Twitter: WynsumArts

Every App Has A Story: Summer Vacation!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Summer Vacation: See You in the Fall!

When your work revolves around children, you realize that your schedule often reflects the school schedule!

Many of our readers are teachers, who are taking the summer off. And many of our developers are taking breaks, too. So we’ve opted to take a few weeks off from posting profiles.

We’re still working behind the scenes, though. We have more than 7,400 apps in our database and we’re busy adding new apps every day!

Download i.AM Search on your iPhone or iPad and create a profile to find apps that suit the specific needs of your child or student with autism today!

Or browse our index of apps that we’ve profiled here — organized by apps that help with life skills, schedules and transitions, sensory processing disorder, social skills, social stories, speech and language development, as well as general education apps.

Also, please take a minute to tell us about your favorite apps for kids with autism. We’ll be choosing more apps to profile in a few weeks!

Happy Summer!

 

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Every App Has A Story: Pererro

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Pererro is a device that allows people who have impaired motor skills or impaired vision to access iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad apps with a switch.”

— Edd Grinham, marketing manager with RSLSteeper,
which specializes in prosthetic, orthotic and assistive technology

 

Pererro

Many of the apps profiled on this blog are not directly accessible to some children or adults with physical disabilities.

There are thousands of apps that can help children with special needs, but only if the children can physically access the apps. That is where RSLSteeper comes in: the company has developed a small device that adapts the iOS devices — including the iPad, iPod Touch, and iPhone — so that they are controlled via switch.

The device has a 3.5mm mono jack socket for universal switch input — so it accepts any switch that uses an earphone jack.

 

Why Did You Create Pererro?

Edd Grinham: RSLSteeper has 30 years of experience in assistive technology. Recently, we’ve used the iPad to help our customers with environmental control. Using our EvoAssist program, people with disabilities can use an iPad with switch access to open curtains, to use a video-enabled intercom system to answer the doorbell and grant access to visitors, to turn on the television or audio systems. Essentially, we help turn the iPad into a remote control for people with disabilities.

But our customers couldn’t do much else with the iPad. They simply couldn’t access all the apps available in the App Store. So we created Pererro, a device that allows people who have impaired motor skills or impaired vision to access iPhone and iPad apps with a switch.

How Does Pererro Work?

Edd Grinham: The Pererro device, which is 36 × 29 × 9 mm, is simply an interface that allows the switch and the iPad to talk to each other.

[Editor’s note: At less than 1.5 inches wide or tall, the device is not much larger than the iPod shuffle.]

The user — or caregiver — plugs the Pererro device into the iOS device, like an iPad, and then plugs the user’s switch into the Pererro device.

Immediately, the Pererro activates the VoiceOver feature, which is an accessibility feature that Apple builds into all of its devices.

The device will work as soon as it is plugged into the iPad or iPhone. However, to adjust the settings of the Pererro device, you need to download the free Pererro app from the App Store.

There are two scan methods. The user can press the switch button to move one cell at a time or to scan at set intervals, in which case the user presses the button again to stop scanning and choose an app by holding for a set number of seconds.

If the user presses and holds the switch for a longer time, it activates a menu of commands, which are read aloud: “select,” ”escape, ” ”home, ” ”swipe left, ” ”swipe up, ” ”swipe down” and ”swipe right.”

When adjusted via the Pererro app, the settings are then stored on the Pererro device. A parent, teacher or therapist can help a child learn to reduce the scan time as they get better at using the switch. When that caregiver adjusts the settings, the device can be plugged into another iPhone or iPad and the child can continue using the new settings.

Pererro works with most VoiceOver-enabled apps, including Skype, FaceTime, Twitter, and Facebook, as well as communications apps like Sono Flex, Grid Player and Proloquo2Go. It doesn’t work with apps that require an icon to be moved on the screen. You can’t move something on the screen with the switch, so you’re not going to be able to play Angry Birds. But when we do live demos, we’ll try apps as we’re asked about them — and 9 out of 10 apps that we’re asked about do work with Pererro.

Because it works with the iOS device’s built-in VoiceOver feature, the Pererro makes Apple devices accessible regardless of the language the user speaks.

We’ve also designed Pererro to be very stable and efficient for people with disabilities. We opted to build a device that plugs in using the 30-pin dock connector because this offers a more stable connection than Bluetooth, which is important for our customers who may not be able to reinitiate a Bluetooth connection. (Additionally, Bluetooth is prohibited in planes and hospitals, which would limit usage of the device.)

The Pererro device does not require external battery and it has a limited drain on the battery of your iOS device — draining only 10 to 15 minutes in a five- to eight-hour battery cycle.

