Autism and Schools

Even if autism spectrum disorder is diagnosed and treated early, autistic children usually spend a wretched time in school. Such kids are usually avoided by fellow students and are never involved in classroom discussions until specifically required. Scientists have found that children with autism spectrum disorder are thrice likely to be bullied by their neuro-typical peers or those who do not suffer from the condition. Many autistic children drop out of school. For instance, in France, 87% autistic children join primary school. But among them, only 11% go on to attend lower secondary school, with less than 1% reaching upper secondary school.

In countries like the US and Britain, most autistic children attend regular school and are offered additional help from special educators and therapists trained to deal with such kids. Most education authorities prefer this approach. It's much cheaper than setting up a special kids' school. Parents too prefer their children to be taught alongside the non-autistic kids. But the fact remains that integrating these two groups of children is often a tall order. A recent study in the US has revealed that at least 60% of the teachers were not properly equipped to handle children with autism spectrum disorder. It often leads to sorrow and frustration. At least 75% of the parents of autistic children have complained that it's never easy to get the proper support needed. Almost a similar percentage of parents said that their children suffered from low self-esteem and social skills. The mental health of these autistic children suffers as a result.

Teaching children with autism spectrum disorder is quite expensive. Special educators often have to work with the children individually. Fortunately, apps like “Just Match” and “Math on the Farm” have come as a big help to the teachers.

School, in most cases, is tough for autistic children. But it's usually worse if they leave it midway. A social research institute in the US recently found that a little more than 20% of autistic persons in early 20s could live independently. Most of them are isolated in the areas they live. Only one in four autistic adults rued the lack of friends or invitation to social events. Many autistic people are comfortable with their own company that usually does not have more than two or three persons. People with Asperger's syndrome are 10 times more likely to conceive suicide than neuro-typicals. Acceptance of people with autism spectrum disorder in the mainstream society is still a fry cry.

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The Rising Incidence of Autism

A reason behind the apprentice rise in autism spectrum disorder in advanced countries can be attributed to growing awareness. Many cases that were diagnosed as “mental retardation” or “intellectual disability” are a few decades back are now being diagnosed as autism. The number of people affected with autism spectrum disorder in less-developed countries is much lower. That does not mean the disorder is less common. It's largely because of shortcomings in data collection and diagnosis.

Another major reason is that scientists and researchers have changed the method for diagnosing autism. The “spectrum” of conditions has now expanded and includes Asperger's syndrome. It's a milder disorder. But like autism, many people having Asperger's syndrome, struggle in their learning skills and have to use apps like “Math on the Farm” and “Make Sentences” to help them in their education. Autistic children with above average IQ may not face any difficulty in communicating.

There's no objective test to diagnoseose autism spectrum disorder. Diagnosis is usually made by observing behavior that includes failure to make eye contact or reciprocate when called by the name. An autistic child may play with toys in a peculiar manner, for instance, running the train back and forth on the floor hundreds of times or lining up the dinosaurs in a perfect row. He / she may not start speaking at the appropriate age.

Counselors typically spot the presence of autism spectrum disorder among children by the age of two. But in advanced countries, the average diagnosis age is around three-and-half years. The screening system is rarely universal. There's usually a long wait between parents first expressing their concern and the diagnosis finally happening. Less than one-fifth of children in the US are actually diagnosed of autism spectrum disorder before turning two years of age.

The consequence is that the disorder gets enough time to progress. The brain is at the most malleable stage in the first two years after birth. Infants are voracious learners in this period. They observe people around them and listen and watch them laughing, talking and eating. They play with both adults and other children. But autistic children are usually fixated with inanimate objects that limit their learning from the environment. Autism spectrum disorder is a social condition that manifests so quickly that it soon escalates to intellectual disability.

Autistic children can be treated only if the condition is detected early enough. Intensive counseling often helps in alleviating the symptoms. Scientists use applied behavioral analysis (ABA) and one-on-one sessions to detect the level of autism. Evaluation of the autistic child's life skills are used to monitor progress. But rewarding the progress is important. A child who learns greeting people could be rewarded with a warm smile.

