Children with autism and their families need help managing various aspects of this developmental condition. Working with a behavior therapist is the first, and most important, step to managing symptoms of autism, but finding ways outside of therapy sessions to support the child’s ongoing growth is also vital to their long-term success.
With digital technology easier to access than ever before, mobile apps for your phone or tablet can be a great way for your child to continue building social, communication, and cognitive skills.
Here are some of the doctor-recommended apps for autism in 2020.
Doctor-Recommended Apps to Support Children With Autism
For parents of children on the autism spectrum, finding a behavior therapist is the first step in supporting the child’s development. An applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapist will work with your child — either in their clinical setting, your home, at school, or another location — to provide support in learning new skills, communicating more effectively, socializing with others, and managing other symptoms of autism.
It is important for your child to apply what they learn in ABA therapy sessions to a variety of settings. Tools that support your child’s skill-building process outside of their regular therapy sessions can help them transfer socializing and communication skills to home, school, and other settings.
Since digital technology like smartphones, tablets, and laptops are more accessible to more families, education companies have designed several apps that can help children with autism to learn and grow. Some of these apps also help parents, siblings, and caregivers for children on the autism spectrum too.
The Best Apps Recommended by Doctors
Apps for smartphones and tablets support communication, socialization, and cognitive skills that children with autism need to develop. Most apps serve specific purposes, and others offer multiple approaches to supporting children with autism and their families.
Here are some of the leading apps in 2020 that are recommended by doctors:
- Choiceworks: This app helps children with autism complete daily routines throughout the day, divided into morning, afternoon, and nighttime. It also features approaches to understanding emotions and controlling them, improving waiting skills like taking turns in conversations and not interrupting others, and learning to identify feelings and manage outbursts. This multipurpose app is available for $9.99 in the Apple Store. Currently, the app is only available for Apple products.
- Language and Cognitive Therapy for Children With MITA: This app was designed by medical researchers specifically as an early language therapy intervention for children on the autism spectrum who struggle with language delays. MITA is an acronym for mental imagery therapy for autism. Designed for children up to 5 years old, the app inspires creativity, critical thinking, and a love of learning through increasingly challenging games that teach new sounds and words. It is available for free for both Apple and Android products.
- DiegoSays (Autism Speech): This is a free app for Android devices. The simple program uses practical approaches to teach your child the basics of communication, which helps your child become more independent as they grow older. The app revolves around food and mealtimes, but it can support a wider range of improved communication, especially forming sentences to ask for specific needs to be met.
- Calm Counter: Children with autism often struggle with outbursts and tantrums when they feel stressed or frustrated, especially when they are not able to communicate these feelings or what caused them. Calm Counter Social Story and Anger Management Tool works well for children between the ages of 6 and 8, but children who are 4 or 5 years old can use it to some benefit. The app includes visual and audio tools for storytelling, helping children with autism feel calmer and more centered when they begin to feel anxious or aggravated. There is an “I need a break” screen, which says this out loud when it is tapped. This transitions to a specific screen that the child taps at least 10 times, counting down until they feel calmer, which is visualized on the screen as a face moving from angry to relaxed. Calm Counter is $2.99 in the Apple Store, but it is not available for Android.
- Meet Heckerty: This a visual storytelling app featuring comics about a 409-year-old witch named Heckerty, who makes mistakes and learns from them. This app was designed to teach English to new learners, either children or those learning English as a second language; however, the repetition and visual features of Heckerty’s stories also work well for children with autism, who may struggle with verbal skills and reading comprehension. The app is free to download.
- Birdhouse: One of the most recommended apps for parents who have children with autism, this app offers several ways to track a child’s daily struggles and progress. You can keep a daily behavior journal, track new diets as your child addresses food rejection issues, track sleep cycles, make notes from ABA therapy sessions, and much more. You can also share your information with other caregivers, including family members, teachers, therapists, doctors, and anyone else who needs to understand your child and their progress. Birdhouse is free to download.
Apps for Autism Are a Supplement to Behavior Therapy
There are dozens of apps available for free that claim they work well for children with autism. Many of them may offer fun games that also help to build skills. Others cost money but provide tools without ads.
Wading through the numerous options to find programs that might work best for your child can be time-consuming. Fortunately, some apps are recommended by medical professionals, like those listed above.
Whether an app is free or costs a little money up front, apps designed for children with autism or their caregivers can often be well worth downloading. These apps should be designed with behavior and speech therapy support in mind. While they won’t replace traditional treatment, like applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy, they can offer another tool to support your child in behavioral and self-care changes.
In addition to the above list, you can also ask your child’s pediatrician or ABA therapist if there are any apps for autism that they particularly like. There are plenty of available options in 2020, but new ones are continually being developed. Your child’s care team may have information on the latest offerings, particularly ones they feel will work well for your child.
Recommended Apps. The Autism Program at Boston Medical Center.
Recommended Applications. The Autism Program at Boston Medical Center.
Choiceworks. Apple Store.
Language and Cognitive Therapy for Children with MITA. Google Play Store.
Autism Speech DiegoSays. Google Play Store.
Calm Counter Social Story & Anger Management Tool. Apple Store.
Meet Heckerty. Apple Store.
Birdhouse for Autism. Apple Store.
Apps and Technology. Autism Speaks.
Apps for Children With Autism and Aspergers. (2017). Reading Rockets.
13 Apps That Support and Empower the Autistic Community. (April 2016). Mashable.
9 Awesome Apps for Kids on the Autism Spectrum. (April 2019). Huffington Post.
The Impact of Technology on People with Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Systematic Literature Review. (October 2019). Sensors.
How Technology Can Help. Autism Speaks.
Activity Schedules, Computer Technology, and Teaching Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders. (2006). Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities.