Washington, Pennsylvania: Eight-year-old Alec Williams was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder at the age of two. He has been nonverbal his entire life. At one time, when the counseling he got from school became inadequate, his mother Gabriella, sent Alec to a pediatric therapy centre for occupational and speech therapy. It was here that Alec’s family heard the child’s voice for the first time, courtesy of the social communication apps the center used to help autistic Children address speaking difficulties.

“Alec can now exactly say what he wants with the app running on his iPad,” says Gabriela.

“The look of joy on his face was priceless when he communicated through the app for the first time. We were finally able to understand him.”

Autistic children who are unable to talk can’t express thoughts occupying their heads. This is where social communication apps come in. These children, through an app of their choice or as suggested by the counselor, can put together words and construct sentences. The words are displayed in the form of buttons, along with a picture to match the sentence. The child then plays back the sentence for others to hear. In this way, the app becomes their voice.

Apps proving their purpose

Social communication apps help autistic children to understand the world around them,” says Barbara Moore, a senior functional communication teacher for special needs children.

Barbara has some students who work with such apps in her classroom. “They are the coolest kids I work with,” she says. “These apps have lent them a social status.”

Barbara says that she once saw an autistic kid walking around in a supermarket with some note cards to communicate. With the bunch of cards, the child was often confused about which one to show and had to juggle to come up with the right one.

It prompted Barbara to introduce iPads in her classroom.

“The device allows children to use any word they want,” says Barbara. “The options are unlimited as against the handwritten note cards.”

The apps can be fully customized

The social communication apps can be run both on the iOS and Android. Hence, they can be downloaded from iTunes as well as Google Play.

What’s more interesting is that most of these apps allow users to add words to the program, like names of family members or their favorite superheroes. Buttons can be added instantly and children can even customize them with pictures of the word they want to add.

Social communication apps, according to Barbara, have opened up the world for autistic children. Their voices can now be heard.

And as Gabriela says, “My son isn’t stuck only to his little body anymore.”