A study on children with autism in Washington last year revealed encouraging results. Kids treated between the age of 18 to 30 months that combine ABA and exposure to autism apps like “Just Match” and “Math on the Farm”, shown noticeable improvement in their communication. The study proved that early detection is cost-effective and goes a long way in alleviating the symptoms

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The Autism Spectrum Disorder Scenario

Alone and in silence, Ryan Johnson sits in a conference room in downtown Manhattan approximately six hours each day. He's writing a program for one of his company's clients, a leading stock breaking firm of New York. Ryan's current workspace suits him better than the previous one. It was an open-floor office with the constant ringing of telephones, chatty collections, and the sound of clicking keyboards. Working in such an environment exhausted Ryan who has Asperger's syndrome, a lower form of autism spectrum disorder.

Ryan's condition has become more common in the US in the last 50 years. Autism spectrum disorder was first identified back in 1949. It was, however, never studied systematically for several decades. A sketchy study in 1970 discovered that one in every 14,000 children in the US had autism spectrum disorder. In 2000, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention started to collect regular data about autistic children and the number more than doubled. One in every 68 children is today affected with autism. A recent study by behavioral scientists in South Korea found that one in every 38 children aged between seven and 12 had some degree of autism spectrum disorder.

Autism is a complicated brain condition. It encompasses a wide range of symptoms that usually include discomfort to mix with people, obsessive interests, and hypersensitivity to touch, taste, smell and sound. More than one-fourth of all autistic children do not speak. Some studies have pegged the number higher. They need the help of apps like “What's the Expression” and “Make Sentences” to communicate.

But at the other end of autism spectrum are people with high or average intelligence who are able to live a normal life. These include singers, musicians, painters, and even engineers and computer programmers.

The level of autism usually varies among people. Many autistic persons score high in intelligence tests, but at the same time, struggle in their communication and make repetitive movements like flapping of hands or rocking back and forth. Others may have a good vocabulary but suffer from a poor IQ level and motor skills that can make use of simple tools like a fork or a pencil difficult. “What's the Expression” and “Make Sentences” apps can help them in such cases.

The causes of autism spectrum disorder are not much understood. Genes often play a major role behind the condition. But environmental factors like parental exposure to air pollution and viruses also matters.

Scientists believe that autism spectrum disorder is triggered early in life. While parents may notice some odd behaviors in their children before they are one-year old, the symptoms do not always appear until much later. For some unknown reasons, males appear more susceptible to autism. For instance, in the US, autism is found more than five times as often in boys than girls.

Autism has no cure. But the label is often inappropriate for autistic children who may improve with regular counseling. They may just be able to do things independently sans any support and shine in their professional life.

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Apps and Autism Spectrum Disorder

Jasmine, daughter of Henry and Susanne Williams, was born 13 weeks premature in 2008. She has autism spectrum disorder, has never spoken, but still attends her local junior school. Jasmine is well-integrated in her school life, including studies and extra-curricular activities. But it's the “What's the Expression” and “All Sorts!” apps that she is really hooked on. Jasmine runs these two apps on her iPad and that's what makes a big difference to her learning.

Both the apps serve two purposes. One, they attend learning through doing; and two, they help in developing communication among children with autism spectrum disorder.

Paula Greene, Jasmine's special assistant assistant and personal instructor, says that the “What's the Expression” and “All Sorts!” apps have replaced less hi-tech communication tools, like books with stick-on pictures of various objects. These apps are regularly updated with new features that ease frustrations of autistic children. The apps have given Jasmine a voice.

Spending a day watching Jasmine and Paula work with these two apps is fascinating. All common assumptions regarding the abilities of an autistic child are challenged the moment Jasmine starts using the apps in sophisticated ways. She is more confident with the app technology than many adults. Her father Bill has the same thing to say. Jasmine has even shown Bill some features of the iPad that he did not know about.

Experts who have been working with autistic children for a long time, says that if autism apps can give the kids a voice to express themselves, it's worth the expense. They say, we need to see it in the same way like giving a wheelchair to a person who can not walk.

People are preferring autism apps to other learning aids for special needs children. The apps are beginning to have a big impact on such kids. What more, “What's the Expression” and “All Sorts!” apps can be customized to suit each student's needs. But one has to start with specific requirements of the learner. The level of autism varies among those affected. It's necessary to gauge the considerable before the apps are handed over to the child.

Children on the autism spectrum are increasingly turning their tabs and smart phones to tools for assistive tech.