We also included a micro USB port through which you can charge the iPad or iPhone without removing the Pererro device, so our customers can use the device continuously even while it is charging (The cable is included).

And finally, the Pererro is an Apple-approved device. This allows us to use the official Apple chip, which ensures compatibility with iOS devices.

We are also working to make the device compatible with two-switch scanning, since this is the most common request we’ve had since bringing the app to market in the U.S. in February. We are developing a small attachment that will allow two switch inputs.

***

[Editor’s Note: The Pererro device sells for US$275. You can purchase it at www.TFEinc.com or www.zygo-usa.com. You can download the Pererro app for free — the app allows you to change the settings of the device. The app by itself does not enable switch access control on the iOS device.]

 

To find more apps to help your child with autism, download Wynsum Arts’ free app, i.AM Search – available on iTunes.


 

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Every App Has A Story: iLearnNEarn

 

 

 

 

 

 

“We wanted to use technology to create fun educational tools that are simple for educators and parents to customize, that would reinforce the lessons being taught in the classrooms and that would effectively engage children.”

— Nish Parikh, CEO of WebTeam Corporation

  

iLearnNEarn

WebTeam Corporation has been active at the intersection of autism education and technology for more than five years. While working with autism experts and educators, the company has tested its educational games in classrooms, tracking data to see how children engage with the games. The company tracks a variety of measures, ranging from empirical data related to skills acquisition by children to videos that record facial expressions in order to better understand children’s engagement with the programs.

Now, in addition to kiosks in classrooms, the company has released apps designed specifically for children with autism and special needs.

The apps that make up the iLearnNEarn series are based on the curricula that teachers use in schools, including sight words, colors, shapes, basic math skills, spelling, emotions and facial expressions.

The apps are based on the Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) model of intervention delivery.

“In addition to tracking student usage and progress for teachers, the apps can use individual student data in order to better present the material to each individual student,” explains Nish Parikh, CEO of WebTeam Corporation.

 

Why Did You Create the iLearnNEarn Apps?

Nish Parikh: We’ve been working in the autism education space for more than five years. Based on our research, we know that game-based educational programs are very effective for this population.

But we also know that children with special needs often respond best to customized, individualized programs.

We wanted to use technology to create fun educational tools that are simple for educators and parents to customize, that would reinforce the lessons being taught in the classrooms and that would effectively engage children.

 

How Do the iLearnNEarn Apps Work?

Nish Parikh: We believe individualization, data collection and analysis are important when creating programs for the special needs population. All of our apps collect data in a centralized database which can be used by teachers or experts for further analysis to achieve optimum results via supplemental intervention using our apps. We take the paper-based curricula that teachers use in classrooms to teach various concepts — from spelling to math and even emotions — and we replicate it in app form.

Each app is customizable. Teachers or parents can optimize the use of features, including timers for each question, use of audio prompts and choosing the level of difficulty.

Furthermore, teachers or parents can upload personal photos as well as recording audio prompts when that level of customization will help children to learn. The apps also include a tool that allows teachers and parents to communicate, so, for example, a teacher can request that parents submit photos that help the teacher to customize the apps for individual students.

iLearnNEarn apps are based on ABA methods, and include rewards in the form of brief animation when children correctly complete a question or exercise. However, if the reward animation is distracting, an adult can turn off the reward component of the app.

As students work through the apps, each app collects data, including right/wrong answers and response time. Teachers or parents can pull a report to track a student’s progress.

In addition, the app adjusts the delivery of material as the student user progresses and proves acquisition of the targeted skill.

Across the iLearnNEarn series of apps, students can learn a wide range of skills, including:

  • ‘Alphabets’ for Identification of Letters
  • ‘123 Order’ for Sequencing Numbers
  • ‘ My Words’ for Recognizing Sight Words
  • ‘Color Find’ for Color Identification
  • ‘Show Me’ for Recognition of Objects
  • ‘Decoding Emotions’ For Recognizing Emotions
  • ‘Spell Me’ For Learning Spellings
  • ‘Multiplication’ For Learning Math
  • My Words
  • Shapes
  • Fruits
  • iLNE Spell – 1
  • iLNE Spell – 2
  • iLNE Spell – 3
  • Alphabets Sequence
  • Flowers
  • Add Me
  • Days Sequence
  • Months Sequence
  • Uppercase
  • What’s the Expression
  • Subtract Me
  • Cursive Lowercase
  • Cursive Uppercase
  • Lowercase
  • Vegetable
  • 2-Tone Color
  • Animals Sound

To find more apps to help your child with autism, download Wynsum Arts’ free app, i.AM Search – available on iTunes.


 

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Every App Has A Story: Pufferfish Apps

 

 

 

“I wanted to make apps to help my [autistic] brother, but very quickly I realized that I could turn this into a business that could help lots of people.”

