and educators need to expand the scope of use of these devices, not just for use within the classroom and therapeutic domain. Practice is key with apps for children with autism, so they can successfully use tablets and smartphones as communication aids. Everyone involved with autistic children should practice using the apps along with novice students. Ongoing practice must occur both at school and at home for successful results.

It is important to remember that apps for children with autism alone cannot improve communication. A support environment that complements the application is crucial in this regard. The symbol system that is used in apps for children with autism has to be incorporated into a larger environment that the autistic child eventually has to deal with. Collaboration with parents is another important aspect of ensuring a consistent approach to core word modeling outside of school. Parents are often reluctant to use apps for children with autism as a potential communication aid, hoping that language and communication skills will develop automatically over the years. There are about 250,000 words in the English language. About 200 of these words make up 80% of our daily use.

A common concern among parents of autistic children is that their child may become too dependent on these apps to communicate. However, studies have shown that apps for kids with autism, both high-tech and low-tech, help stimulate speech. For many autistic children who will likely never speak due to language reproduction difficulties, these apps can become their voice. The use of synthesized, rather than digitized, speech has come a long way in recent years, allowing apps for children with autism to sound more natural and personal.

Many autistic children use associative thinking instead of linear thinking. Strong image processing skills allow them to associate symbols with words. It helps them get a sense of the world around them, become proficient in the language, and allows them greater access to parts of the curriculum that they couldn’t before. If there is a non-speaking or minimally speaking child in your classroom, apps for children with autism can help them gain communication skills.

But at the same time, it is important to remember that an app user cannot acquire communication skills overnight. It will take time for both the child and her communication partner to master the application. Be patient and with time and you will see the benefits.

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