Paula says that the popularity of “What's the Expression” and “All Sorts!” apps among children on the autism spectrum have been noticeable. It gives them more options to express themselves and more ways to connect with the rest of the world. Contrary to the popular belief that tabs and smart phones are having a negative impact on kids, the truth is, these gadgets have opened up a whole new world to children with autism spectrum disorder.

Not only are the apps a new form of technology that helps strengthen and streamline communication among children with autism, they are also helping reduce the stigma that often follow the use of assistive tech. Paula says, many special needs children were reluctant to use apps like “What's the Expression” and “All Sorts!” in the past. But parents are now more than willing to allow the use of these apps.

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Using Apps to Help Autistic Children

There's an overwhelming range of therapeutic tools that have been designed for special needs and autistic children to attend self-regulation and social skills. Parents of children with autism have acknowledged that they have attained a greater success by just playing mobile games on their iPhones and smart phones. If the regular apps can get such a success, imagine what impact specialized apps like “Math on the Farm” or “Make Sentences” will have on children with autism spectrum disorder.

Let's find out how these apps can help autistic children.

Tech for behavior tracking

The behavior of a child with autism spectrum disorder is often unpredictable. It seems to be the outcome of several interactive factors. Autism apps can help parents keep track of their children's medication, diet, activities, and behavior, so that they can put in place a plan of action.

Educational apps like “Math on the Farm” or “Make Sentences” can be very engaging for special needs children. Children find it interesting to collect points within the app.

Tech as special interest

A large common trait among most autistic children is the keen interest in a specific subject which often holds the key to unlock the kid's development. But there's often a debate on whether educational apps can arouse a special interest among autistic children. Some people are inclined to think that they distract the kids from discovering their real passion, or represent a more peer-accepted way to pursue an undercoming geeky interest.

Experts are of the opinion that allowing autistic children plenty of time on these apps helps in learning mathematics and sentence-making skills. It also helps the child learn about the technology itself.

Tech as community

The emergence of social internet that began with bulletin boards and chat rooms has been a boon for children with autism spectrum disorder, especially those who are uncomfortable to interact face to face. It's for the same reason that many children with autism spectrum disorder find it easier to socialize online. But many parents are often left worried whenever online interaction will displace the development of the real interpersonal skills.

Although autistic children may take time to get accustomed to the apps, online support can be very helpful to raise them.

But there has not really been a simple answer regarding how far autism apps like “Math on the Farm” or “Make Sentences” can help an autistic child. There's always a raging debate about whether technology like autism apps is good or bad for autistic children. To have technology as a constructive influence, we have to stop talking about the “screen time” and extend these gadgets to children with autism to get a hold on life. But it should also be remembered at the same time that use of these apps have to be closely monitored. Parental guidance is a must to get the best out of these apps.

Apps like “Math on the Farm” or “Make Sentences” have been very well received by children with autism spectrum disorder and their parents. The company which developed the apps has promised to bring out more such apps in the future.

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Serious Games for Children With Autism

“Serious games” are a new generation of mobile and computer apps that have been designed to be more than just a recreational diversion. These games can be used for learning and educational purposes and help train people for medical or health applications and in new environments. They can be both useful and entertaining.

Experts are of the opinion that the fast developing field of serious games has the potential to extend new therapies for improving the health conditions of children having autism spectrum disorder.

More than one percent of the US population is said to be currently diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder with the number of autistic persons increasing at an alarming rate every year. While the prevalence of estimates regarding autism variates all over the world, in the US the number is as high as one in every 68 persons.

The causes behind autism spectrum disorder are not exactly known. Scientists believe that a particularly combination of prenatal, genetic and environment factors could be the reasons behind autism. A reliable diagnosis of a child can be made at around two years of age. But in most cases, the diagnosis happens at around four years of age, when the symptoms of suspected autism become more visible. In less-developed countries, it's even much later at around 7-8 years of age, when nothing much can be done therapy-wise.

Therapy options vary once a child is diagnosed of autism. The complete system usually involves appointments with various health professionals including occupational, speech and behavioral therapist.

In most of the cases the therapy of an autistic child is time-intensive and hugely expensive. Not many people can afford the treatment. Some studies have suggested that in order to make the behavioral intervention effective among young autistic children, at least 20 to 40 hours of therapy sessions must be provided each week, for at least a year.