— Megan Holstein, founder of Pufferfish Apps

  

Pufferfish Apps

Two years ago, Megan Holstein (then 15 years old) set out to help her mom and her brother. Megan’s youngest brother has autism and is non-verbal. Megan’s mom sometimes expressed disappointment that she could not find an app that suited a specific need for her youngest son.

Megan bought a programming book, intent on teaching herself how to program. “But I didn’t like programming, so I asked my dad if he would invest in the app I wanted to make and we hired an outside programmer,” says Holstein, who is now 17.

Holstein’s youngest brother is now 12. Their other brother, who is 15, showed some signs of autism when he was younger. Growing up with two brothers who have at times displayed various characteristics of autism has given Holstein a unique perspective as an app creator.

To date, her company, Pufferfish Apps, has created several apps for kids with special needs (including Visual Routine, Touch Talking, Emotion Cards, and Present A Choice) as well as Learn Your States, a general education app.

[Editor’s note: Because all of the apps have been released while Holstein was a minor, they have been released via iTunes under the name Proteon Software, a company owned by Holstein’s dad.]

 

Why Did You Found Pufferfish Apps and Create These Apps?

Megan Holstein: Well, I wanted to help my brother, but very quickly I realized that I could turn this into a business that could help lots of people.

 

 

My first app was Touch Talking, which is an inexpensive communication aid based on the PECS concept. It can help children who are learning speech and basic vocabulary words and it can assist nonverbal children with communicating their needs or wants. They simply touch a photo or drawing on the screen and the app will say the name of the item.

 

 

I also designed Emotion Cards. I found out from parent feedback on the Pufferfish Software Facebook page that parents have trouble teaching emotions to kids that don’t pick up on socials skills intuitively. So I created an app based on facial expressions. These visual cues give parents and therapists a starting point to talk about different emotions and how people can “read” emotions by watching for cues in terms of facial expression and body language. Nonverbal children can also use the app to communicate how they feel.

 

I also created Present A Choice. My brother has trouble filtering out sounds sometimes; the jumble of sensory input can be too much for him, especially when he is upset. At times like this, it is easier for him to comprehend visual signals and to respond to visual signals. So I created a very intuitive app that allows parents to quickly show kids their options and give them a sense of control over a situation. The app allows you to give two, three, or four choices, which are displayed in photos on the screen. For example, you could display a photo of an apple or a banana and the child can touch the one he wants for a snack. Or if a child is easily upset by running errands, you could offer a choice to go home or to go do a favorite activity, such as swinging at the park, once the errand is over.

 

 

With Visual Routine, I created an app that is essentially a task manager for kids with special needs. The app uses both photo and audio prompts to help kids with life skills and independence. For example, a morning routine might prompt a child to put on clothes, then shoes, eat breakfast, brush his teeth, grab his backpack and then go to the bus.

 

 

 

I’m excited about the feedback that I receive and I look forward to continuing to grow and improve these apps. My whole goal is to create fantastic, inexpensive apps that really help kids.

 

To find more apps to help your child with autism, download Wynsum Arts’ free app, i.AM Search – available on iTunes.


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Every App Has A Story: RocketKeys

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Once we identified the need for a better keyboard, our goal was to create the most accessible, most flexible talking keyboard available.”

—    Alex Levy, co-creator of RocketKeys

 

Rocket Keys

RocketKeys is an app that turns your iPad into a customizable talking keyboard that is easy for people with physical challenges to use. Designed to improve accessibility for users with special needs, this text-to-speech app allows users to design their ideal keyboard by choosing the key size, layout, and colors they prefer. Users can also customize the word prediction functionality of the app and personalize the voices it uses to speak out loud.

 

Before they developed RocketKeys, Aakash Sahney and Alex Levy of MyVoice developed TalkRocket Go, a GPS-driven AAC app previously called MyVoice.

“TalkRocket Go serves the quick and routine communication needs of many of our users, but we know that many people want to communicate ‘off the cuff,’ if you will. And yet, users who have poor motor skills or poor eyesight are limited by keyboards that just don’t work for them,” says Levy.

He explains: In existing keyboards, the keys were too small. In physical keyboards, the keys were hard to press. In software keyboards, the screen were too sensitive and shaking hands result in too many letters being pressed.

“Once we identified the need for a better keyboard, our goal was to create the most accessible, most flexible talking keyboard available,” he says.

 

Why Did You Create RocketKeys?

Alex Levy: Aakash and I were researchers at the University of Toronto; we started researching communication aids in a project sponsored by the Canadian government and Google. During our research we learned that there are an estimated 3 million to 8 million people in North America with communication challenges. Within this population, the rate of unemployment is high and people are socially isolated.

