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Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Special needs apps help those with disabilities adapt to life

Hundreds of special needs apps now are available to help make life better for the millions of people, especially children, who have disabilities.

The first app was released on April 3, 2010 and the field has grown rapidly since, said Tzvi Schectman, a family coordinator at the Friendship Circle of West Bloomfield. Many of the apps are free with the most expensive, “Lamp Words for Life,” costing $299.99, according to the Website, “Lamp,” for example,” addresses the language development and communication needs of children with autism.”

Categories of apps include those for speech and language, communication, social skills, life skills, behavior, educational, scheduling and games.

Those developing apps fill out a form on the above Website to get approval and distribution of the app on either the Apple or android platform.

“This is absolutely a growing field,” said Schectman. One of the first apps was “Proloquo2go,” an assistive communication app. It helps with children who have autism or are nonverbal. “They choose pictures of items to communicate” and “it works with most anyone with impaired speech.”

The scheduling app helps someone with a cognitive disability structure the events in their days.

It’s a visual schedule that might show a picture of a breakfast table, then a school bus. Some of the apps also help “parents monitor their child’s behavior,” said Schectman.

One app, “The Birdhouse for Autism,” allows parents to keep track of what their child does during the day. “Every day they write what the child ate, how medications affected the child, and then Birdhouse finds correlation and patterns in that child’s everyday life to see what meds or activities are working and what areas need more work or modification.” The app is free and parents need only create an iPhone account and enter information about their special needs child.

Other apps help develop social skills, teach proper etiquette, encourage children with developmental disabilities to make eye contact with others and even how to say hello to someone.

The 59 apps in the social skills category on the Friendship Circle website include “Stepping Stones,” a personal visual organizer for prompting daily routines and schedules. Its cost is 99 cents. It was designed for users with developmental disabilities and the app assists in building independence. A simple interface allows a caregiver to create a routine, or ‘Path’, for the user to follow. The Path then works as reminder with visual and audio guides to act as prompts.

 Jerry Wolffe is the writer-in-residence/advocate-at-large at the Macomb-Oakland Regional Center. He can be reached at 586 263-8950.