But not the full recommended time needs to be sent with the therapist. Behavioral intervention can happen at home. A weekly visit to the counselor could have been enough. This is usually done to track the progress of the counseling sessions and how effectively the intervention methods proposed is being followed at home.

As already said, these therapy sessions are hugely expensive, and could cost as high as $ 150 for a single sitting. Of course, it varies depending on the state of city you live in. But it is usually inaccessible to most families.

But serious games like learning apps for autistic children can be used both at home and school. These tools have the potential to keep the child engaged and help in their communication.

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Technology Lending a Helping Hand to Autistic Children

For children with autism spectrum disorder, mathematics problems become much easier if they involve images. Addition sums, for instance, could become clearer if both the equation and answer are accompanied by pictures that represent the mathematics taking place. Three toffees plus two toffees can be logically illustrated with five toffees. Representing every question with a visual example makes learning more accessible and concrete. And that's exactly what the “Math on the Farm” app does.

The developer team of “Math on the Farm” app has first-hand experience of working with autistic children as therapists and special educators, and was so inspired to do something for such kids. They have also come up with the “Just Match” app that teachers object sorting, number matching and other skills, using approaches that resonate with autistic children.

Special educators Karen Edwards and Patricia Graf have been teaching children with autism spectrum disorder for several years now. They have noticed a major disconnect among these children. Majority of the children's families had iPad and tablets, but none had any capable app that effectively taught the kids lessons that they needed to learn. The percentage of children with autism spectrum disorder has increased in the two decades that Karen and Patricia have been in the field.

Patricia's younger brother, in fact, was diagnosed with the disorder at the age of five and she knows how challenging it is to bring up an autistic child. Her family came from a small town in Ohio and did not have the resources to support the special education needs of her brother.

One in every 68 children today has autism spectrum disorder. The rate has increased more than 600% in the last two decades alone. Services and resources, however, have failed to keep pace with the growing numbers of autistic children. Lack of specialists for autistic children is creating a waiting time for both diagnosis and treatment from at least two months to one year. Even if a family having children with autism can avail the services, therapy could be highly unaffordable. Most of the recognized interventions are based on the 40-hours-per week of rigorous one-one-therapy.

For the developer team of “Math on the Farm” and “Just Match”, the numbers were simply unacceptable. They felt that access to the life-changing resources like apps for autistic children should be available and affordable. Families of autistic children should not hunt in the dark about appropriate technology. They are developing technology that incorporates the best autism strategies, increasing availability of the applications and reducing the cost.

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Apps Are Now Identifying Abilities Among Autistic Children

Technology can open the doors of communication for children with autism spectrum disorder. Research has revealed that apps for autism can increase a student's focus as well. In fact high-tech assessments can often pinpoint children's abilities that are usually overlooked by the more traditional testing methods. Experts believe that technology can grab the attention of autistic children in a much better way and can motivate them more.

Apps like “Math on the Farm” or “Make Sentences” gives autistic children an instant award like some points or entry to the next stage of the game that are much better than the traditional pencil and paper system. Companies developing apps and other learning products for children with autism spectrum disorder are considering the growing interest in technology for special needs students. The adaptive nature of these apps is also a major reason behind their success.

Take the “Math on the Farm” app for instance. Each mathematics activity lesson in the app has activities attached. Whenever a student finishes an activity correctly, he / she is immediately rewarded with a badge, a strategy that educators and experts claim keeps the student engaged. Repetition is an important strategy for children with autism spectrum disorder and that's built into the “Math on the Farm” app. The app also allows children to navigate through a curriculum which is based on what they've already mastered, rather than what their educator thinks they are capable of. Several app development companies are trying to replicate the success of “Math on the Farm” and “Make Sentences” apps.

Diana Longfield, a special educator at Ohio, says that apps have to come up with innovative ways to attract more participation from autistic children. For instance, she says, a student may be asked to watch a video about dogs, and then asked to identify the animal on the app. Successful completion of the entire lesson, or at least the major part of it, can unlock a badge, in an effort to reinforce learning. Of course, the level of difficulty can be customized according to an individual's capacity.