Although there is great need for communication aids, a relatively small portion of the community uses aids. We believe that three factors limit use of these aids: many existing aids are cost-prohibitive; few are accessible to users with physical challenges; and most are not intuitive or efficient to use.

Early in our research, we were challenged to make sure our work helps hundreds of thousands of people. That wasn’t going to happen one research project at a time. And so, we started our own company.

RocketKeys is a great complement to our existing product line. Our first app, TalkRocket Go is for users on the go. It contains vocabularies organized by theme and it works for a range of users — from a toddler answering yes/no questions to an adult with 6,000 vocabulary words in hundreds of organized categories.

But users that want to have a deeper conversation need a keyboard and we recognized our customers’ frustrations with the available keyboard-based communication apps.

We wanted to create an app that makes communication easy for those who struggle to both type and talk.

We have created a very robust prediction engine to limit the amount of effort to type a sentence and we have created a completely customizable keyboard.

 

How Does RocketKeys Work?

Alex Levy: The prediction engine was critical for the usability of RocketKeys. We were not satisfied with existing prediction engines — they just weren’t predicting the things we wanted to talk about and that would slow down communication.

We wanted to talk about Saturday Night Live and Obama and musicians and baseball. But the existing prediction engines made formal suggestions — no proper nouns and no slang. We wanted an engine that would suggest words and phrases that we use every day.

So we started with a source that has data in line with real conversations: Twitter. We analyzed 10 million tweets and created a prediction engine that knows “What’s up?” instead of pushing users to use the more formal “How are you?” And if you start typing “Christina,” our engine will suggest “Christina Applegate,” “Christina Aguilera,” and “Christina Ricci.”

Because prediction can be overwhelming for some users, we give the option to choose the number of words or phrases predicted — from one to seven suggestions.

The keyboard is also key to the functionality of the app. Users can add word keys for the words they use most often, they can change the size, color, and layout of keys.

The app offers a number of color schemes to improve visible accessibility. People with poor vision, can choose dark or bright color with high contrast.

Even users who are blind can use the app by having the iPad read the keys out loud as they “feel” around the screen. RocketKeys’ screen-reading features goes beyond the built-in accessibility features of the iPad by allowing users to customize the voices they use for each task. For example, a user could choose to use a faster or quieter voice for screen reading, and another louder or slower voice to communicate their spoken messages to others.

 

For users with physical accessibility issues, challenges range from unsteady or imprecise hands to the inability to point. It is very difficult to type with your fist or with or with a hand that trembles.

To accommodate these users, we’ve added a stabilization feature to the app. Basically, the app can analyze a few seconds of movement and determines the center of movement to recognize what the user is trying to touch.

The app also displays a cursor to give visual feedback so that users can understand how the app is reading movements.

Users can choose whether to use single, double or triple tap to select keys. This prevents accidental tapping.

For users that have trouble lifting their hands to hover over keys, you can customize the keyboard so that you can slide your hand from letter to letter, holding on the letter of choice from one to 10 seconds to select the letter.

And finally, the voice of the app is customizable. Users can choose from four voices and then customize the volume, speed and pitch. This is important to help users maintain their unique identities and to truly express themselves.

 

Editor’s Note: At this time, Talk Rocket Go is available in English and French. RocketKeys is available in English, with a French version coming in the future. Sahney and Levy plan to roll out Spanish and German versions of both apps in the future.

Additionally, Levy notes that the top user request for RocketKeys since it was launched in March is to have the keyboard integrate with other programs so that users can use the keyboard to type emails, to type in web browsers, to send updates to Facebook or to type in Microsoft Word. The company is looking to include this type of functionality with future updates

 

To find more apps to help your child with autism, download Wynsum Arts’ free app, i.AM Search – available on iTunes.


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Every App Has A Story: Reading Comprehension Camp

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“The questions in Reading Comprehension Camp give young students ample opportunity to practice inference and to learn to compare and contrast. These skills are critical to reading comprehension.”

—   Jonathan Fernandes, creator of Reading Comprehension Camp

 

Reading Comprehension Camp

Jonathan Fernandes taught high school English at an inner city school in Dallas for seven years before joining the staff at Smarty Ears Apps, which was founded by his wife, Barbara. Smarty Ears focuses primarily on speech therapy apps but the products offered by the company range from AAC apps to social skills apps to stuttering apps.

“Barbara and I are always brainstorming app ideas,” Fernandes says. “We look at the existing apps and fill the unmet needs.”

As a teacher, Fernandes saw students who struggled with reading and he realized that a fun and engaging app could help students improve their reading skills.

 

Why Did You Create Reading Comprehension Camp?

