In a previous blog post, we discussed the evolution of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) tools. While there is no doubt that AAC devices have evolved over the decades, it is difficult to dispute that they have changed most significantly in the last five years.
Ten years ago, could you have imagined watching a movie while lying on the beach or carrying 10 or 20 books in your back pocket? iTechnology, a term loosely used to describe mobile and touchscreen technology, has revolutionized autism therapy. According to Melanie Johnston, a Speech and Language Pathologist and an Autism and Behavior consultant at BRITE Success,LLC, a Houston-based company that provides services to individuals with developmental, behavioral and intellectual disabilities and provides consulting services to professionals, family members, faculty and staff of educational institutions and services to those individuals directly afflicted with the Autism Spectrum Disorder, “more can be accomplished with the changes in technology that have occurred in the last few years, than the previous 30 years.” This is a profound statement, but, when understanding the changes that iTechnology has brought, it is not surprising.
To start with, iTechnology is cheaper. Traditional AAC devices typically cost more than $5,000 per unit, and at times easily over $8,000 apiece. This priced out most consumers. Advancements in mobile technology have allowed opened the door for apps that can achieve the same levels of success as traditional AAC devices, with additional capabilities, at a fraction of the price. Android and iPad apps for autism, for example, cost just a couple hundred dollars each.
In addition, iTechnology offers greater mobility, which is crucial given the need for constant access to communication. Unlike traditional AAC devices, which were often bulky and difficult to transport, iTechnology apps are run from tablets and mobile devices, such as iPads, iPhones and Android tables, making them usable in any setting. The use of this technology allows professionals to engage with their patients and clients anywhere, increasing engagement.
Some apps are breaking the traditional models due to the customization they offer. Johnston acknowledges this, saying, “I love the customization of AutisMate. It allows me to personalize the app for each client and each client has different and very specific needs. It was not as easy to do this 10 years ago with the technology available.” With traditional AAC devices, therapy would be forced within the guidelines and restrictions of the devices being used. When an app offers customization, each individual can use it in a way to meet his or her needs.
Mobile technology is also making waves in autism therapy with the impact its video modeling, scheduling, and routines are having on improving life skills development. These features help provide users a path to independence, choice, self-determination, confidence, and freedom. Johnston has experienced countless success stories with patients using iTechnology in their daily lives. She has watched a client transform from being completely prompt-dependent to getting integrated into the work force, requiring minimal supervision to handle and complete his tasks. “The success of this client is due entirely to the advances in therapy resulting from iTechnology,” said Johnston. She added that by building video models and schedules and other features in the AutisMate app, her client can handle his responsibilities and even follows up with her upon completing his tasks for the day. “It is a gratifying feeling to see the success of many of my clients attributed to iTechnology, success that could not have been attained using traditional AAC devices.”
More and more schools are utilizing mobile apps to enhance communication and behavioral interventions in those with autism. As a result, schools across the country have experienced impressive success stories with their students, both inside and outside the classrooms. Speech and Language Pathologists have been working with students to build schedules for tasks, to show students how to complete a task and what to do when it is completed. The student hears a “success tone,” letting him or her know the goal has been accomplished, which often brings a smile to the student’s face. After completing each task, the students are able to tap on the task they have completed and independently move on to the next one. This increased sense of independence and self-determination has been very rewarding for the students and their families. The level at which students respond to iTechnology does not surprise many in the industry. “I am able to work with eight-, six- and even four-month-old babies and get them to respond, with purpose, to an iPad, ” said Johnston. “If we are able to accomplish that, I know we will be able to accomplish great milestones with older children and young adults.”
Much like with most changes in technology, people were a little hesitant about implementing iTechnology into their programs, but once they try it, they adopt it. There are great benefits to using this type of technology. The first benefit is the degree of progress in development students are achieving. The second benefit, and almost as significant as the first, is the technology’s low cost relative to traditional AAC devices. Lower cost per device means that more individuals with learning limitations will have access to tools to assist their development.
“This is just the beginning,” says Jonathan Izak, Founder and CEO of SpecialNeedsWare, the application development company behind AutisMate. “As mobile technology continues to evolve, its role in helping those with developmental and communication impairments will go far beyond what anyone can imagine today.”