Blogger Spotlight: Autism Plugged In

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So far we have featured Smart Apps for Special Needs and Shannon Des Roches Rosa in our Blogger Spotlight for Autism Awareness Month, and today we are thrilled to talk to Jack Kieffer from Autism Plugged In about his experience using ACC apps with autistic children. Read about his favorite apps and tips for parents below!

Oceanhouse Media (OM): When did you create Autism Plugged In? What was the motivation behind it?

Jack Kieffer (JK): I started volunteering with special needs individuals through a local organization, Northwest Special Recreation Association a few years ago, during the summer after 8th grade. I worked with several non-verbal autistic kids, and most of them had to carry around bulky communication boards in order to express themselves. Shortly thereafter, I started hearing about the benefits of technology like the iPad and decided to launch the website, Autism Plugged In, as a way to help parents find the apps that they need! Essentially, Autism Plugged In was created to help with the navigation of the digital app marketplace.

(OM): What has been your experience using apps with autistic children? How do you think it has helped them?

(JK): My personal experience has primarily been with AAC applications (Augmentative and Alternative Communication). I have found that children on the spectrum have much more going on in their minds than they are able to express. In particular, I have worked with a non-verbal teen now communicates quickly and at a relatively high level with the Proloquo2Go application, and this has really improved his life. When kids can express themselves more easily, there’s a lot less frustration.

(OM): What are some of your favorite apps for autistic children?

(JK): I’m glad you asked! We get a lot of parents asking about apps that address specific issues. For instance, communication apps, or AAC apps, allow non-verbal kids to communicate by tapping pictures on their iPad. Proloquo2Go is probably the most comprehensive AAC app available for the iPad, but it’s a bit pricey for some families. So, I like to offer alternatives such as Alexicom AAC or LetMeTalk – for Android. A wonderful scheduling app is First Then Visual Schedule HD, which lets kids see and plan for “what happens next” in their daily routine. Another group of essential apps for kids on the autism spectrum is social skills apps. i Create… Social Skills Stories is an iOS app that lets parents create sample storylines that demonstrate a particular activity, like feeding the family dog. By adding sequential photos of the child opening the dog food container, then a picture of he or she scooping dog food, and finally a photo of the child pouring the food into a bowl, it creates a visual step-by-step guide to everyday activities. Readers can also check out a list of my favorite applications on the website.

(OM): What tips do you have for parents, teachers, and therapists when selecting and using apps with autistic children?

(JK): Remember that one of the huge benefits that technology brings to the table is “fun!” If you are trying to use the iPad and its apps in a very conventional and rigid way, you’re not going to see the benefits – you might as well be working with a low-tech chalkboard. Apps work because they’re stimulating, interactive, colorful, and easy-to-use. As a parent, teacher, or therapist, your job is to facilitate the use of these apps and chime in where necessary. I would also say this: have your child try new apps, instead of letting them use the same one or two over and over again, but don’t force it. If your kid doesn’t like a particular app, for whatever reason, let it go and move on! If you keep pushing that program, kids will associate those negative feelings with the iPad as a whole, and they won’t want to work with the technology.

(OM): What is your favorite thing about Autism Awareness Month?

(JK): Autism Awareness Month is an opportunity for innovators to showcase their work, whether that is from a sociological viewpoint or from a medical perspective. It’s also a great opportunity for parents to learn about new technology, research, and therapies that they didn’t know about before.

Thank you so much to Jack for sharing his insight with us! Tune in again next week for another Blogger Spotlight as part of Autism Awareness Month.

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