Jonathan Fernandes: There are actually a few reading apps in the App Store, but most of these were created by people who lack experience in education and we feel that most of reading apps do not really address the needs of students. The questions in Reading Comprehension Camp give young students ample opportunity to practice inference and to learn to compare and contrast. These skills are critical to reading comprehension and most apps just don’t offer the higher level questions that encourage students to analyze the stories they’ve read.

 

How Does Reading Comprehension Camp Work?

Jonathan Fernandes: Reading Comprehension Camp includes 50 stories, and each story is followed by a quiz. A teacher or parent can choose which types of questions are asked in the quizzes, based on the student’s ability level. There are 11 types of questions: who, what, where, when, why, how, inferences, cause & effect, compare & contrast, sequencing, and vocabulary & context.

The stories range from a second grade reading level to sixth grade reading level, and all stories have accompanying audio, which helps children to work on auditory processing and to access stories that may be a little beyond their reading ability. Often kids need support to reach the next level in fluency, and audio support helps us to scaffold the learning so that kids can reach the next level. (Please note that the audio is optional and can be turned off.)

The app also supports kids who struggle with reading comprehension by offering hints during the quiz. If a hint is requested, the app will highlight the portion of the story with the information relevant to the answer for the quiz question.

Each story also has at least one “big word.” In addition to improving vocabulary, this helps kids to learn how to use context to understand the meaning of an unknown word.

I like to incorporate humor into the stories to keep kids engaged — and this is often where I ask inference questions to make sure the kids understand. For example, following a story about planting trees, including the fictitious money tree, we ask why one character regrets planting his allowance!

The app also allows students to write and record their own stories. While the 50 pre-made stories serve as great tools and excellent models, students will grow so much more if they practice both reading and writing. When they create their stories, they record them. Hearing how they sound helps them make progress in their reading.

They also write questions for their own stories. This metacognitive exercise helps students to think about writing, to think about the information they are giving to the reader and to better understand how they should process information when they are the reader.

Reading and writing are so intertwined. A good writer is typically well-read, and writing helps to take a student’s reading abilities to the next level. The two activities should be introduced together and we do this in Reading Comprehension Camp.

Reading Comprehension Camp covers many Common Core State Standards in Reading Literature and Reading Foundational Skills, as well as some standards for Writing, Speaking and Listening, and Language.

We have also worked hard to make Reading Comprehension Camp easy for teachers to use. The app can be used with multiple students, and it is compatible with [Smarty Ears’] Therapy Report Center app, which helps teachers organize data from many of our apps in one place.

The Reading Comprehension Camp app tracks student data, showing the types of questions attempted and which questions were answered correctly or incorrectly.

You can use iTunes to back up the app, which ensures neither data nor student-created stories are lost.

 

To find more apps to help your child with autism, download Wynsum Arts’ free app, i.AM Search – available on iTunes.


 

 

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April 2 – World Autism Awareness Day

 

 

 

 

 

 

“The first step toward change is awareness. The second step is acceptance.”

 

— Nathaniel Branden

 

 

 

When Awareness Becomes Acceptance

April 2nd is World Autism Awareness Day. As a mom that lives with autism in my family, I embrace the concept of a day to spread awareness about autism. I hope people the world over see messages that help put that 1 in 50 ratio in perspective. I hope everyone the world over see stories that describe autism as a broad spectrum.

I want to spread the message that we in the autism community know so well: If you’ve met one kid with autism, you’ve met one kid with autism.

Our kids are unique individuals. Just like all kids, our children with autism have their own personalities, their own strengths, and their own challenges.

But the one thing they face together is a common misperception of what autism is.

Lack of knowledge about autism results in misinformation that can create stigmas about autism. In the most recent example of this spread of misinformation, media reports incorrectly implied a connection between autism and the violence at Sandy Hook Elementary. The autism community responded quickly with blog posts and pleas to the media to retract such reports, which create prejudice. And some media outlets, like The New York Times, covered the fear of a media-driven stigma and reported that statistics support experts’ claim that “there is no evidence that [people with autism] are more likely than any other group to commit violent crimes.”

This type of media coverage — this is “awareness.”  And it is probably a necessary part of the evolution and education of the world.

But this awareness isn’t what I want for the autism community.

I want us to walk that fine line of acceptance and identity.

I want the fascination with autism to evolve into understanding. I want people to understand that autism isn’t scary.

Autism is considered a developmental disability. It strikes me that being left-handed was once thought to be a disability. As writer Andrew Solomon has said, “Ability is a tyranny of the majority.” And thus anything out of the “norm” is considered a “disability.”

I am not saying that autism isn’t painful for some; it was for my family. But I do wonder how much pain comes from our culture’s own fear of what is “different” from the norm. How much easier would it be for my son if he didn’t have to deal with the stigmas assigned by his culture to some of his attributes?

