Pete Minnelli and his wife took on the challenge of creating a series of apps to help kids with high-functioning autism — like their daughter — learn to function more successfully in social situations.
Children on the autism spectrum face difficulty gaining the social skills they need for basic interactions with others. Small details that may come naturally to others need to be learned, often through repetition. Eye contact, smiling, appropriate personal space... these are all basic skills everyone needs.
Families with a child on the autism spectrum often have difficulty finding helpful ways for their children to learn these basic skills. What better way to help these kids navigate the social scene than with an app? We found a few cool apps to help with social skills, while having a bit of fun in the process.
“My wife is a speech-language pathologist who has been providing therapies for this population for the past 15 years, so she's been plugged into this community since she began practicing as a clinician,” says Pete Minnelli, who with his wife created the storysmart apps to support children who need help with social skills. “Response has been really great, especially among therapists who work with children on their social skills,” he adds. Their daughter has high-functioning autism, and was their inspiration for creating the series.
The storysmart suite of iPad apps aims to help kids and teens on the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum. These kids are typically placed in mainstream schools with neurotypical kids, but their poor social skills almost always lead to difficulties with peers. The first app in the suite (which will eventually include six apps) is Trudy Goes to the Beach (iTunes, $4). The app leads the user through a series of situations as Trudy visits the beach and deals with sensory overload. The second app is Casey’s Big Day (iTunes, $2), which focuses on challenges and frustrations experienced by a boy on his first day of fifth grade. A third app is in production, and will be available early this fall.
The Social Express Lite
The Social Express Lite is a free educational program for the iPad to help children and young adults facing social learning challenges. The program was designed to teach users how to process and react in social situations, in order to help them develop meaningful social relationships. Core concepts are based on renowned specialist Michelle Garcia Winner and her Social Thinking curriculum.
Touch and Learn
Featuring hundreds of high-quality images of real people showing real emotion, the free Touch and Learn — Emotions app is highly-rated by parents as being genuinely helpful for their children to use while learning social skills. There are more than 30 emotions taught in this app, including tired, worried and excited to name a few. This app is available for both iPad and iPhone.
Touch & Say
This is a free, hands-on iPad app for the littlest of social skill learners! Touch & Say includes six activities for practicing the basic social skills of verbalization, emotional recognition, directions, gaze and color recognition.
Social Stories Creator
This free social skills app for the iPad or iPhone is great for elementary-age or older kids, who can create their own stories by uploading their own photos or adding their voice. Cute illustrations and an appealing look make this an app that kids, parents and caregivers will love.
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