Dad Creates Simple App to Help Autistic Son Communicate Better

Much has been said over the years concerning technology and education — there has been and still is an ongoing debate about how we can best implement technology into schools to the benefit of children.

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Our adult life on a day-to-day basis is filled with technology, from touch screens to order plane tickets to self-checkout at the grocery store, so it is pertinent that our children are well-versed with using technology. The popularity of tablets and smart phones has made its way into the education world in the form of educational software and apps, even textbooks are becoming digital rather than paperbacks and hard copies. There are, of course is a plethora of apps on the market for android phones, iPhones and even Windows phones, in fact Google has created and entire section and groups dedicated to advancing technology in education, it is of course called Google Play for Education.

As the parent of an autistic son, I’ve spent lots of time finding ways to make educating my son easier on a daily basis. I’ve used everything from pictures, to PECs, flashcards, boards and more. This was and still is all in an effort to increase my son’s vocabulary, to help him communicate his needs easier, so that he is less frustrated and less prone to outburst.

While carrying all of these tools around, I started to think about how I could condense the amount of communications and learning tools, as we traveled with our son day to day, this led me to the idea of turning many of these tools into mobile apps. Upon moving to the Tampa, Florida metro, we were excited about the opportunity to take all of our sons to different attractions from zoos, to theme, parks. We had planned a trip to Busch Gardens to see their rides and the safari portion of the park, but we were worried about the animal sounds and the crowds and noise. Typically we use a paper PECS to prepare him to go to different places, this includes pictures, we would go through each picture and explain to him, what is in each picture. Instead of this method, I used my technology experience, and skills to build an app for my son, that had the same affect. The first mobile application that I built was called “GoToZoo,” this app had only a few of the animals that we were going to see, along with some pictures and sounds of each animal.  In the days before our visit, I would let him play the app on my phone, and he enjoyed it. Not only did he enjoy it, he begin to make the sound that were in the app.

Something interesting happened when we began to see the animals at Busch Gardens — he would say the name and make the sound. It was amazing, just a small simple app helped him learn more and become more comfortable in this place with thousands of people and large animals. We placed it on the Google Apps Marketplace for free and many others began to download. Many parents began to e-mail me about doing this, not only to help prepare kids for trips, but also to help them learn different subjects in school, such as numbers, shapes and letters.  We’ve created a few more apps, such as “ColorCar” and “ShapeSpace,” and also a communications app called “HearMePlease” which helps kids tell adults what they need and want.  In total we have over 20 apps available.  These apps reinforce the individual education plan, so what child learns at school can be practiced at home or while the family is out and about.  The ultimate goal is to help people, people who are in the same position as me, parents extending the tools for their autistic child. Parents and teachers who are interested in fighting a widening digital divide between special needs children and their peers.  For more information visit www.live2learndifferently.com, there you can find our apps for download individually or sign-up, join to get them all.

Andre SpiveyAndre Spivey is the founder and CEO of Live 2 Learn Differently, Inc.  He comes with a wealth and diversity of IT experience spending over 8 years in the US Air Force.  During his time in the Air Force, his son was diagnosed with autism as he began school which inspired him to find a way he could use his experience to help him learn.  Spivey built the start-up Live 2 Learn Differently to have a huge impact on the technology used to teach children with autism and other special needs.  Through this he developed the mobile apps “HearMePlease” and “GoToZoo” and many more these educational apps for children with autism.  Some of these apps used currently by schools in the United States and South Africa.  Andre has a B.A. in Organizational Management and Leadership Skills from Morris Brown College, and Graduate Certificates in Financial Management, Business Leadership Skills and Executive Leadership Skills from Cornell University. He is also Business Communications major at Harvard Extension School.

This article was featured in Issue 41 – Issue 41 – Celebrating Family

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