Some people with autism may require accommodations for the rest of their life, and some with autism will only require accommodations during childhood. For all people with autism — regardless of their need for supports — it is important that they build a strong sense of self and esteem.

World Autism Awareness Day is a start. But it will take much more than the autism community sharing their stories one day a year.

Today we also have the advantage of technology. Technology plays a great role in autism acceptance. From the AAC apps that literally give a voice to non-verbal people to the social skills apps that help kids with autism learn to navigate the social structure of the world in which we live, technology helps kids with autism gain independence and acceptance every day.  Technology helps them to function better in the average day-to-day world.

Whether our kids need music from an iPod to block out other sensory input or a visual schedule to help control anxiety about their day, technology can improve their ability to move through each day.

And that is why we at Wynsum Arts are devoted to reviewing and cataloging any apps that are relevant for the unique needs of children across the autism spectrum — because we want our kids to thrive, to be independent and self-accepting, and to advocate for themselves.

And so, if we all do our part, day in and day out, we can go beyond “awareness” and come to a greater understanding of what autism is within our lifetime. More importantly we give a better understanding within our children’s lifetime.

 

To find more apps to help your child with autism, download Wynsum Arts’ free app, i.AM Search – available on iTunes.


 


 

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Gailynn Gluth Speaks About Autism Speaks’ Inaugural Autism Investment Conference

 

 

 

Gailynn Gluth, founder and CEO of Wynsum Arts, wrote this blog post for Autism Speaks chronicling her presentation and involvement with Autism Speaks First Autism Investment Conference.  

 

On February 22, I spoke at Autism Speaks’ inaugural Autism Investment Conference. The event, which actively connected investors with the people working on desperately needed research and innovation, is by far the most visionary new initiative within the autism ecosystem. Facilitating funding and investment to accelerate evidenced-based solutions and their adoption into the homes of families that need them has never been done before.

As a mom of a child diagnosed with autism six years ago, I found it surreal to sit with an elite group of individuals who have impacted my family’s life so personally. I have read their papers, followed their websites and adopted many of their philosophies and methods in our home. I knew most of the speakers by their published work long before I knew them by their Facebook or LinkedIn pictures. It was an honor to be selected to participate and exciting to spend a day with this powerhouse of intellects focused on autism.

The conference allowed me to share my passion for our work at Wynsum Arts, where we’ve developed the i.AM Search® app to help parents and teachers filter and find the most relevant iOS apps to support individuals with autism and their individual needs. It was amazing to have others at the event share their enthusiasm for our work.

One of the conference’s objectives, to match investors with vital technologies needing funding, was accomplished. I was thrilled to have two qualified investors reach out to me and express interest in our mission. I have also scheduled meetings to discuss terms with two angel investor groups that were already familiar with our technology but needed the momentum the conference provided to take the next step.

But it was after the conference that I was reminded of the real driving need for better support for our kids. We need innovation. We need research. We need help. And Autism Speaks Autism Investment Conference is making the connections that can further the innovation and research. If we share ideas, if we recognize the possibilities, if we fast track the development of better support, we all win.

And why is this important?

As I was basking in the glow of the enthusiasm that permeated the conference, I shared with my family what I’d presented. My uncle responded quickly to my email — and his response reminded me exactly why it is so important that we further research and innovation in the autism eco-sphere.

My first cousin Kimberly has four boys, one of whom is on the spectrum. Their family lost their house because their income went to pay for therapies and school instead of the mortgage. And still it’s not enough.

With my uncle’s permission, I’m reprinting his email— to remind us all why we need to do more, why we need to find ways to further research and fast-track solutions that support people with autism:

Hi Darlin’…

You are so cool… I am proud of you.

My precious Kimberly is struggling with [B]… he has essentially been cast out of his sixth-grade school… unable to absorb the direct supervision of his activities by adults he does not know… striking out, begging to be left alone… cursing at his mom… Suicidal ideation has been verbalized… loneliness is constantly verbalized… it’s a mess as you might imagine… he is also getting too big for his mom to handle… Give your Connor a hug and keep up your wonderful work.

Love, Uncle G

From my son to my cousin’s son to your child, grandchild or student — we all have our reasons for putting thought, effort and money into delivering autism research and innovative new supports. The stories, the ideas and the possibilities intersected at the Autism Investment Conference. I look forward to watching the sparks of brilliance grow from the connections initiated by the event.

 

To find more apps to help your child with autism, download Wynsum Arts’ free app, i.AM Search – available on iTunes.