But not all schools are ready to adapt to the new techniques. Brad Williamson, father of a six-year old autistic boy, has witnessed that first hand. Andrews, his son, studies in a school which still uses the pencil-and-paper method of educating autistic children. But Brad knows technology can usher in a major change in his son's life. His son was nonverbal even when he was four years old. But when introduced to the “Make Sentences” app, Andrews could join words to forge sentences. Within a year, he could blurt out random words.

Brad says, Andrews could not speak, let alone construct sentences. But after introducing him to the “Make Sentences” app, he can now string together words. Not that it makes much sense though, but at least there has been some improvement, says Brad. But Andrew's school has not yet opened up to such techniques of learning and that has kept his father worried. The child is using “Make Sentences” and other apps for autistic children at home though.

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Technology Extending Help to Special Needs Students

Twelve-year old Harold Dexter is sitting with an iPad with his teacher Jennifer next to him. She holds up a picture of a laminated $ 10 bill.

“What bill is this?” Jennifer asks. Harold looks down at his iPad, taps on a square labeled “Money Identification” and then presses on $ 10. “Ten,” the iPad blurts out. Jennifer puts a sticker on a pad, bringing Harold nearer to a reward.

The two race through some more questions. “What's the weather outside?” “What's the day of the week?” “What money is there in my hand?” Harold, who has autism spectrum disorder, answers verbally in most of the cases. But he's usually more comfortable with his iPad.

A few miles away, at a nongoverment special needs school in New Orleans, things are a bit slower but the approach is similar. Linda Connors, a teenager who does not usually speak, is trying to recognize simple activities on her tab. “With what to you drink?” Linda's teacher asks, and she presses on the picture of a glass.

“Where do you keep your food?”

Linda now presses the picture of a garden.

“No,” her teacher says, “We keep our food in the fridge.”

Harold and Linda are among a growing section of children with autism spectrum disorder who use digital devices like tablets and iPads, loaded with software like “Just Match” and “Math on the Farm” for learning. These smart and sleek gadgets have replaced the bulky communication devices costing $ 6,000-10,000 that were used even a few years back; if at all there was any technology among them. These children, back then, communicated by picking out relevant pictures and then stick them on a board. “A lot of time went into laminating and Velcro,” says Jennifer.

Students like Harold and Linda have so far used assistive technologies like special transmitters if they were hearing impaired or audio books in case of being visually challenged. The trend today, however, has changed towards blended learning that combines the more traditional instructional form of education along with the use of technological devices. It's less jarring to students having autism spectrum disorder or Asperger's syndrome to those from the general education stream.

“The Just Match and Math on the Farm are of course two very useful apps for autistic children, including the ones with moderate to substantial disadvantage,” says Jennifer, who has been working with special children for many years now. “We give them these apps and in most cases, they rise up to the challenge,” she adds.

Many teachers, parents, and counselors agree that devices like the tab and iPhone have been of immense help to the automatic children. The gadgets can keep them engaged and motivated. These devices also help teachers to develop personalized lessons because all autistic children are not on the same spectrum. At the same, these digital gadgets can track the progress of the kids.

It's encouraging that several schools have realized the importance of these gadgets and the apps especially designed for autistic children. But awareness about these apps is still lacking and more needs to be done in this regard.

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Technology and Autism

Many special educators and counselors have begun to realize that special needs children, like those with autism spectrum disorder, can respond particularly well to technological programs. This is because these programs behave in a predictable and consistent way. Unlike the earlier technologies for autistic children, these programs run on tabs and smart phones, which make them portable.

Hopes are running high among autistic children and their parents as developers come out with apps like “What's the Expression” and “All Sorts!” that have assisted autistic children with attention deficiency disorder to get organized. Other apps can track the personalized education plan of each student, or provide a list of words to prompt those struggling with their writing skills.

At a special school in Brooklyn, about 15 autistic children from the third grade are located in a classroom. A large interactive whiteboard in front of them displays a turtle shell, honeycomb, and a snake skin. All these examples of repetitive patterns-called tessellation-and sourced from a science center in Jersey City. An affectionate female voice from the screen asks the kids to draw a triangle, each side six inches long. It's a bit complex for most of them. But the voice urges them to try. “I'm starving,” she says, “Please finish it in two more minutes so that I can grab my lunch.”

The lecture is coming live to the children from the science center. Meanwhile, huddled in an adjacent room, counselors and special educators takes notes about how the lesson is progressing.

Elsewhere, in an Atlanta neighborhood, the “All Sorts!” app is absorbing a fourth grade automatic girl's attention in an elementary school. This is a special instructor Serena Mill's classroom. All students are bent over their tabs running the “All Sorts!” app, doing different tasks according to their individual abilities. Serena, meanwhile, gives cues to various expressions to six of her students who tap on their iPad screens and show the relevant reaction to a particular situation.

Serena says that the apps are a key to engage her students in mathematics and reading skills. “These apps are amazing. They target all the special skills that children with autism spectrum disorder will need as they grow up,” she says and stresses that her students are motivated to use these apps. They enjoy working on their tabs, iPads, and smart phones. Their work on these gadgets gives them confidence and reinforcement to push their limits of learning.

Serena and other teachers in her school for autistic children have observed that students are more attracted to a lesson where technology is involved. Many children's apps have animated characters, music, attractive colors, prompt responses, and encouraging voices. Autistic students, whose repetitive behaviors often match the action of these apps, are usually associated to them.

Many educators and therapists working with autistic children say that now the interest in technology greater than those on the autism spectrum. Serena's four-year old son Brad too has autism spectrum disorder and has laately found interest in the “All Sorts!” app.

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How Technology Can Help Children With Autism

In a statistics that could stir Americans out of slumber, one out of every 69 children in the US have autism spectrum disorder, according to data disclosed by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While most children today are considered to be “digital natives” the same holds true for autistic children as well. Many kids on the spectrum find themselves most comfortable with a digital device in their hands.

Studies have revealed that most autistic children are visual learners. That means, technology could be a valuable tool for their learning process. It makes visual images much more accessible to an individual with autism. Computer graphics can grab and hold on to their attention.

Technology, more importantly, helps these children to gain confidence in a social situation. It has emerged as an assistive and powerful tool for children struggling with socialization issues.

A big part of attending school is learning to negotiate social situations. Children with autism spectrum disorder, often with no roadmap, are lost. Technology has helped bridge the gap between autistic children and neuro-typicals.

From educational apps to robots, here's how technology is helping children with autism spectrum disorder.

# 1 Enhance verbal skills with apps

Researchs by several novernment, scientific and advocacy organizations that fund awareness programs, have claimed that more than 25 percent of autistic children are largely nonverbal. The rest are usually low-functioning communicators. For such children, there are apps known as “visual scene display” that help children who are struggling with their verbal skills. Apps like What's the Expression and All Sorts have been of incentive help to both teachers and children with autism. These apps can be customized to suit a particular child's need.

There are other apps for autistic children that can forge stories and interactive displays that can greatly help kids who struggle with the conventional style of education.

# 2 Digital tools can promote confidence

Honest speaking speaking is very much linked to improved social skills. Children with autism spectrum disorder often get intimated by the social aspects in a classroom. This can be tackled to a great extent by allowing the use of technology.

The search field for apps for special children can be streamlined according to individual needs. These include disability and subject needs, reading problems, mathematics, social and emotional issues, and other problems that the child may have.
Mobile education can be defined as a learning process that's spread across multiple platforms. These include tabs and smart phones, and websites, rather than the conventional classroom setting. Includes, it entails interactive context, which can extend help and allow live feedback.

# 3 No one-size-fits-all

As already said, there is no single app that may be suitable for all children with autism. What works for one, may or may not work for another special needs child. This is exactly where both the therapists and parents have to be cautious.

Research and development are being carried out almost all over the world to bring out new apps that can help children with autism become more equipped to tackle life challenges.

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Autism and Artificial Intelligence

At a university laboratory in Washington, Darwin-OP2, a robot which looks like a human, fiercely kicks a green ball across the floor. “I want to be friends and play soccer,” he says in a cold monotonous voice.

Darwin-OP2 is no toy. It's one of the more advanced examples of research and development into what's been labeled as assisted robotics and humanoid interaction. Darwin-OP2 has been programmed by a team of biomedical engineering professors at a leading university in the US. The project is aimed to help children with autism spectrum disorder get more engaged with the society. The main goal will be to utilize a robotic system for helping children with autism to communicate with others in a much easier and comfortable way.

The project, however, is in the early stages and much is still to be done. It focuses on how a robot can help children aged 5-10 years but is soon likely to include kids as young as three. The ultimate aim is to make the technology affordable to countless families in the US with children having autism spectrum disorder.

