Today we are honored to have Shannon Des Roches Rosa of Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism and Squidalicious for the second installment of our Autism Awareness Month Blogger Spotlight! We featured her back in November, but this time we wanted to talk to her specifically about her experience using apps with her son Leo. We also encourage you to read this article she published last week: World Autism Awareness (or Acceptance) Day: Hope and More Hope for Autism Parents Like Me.
Oceanhouse Media (OM): How did you discover that iPads and tablets are great tools for autistic kids?
Shannon (S): Completely by accident. Leo won an iPad in a raffle, about a month after they were released in 2010. I’m not an early adopter, so I was skeptical. But he dove right in and hasn’t stopped learning and having fun with iPads & apps in the nearly four years since. It was amazing how suited the iPad is to Leo’s visual learning style, how easy the touchscreen is for him to use (compared to a mouse), not to mention how competent he feels when can entertain himself with favorite videos and apps, completely independently (though of course if he needs help, we help him).
(OM): What is the first app Leo ever tried?
(S): I believe it was the drag-and-drop spelling app FirstWords. At the time, I wrote that “Leo loves First Words because it’s fun and easy. I love it because he’s learning to spell words, and the interface makes that learning error-free.” Leo and I both still really appreciate well-designed apps like FirstWords, and Oceanhouse Media’s OMbooks, of course.
(OM): What are some of Leo’s favorite apps right now?
(S): He’s a thirteen-year-old boy, so he loves the YouTube app. He especially enjoys watching videos of rollercoasters, and somehow finds the rollercoaster channels, even though he’s still working on reading. But he’s interested in Lego, and really enjoys their Duplo: Food app. He also likes to revisit favorites he’s had for a while, like Oceanhouse Media’s Rudolph Run! game, and Byron Barton’s Trains. And he really loves reading the custom photo and story books we make for him with Kid In Story.
(OM): If you could snap your fingers and instantly create the app of your dreams, what would it do?
(S): We’re lucky in that some of those apps are already here, like Oceanhouse Media’s Mr. Brown Can Moo, which lets Leo read one of his favorite books of all time to himself. I suppose I’d like a really flexible visual scheduling app that would be easy for Leo to use himself. Good basic-to-complex visual scheduling apps do exist, like First-Then Visual Schedule and ChoiceWorks, and their interfaces work for me, but they don’t work for Leo.
(OM): What tips do you have for parents using apps with their autistic child?
(S): Heh. I have a lot of tips! Remember that you are the parent, and need to set reasonable limits with the iPad as you would with any other media. I say this because I think there is too much brouhaha in the news about parents using iPads as babysitters, when in fact iPads are just another tool — and it seems silly to blame tools.
Be careful about buying apps, especially those specifically for autism. Do your research first, as apps can be expensive, and app purchases can pile up quickly. To help people with their app decisions, I work with an SLP, Jordan Sadler, and an autistic adult, Corina Becker, to maintain a curated spreadsheet of recommended autism apps. But there are other good resources, like CommonSenseMedia.org, MomsWithApps.org, or TechInSpecialEd.com.
Make sure you buy apps that your kids find fun as well as those just for learning! Sometimes parents of autistic kids feel as though everything in their kids’ lives has to be therapeutic or educational. Don’t forget that autistic kids need opportunities to chill and relax, too.
Thank you so much to Shannon for sharing her insight and experience with us. We look forward to following her family’s journey in the future!