 

 

 

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Every App Has A Story: Simplex Spelling

 

“People who read well aren’t automatically great at spelling but people who spell well are invariably great readers. With that in mind, we wanted to take a phonics-based spelling approach to literacy.”

—   Craig Welburn, co-founder of Pyxwise Software

—and co-creator of Simplex Spelling

 

 

Simplex Spelling Phonics

When Lisa Welburn began to teach her oldest son how to read, her research led her to a phonics-based spelling approach to literacy. But the curriculum she envisioned wasn’t readily available. Her husband, Craig Welburn, stepped in to create an iPad app that has grown into a series of apps that help children from kindergarten through fifth grade learn to read.

“Most apps are for pre-K and kindergarten kids. There are few apps that address the more advanced and difficult aspects of literacy,” Craig says. “Once we had the structure of Simplex Spelling apps, we kept building on the apps to serve the needs of our children. They have responded well to the apps — as have many other kids. We’re pleased to make such a positive impact.”

 

Why Did You Create the Simplex Spelling Phonics apps?

Craig Welburn: My wife, Lisa, homeschools our children. She did a great deal of research regarding the best curriculum for teaching literacy after the first reading curriculum she tried didn’t click with our son.

Lisa realized that a phonics approach is one of the best ways to approach literacy. She also learned that people who read well aren’t automatically great at spelling but that people who spell well are invariably great readers. With that in mind, we wanted to take a phonics-based spelling approach to teach our son how to read.

We actually take a reverse phonics approach. Spelling is sort of reading in reverse. Whereas reading is decoding — or sounding out words — spelling is encoding — or converting sounds to letters.

At first, Lisa created worksheets by hand. The approach proved beneficial to our son, but it was quite time-consuming for Lisa. As a programmer, I knew I could make a program that would take the tedious work out of creating the curriculum and allow Lisa to focus on teaching.

 

How Do the Simplex Spelling Phonics Apps Work?

Craig Welburn: We have a series of Simplex Spelling apps that build off each other:

Simplex Spelling Free Lite allows potential users to evaluate our products to decide if they want to purchase the full version of Simplex Spelling HD – Dolch Sight Words or another Simplex Spelling app. This free app includes more than 50 high-frequency words. (This word list is different from those in the other apps, so it is a complementary app.)

Simplex Spelling HD – Dolch Sight Words teaches the 260 words that make up more than half of all printed text. This includes the most common words in the English language such as ‘the,’ ‘and,’ and ‘of.’

Simplex Spelling Phonics 1 introduces basic phonics concepts systematically. It works well for students that already know the primary letter sounds for the individual consonants. Simplex Spelling Phonics 2 builds on the previous app and teaches syllables and how they affect spelling and reading. The word lists are a bit more difficult than those covered in Phonics 1.

Each of these apps covers roughly a year’s worth of curriculum. Phonics 1 is at the first to second grade level; Phonics 2 is designed for students at the second to third grade level.

Simplex Spelling Phonics – Advanced Phonograms covers more advanced topics in phonics. The app is developed for students who have a good foundational knowledge of the more common and basic phonograms. This app features complex word lists totaling more than 750 words and it is designed for students at a fourth or fifth grade level.

Our oldest son has some vision issues and so we knew to color code letter cubes in our apps in a way that helps children with visual issues. Green signifies a letter is in the correct place, blue indicates that the child has placed the correct letter in the wrong place, and a letter that stays red is an incorrect letter.

This color-coding also provides instant feedback and encouragement. If a child has two letters reversed, he or she can see that they are almost right — which his far more helpful than a simple right/wrong answer, which can be very discouraging for kids.

We also have a hint system built into the program. If a child requests a hint, the app will suggest all of the letter combinations that make that sound. If the word is “truck” and the child doesn’t know how to complete the word, the hint for all of the -k sounds would include c, k, ck and ch. The app also teaches spelling rules that help to eliminate letter choices based on rules of the English language. Children start to recognize patterns and see how sounds fit together rather than purely memorizing spelling.

As we’ve developed the apps, we’ve acted on feedback from teachers, speech-language pathologists and occupational therapists to improve usability from several perspectives.

For example, one teacher worked with a child who has autism and is easily distracted. At the teacher’s suggestion, we added a button that pulses visually after a period of time with no response from the child in order to serve as a reminder to stay on task. The child can tap the button and the app speaks a reminder about what to do next. This feature has now been added to all of our apps.

We are also upgrading all of the apps with larger keyboards to better accommodate children with poor fine motor skills. (To date, Phonics 2 and Advanced Phonograms feature the larger keyboard.)

The apps are customizable: choose whether to use an alphabetical keyboard or a QWERTY keyboard; and in Phonics 1, Phonics 2 and Advanced Phonograms, choose how many times a child must spell a words to consider it mastered.