Autism, in most cases, variants from child to child. But there are some common exercises among all children. For instance, most autistic children avoid making eye contact. This makes it difficult for such children to interact with their family members, friends, playmates and others.

Scientists associated with the project claimed, their studies have revealed that children having autism spectrum disorder, are more comfortable to interact with robots because they are able to monitor and control their actions, which makes them more predictable comparable to human playmates.

Kids with autism spectrum disorder usually face trouble to understand and engage another person's emotion. But with a socially assistive robot, a child could have been more effectively engaged sans being overwhelmed. These robots use artificial intelligence that analyzes a child's behavior and then uses the collected data to engage with them.

Three different kinds of robots are currently being used for testing. One is a mini-robot which is connected to an iPad. It displays facial emotions. The second one is a medium robot which can perform various gestures and dance movements, responding to social cues.

And then, of course, there's Darwin-OP2, a larger and more sophisticated robot which interactions with children by playing football and performances other activities. It can dance to music, and children with autism can follow the moves as well and dance along.

Scientists and therapists say that attending social skills to children having autism calls for frequent repetition of actions, which is a perfect task for humanoids and robots. Beside, robots can help in parents of autistic children with applied behavior analysis therapy. Such a therapy requires long hours to be sent with the child, which may not be possible for parents who are both working. Moreover, robots have artificial intelligence that can collect data to lend useful analysis for parents, helping them comprehend their child's behavior.

But these are early days of testing how robots and artificial intelligence can come to the help of autistic children.

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Apps to the Help of Special Needs Children

Portable electronic devices like tabs and iPads are providing to be invaluable resources to impart communication and social skills to children having developmental disabilities such as autism spectrum disorder or Asperger's syndrome. Hundreds of specialized apps are available for download that can run on these devices. Apps like What's the Expression and All Sorts! are helping special needs children pick up important skills.

The What's the Expression app helps kids to express themselves in a better way. Children with autism spectrum disorder often can not understand how to express themselves in various situations. This particular app was made to address the developmental issue. Special needs children have to learn how to express emotions like happiness, anger, surprise, sadness etc. The What's the Expression helps them to do just that.

Sorting, on the other hand, is a basic skill which children usually pick up by observing their elders. But it could be a difficult exercise for those having autism spectrum disorder. All Sorts helps children to observe various concepts and objects in a single place and group them according to the commonness in their features.

The elusive cool factor of these two apps for autistic children can not be overlooked. But it's their versatility that's particularly appealing to the parents of these kids. Katherine Fisher, a product reviewer and the mother of an autistic child herself, said that she tested several apps for autistic children and found these two the most appropriate. They delivered what they promised. Both What's the Expression and All Sorts can cross over to the more general children-education apps, Katherine said, adding that these two apps are regularly updated.

There are various other useful apps that have been designed to help both adults and children affected with Down syndrome, Lou Gherig's Disease, cerebral palsy and similar disabilities.

Children with autism spectrum disorder are showing major signs of improvement after playing with such fun-filled apps on their tabs and iPads. According to a recent study in Australia, corrective behavior was reinforced with the help of images and voiceover, on 10 autistic children who could not wash their hands. Researchers claim that more than 60% of their objective was successful.

But nearly 70% of autistic children falter in motor skills, and that includes poor movement planning. These children may find it difficult to operate the small buttons of a tablet or smartphone. But the iPad, with its larger size, is usually more accessible to autistic children.

A major reason why portable devices like tabs and iPads have become particularly popular among parents, is the relatively less cost of these gadgets compared to the heavy, and expensive text-to-speech devices.

Take the case of 7-year old Rio, an autistic child. Before the iPad came into the market, Rio's autism made him dependent on others for play, entertainment, communication, and learning. But with the iPad, Rio now electrifies the atmosphere with his newly-acquitted independence and skills. Those who have known Rio, are amazed to see the boy's transformation. He really rocks with his iPad and a set of apps for autistic children.

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5 Tips to Buy Children’s Apps

With the festival season not very far away, many children are about to receive electronic gifts from their family and relatives. The good news is that apps have emerged as a promising tool to support literacy in general, and science, mathematics and life skills. The challenge for parents is to pick up the right app, more so, if the child has autism spectrum disorder or has special needs.

