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Sunday, December 11, 2011

More thoughts on apps and autism

Many thoughts have been whirling around in my mind as I watch Janey interact with the iPad. A big one is---I think a lot of people don't get what drives kids with autism. There are two big traits that I think most kids with autism have, or at least that Janey has. One is a love of predictability over novelty---a lack of curiostiy. The other is a lack of motivation to do anything just to please others. In creating an app that really appeals to kids with autism, I think these have to be kept in mind. Janey isn't going to keep trying something just to see what happens. Many apps depend on this---the reward is getting to a new level, seeing or trying something new. This doesn't appeal to Janey. The reward needs to be something she can predict, but still likes. A good example of an app that works for her is called First Words Christmas (and there are other First Words apps too). You move letters into a word---for example, in "tree", the word tree is written, and the letters in tree are scattered about, and you have to overlay the "t" on the "t" in tree. When all letters are in place, a little music plays and the tree picture moves around. To me, it seems like a pretty boring reward, but Janey loves it. She loves the predictable routine, and the mild reward. Another good part of this app is once you finish one screen, it moves automatically to the next. Even if Janey is enjoying something, if given a chance, she might hit that very tempting menu button and go back to the general menu, if the next activity isn't put up there fast.

This has made me think about the possible overdiagnosis of autism, and the difference between having some cognitive delays and having autism with cognitive delays. If Janey was just delayed without the autism, a lot more apps might appeal to her. She might like the ones that allowed creativity, the ones I download in vain, drawing ones and sticker ones and the like. The curiosity and enjoyment of the free form would draw her in, and she would learn from them. But with autism and the delays, you lose that crucial piece. She has little curiosity. She likes her fun to be fun she's expecting.

I use a trick of quickly showing her apps she might like, and playing them a little in front of her, while she physically tries to move my hands. Then I go to the menu and click on the icon a few times, just to show her how to get there. This makes the app familiar to her, and once in a while, she goes back to it.

Janey got hung up on an app called Starfall Snowman. Starfall ABC is one of her favorite apps, and a great one. I thought she might try the Snowman app, which allows you to make a snowman and then hear a little story with your snowman featured. She liked it, but for a different reason. She'd hit "make a snowman" and then right away hit the X button to exit, and the app would say "Goodbye!" in a voice she loved for some reason. She would do this over and over and over for an hour, just to hear the Goodbye. I decided to delete the app, as she wasn't doing anything else on the iPad and I frankly couldn't stand it any more. The next time she went to play on the pad, she coudln't find the icon, and searched and searched in vain. It was so bad that she had to ask. She said "I want snowman game". I couldn't resist that, and put it back. I then sat there while she played it for about another hour, over and over. A few times, she hit something else by mistake, and very, very gradually, she started to try those other things. It taught me a lesson---I have to let her sometimes discover things on her own, and she will, just not at a normal pace. She doesn't watch the exact same videos every day, she doesn't eat the exact same foods. She does try new things, but very gradually, and I need to respect that.

Overall, it's been a good month or so for Janey. It was hard for me, as Tony went away on business for two weeks, but we all handled it, and it's great to have him back. I think for the first time in quite a few, I feel hopeful about Janey's progress. She is learning at school and at home, in her own extremely quirky way. It's good to see.

1 comment:

cee said...


This seems as good a place as any to leave this: I am wondering if you've read anything about the TEACCH approach to autism. (here's a good link, for instance: the TEACCH approach to bathrooming: ) . I would never assume for a second that you've done less reading than I have on this, but I know people who've reported serious lightbulb moments because TEACCH focuses on what's happening cognitively with people who have autism and often focuses on people with lower function. So I'm dropping the link in case it's useful. You have a beautiful family and you are doing a great job with them.