You can have up to 40 users, and the apps track progress and deficits so teachers or parents know where to focus teaching.

We are also working on a new app that will focus on foundational reading skills for kindergarteners. The interface on this app will feature animated characters and illustrations for each of the spelling words. Whereas we do not want the apps for older kids to appear babyish, we do want the upcoming app to fully engage younger children.

 

To find more apps to help your child with autism, download Wynsum Arts’ free app, i.AM Search – available on iTunes.


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Every App Has A Story: Categories Learning Center

 

“Categorization is a major building block for language development.”

— Mary Huston, speech-language pathologist
and creator of Categories Learning Center

 

 

Categories Learning Center

Speech-language pathologist Mary Huston couldn’t find the tool she needed for her therapy sessions. She needed a creative categorization activity, and she wanted an app that would focus on receptive language skills but that would also include the expressive component, which is the next logical step. So she approached Barbara Fernandes about collaborating on an app. Fernandes, who also is also speech-language pathologist, is president of Smarty Ears Apps, which is dedicated to creating speech therapy apps for mobile devices.

“Being able to work with another speech-language pathologist who understood what is needed in a good school-aged app was essential,” Huston says. “I wanted to use pictures or symbols that would be easy to recognize as the picture stimuli within the app. I liked the Smarty Symbols created by Barbara and Smarty Ears. Using the symbol set, working with another SLP, and creating an app I could use in my own therapy sessions created a winning combination.”

 

Why Did You Create Categories Learning Center?

Mary Huston: Categorization is a major building block for language development. When we read, we are accessing associations and semantic networks that we have built through categorization skills. Having a deeper understanding of the meanings of words allows us to build that semantic network which, in turn, increases our receptive language and reading comprehension. In many ways, categorization is similar to an office filing system. If the file folders (word meanings) are just dumped into the filing cabinet (the brain), then they cannot easily be retrieved. However, through good categorization skills, we create a filing system complete with cross-references and an index that allows us to retrieve the meanings for those words easily. Students with poor categorization skills often demonstrate poor expressive language, poor vocabulary, and memory difficulties.

I focus on categorization with many students, and I wanted a fun app to practice this skill. With a well-designed app, the iPad really motivates students, it allows therapists to track progress and it saves us time as we present fun, tailored activities to our students.

The app is designed for use in therapy sessions or for use with parents who oversee children practicing language skills. Language is not one-dimensional and the app reflects the multi-dimensional nature of language. In every session, therapists can take both right and wrong answers and use them as a springboard for discussing language connections. For example, the app leads students from categorizing animals as “animals” to categorizing them as “farm animals” and “jungle animals,” and therapists should talk with kids about why these distinctions are made and how the student knows the difference in the subcategories. For students ready for a higher level of learning, therapists can discuss what other categories an image might go in. This app really opens the door for dialogue.

How Does Categories Learning Center Work?

Mary Huston: The app — which is appropriate for use in preschool through fourth grade — is designed to allow therapists to customize the level of difficulty in each session and to determine specific categories for practice in each session.

The first and second levels are entirely focused on developing receptive language. The other levels allow children to practice expressive language skills.

In Sorting – Level One, the therapist chooses the level of difficulty by selecting whether the child will sort two or three categories. The therapist can then specify which categories (e.g., animals, clothes, body parts) the session will include, or allow the app to randomly assign categories. The app will present images that the child can drag into bottles labeled with the various categories.

Sorting – Level Two is much the same, but the categories become a little more difficult. For example, the student might have to sort jungle animals and farm animals, which is more complex than sorting animals and vehicles.

In Where Does It Go? sessions, students are presented with a single image and they must select the appropriate category for the image. For example, they might be presented with a photo of a motorcycle and category choices might include toys, vegetables or transportation. There are no other items to compare which makes the task a bit more difficult than the previous levels. This also provides an opportunity for the adult to discuss the picture and help develop a deeper understanding.

In the Category Naming sessions, children must come up with a category name on their own and the adult helps to tally correct answers. For example, a child who is presented with photos of a chicken, a pig, a cow, and a horse might claim these are all animals. I would mark that answer as “almost right,” whereas an answer of “farm animals” would receive full credit as a correct answer. It is important that the child learn to be specific — to use the correct subcategory rather than always defaulting to the umbrella category.

In the Category Selection sessions, the student is presented with several images and they must indicate how these images are related by naming the category to which they belong. (Users are given four potential answers from which to choose.) For example, an arm, wrist, hand and finger are all “body parts.” Category Selection questions ensure students have understood the material — that they can recall specific categories and that they are paying attention to details.

 

To find more apps to help your child with autism, download Wynsum Arts’ free app, i.AM Search – available on iTunes.


 

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