# 1 The education and entertainment combo

Kids learn when they're engaged. Educational apps like Just Match or Math on the Farm forge a perfect balance between learning and engagement. The Math on the Farm app teachers mathematics skills in a fun way. Here, the child has to answer multiple-choice type questions to score points. The stories in the app are themed on a farm that has flowers, vegetables, domestic animals, and cattle. Bright colors and interactive animation are the highlights of this app. It's important that the child learns by playing and the Math on the Farm app does just that.

# 2 Play with your child

Studies have shown that children learn better if parents join the fun. Take an active role and choose and app that's likely to hold your kid's attention. The Just Match app could be perfect for you. This fun educational app teachers matching skills, where you'll be shown to game figures and an outline which matches only one of them. You've to drag and match the figure with the outline. A lively animation will hail your efforts every time you match correctly.

# 3 Select appropriate games

Determine whether a fun educational app is correct for your child. Not all four-year old will be equal. So, different apps would appeal to different kids at different times. Ask yourself whether your child will be able to follow the app's storyline. The touch screen system is a major advancement in the field of communication. Make sure the fun educational app has audio cues and not only words.

# 4 Set limits and encourage other playing and learning forms

Well, setting the proper “media diet” is important for your child. It's almost like balanced food. The more variety, the better it's for your child. Consider the number of hours the child will spend in front of a screen. A possible rule could be not allowing TV until the homework is complete. The same should apply to a touch screen, unless it's required in school, which of course is increasingly happening these days.

# 5 Download from reliable, trusted sources

Look for established brands that specialize in fun educational apps. Are you comfortable with the app's characters? Kids imitate popular media characters. Make sure the language and behavior in fun educational apps are appropriate for your kids. Avoid apps that have a lot of violence or are frightening to play. Such apps may have an adverse impact on the child's mind. The Math on the Farm and Just Match app can fit the bill perfectly. These two apps are sensitive to children's needs, and are among the best fun educational apps around.

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Apps May Detect Autism Among Children One Day

Apps that can detect a person's facial expression and emotional response may soon become helpful to identify signs of autism spectrum disorder among children. Scientists are reportedly working on these lines at a North Carolina university.

The prototype of the app has already been developed and it's in the first phase of testing. The app uses complex mathematical algorithms for automatically detecting a child's expressions and emotional cues by analyzing the muscle movements of the face. People interested to participate in a six-month research can contact the developer team and download the app on their iPads and tablets. Children joining the study will be given a short video which has been designed to trigger emotional responses and / or social interactions. The app, using the front camera of the iPad or tablet, will then measure the child's reaction to the videos being played via machine learning and analysis.

Study of emotions is a key component of the app. It works by following some domestic landmarks. These can be automatically detected by the algorithm in the app, after classifying the position of the head and the emotional response triggered.

The app, as of now, is suitable for children up to six years of age. Its components, however, differ depending upon the actual age of the child.

Autism spectrum disorder usually appears during infancy or early childhood. It's characterized by some general symptoms like failure to make eye contact, not respond when his / her name is called out, play with toys in an unusual or repetitive way, or face difficult when moving around, even within a designated area.

Scientists involved in developing the app, say that the software has not been designed to work as a self-diagnostic resource. Rather, it can be used as a screening tool to detect autism spectrum disorder. The scientists said that in future, the app may be used to screen and detect other developmental and health issues, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and even traumatic brain injuries.

But it's too early to speculate whether the app will be effective for the purpose for which it's being developed. There's no particular medical test which can confirm the presence of autism spectrum disorder in a child. Detection is always symptom-based and the therapy methods vary according to each particular case. According to conservative estimates, about one percent of the world population, which includes more than 3.5 million in the US, is affected with autism spectrum disorder.

Therapists and educators say that while an app may be able to pick up the differences among people having PTSD or autism spectrum disorder, it will be foolhardy to predict whether these differences can conclusively prove the presence of these conditions. Each person with autism is likely to have symptoms different from the other. Even the so-called “common” symptoms could vary widely.

But it's encouraging suddenless that studies are being carried out to detect the presence of autism spectrum disorder better. The therapies can only be suggested after proper detection. With the disorder largely going undiagnosed, development of the app could have been a step in the right direction.

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