**This post has been updated in celebration of Brooke’s app giveaway on her Autism Seriously? website! Throughout April 2015 you can win one of her autism schedule apps.
Brooke Twine is a high school teacher in Australia and mother to a 8 year old son with autism. He is non-verbal and in Brooke’s words, “he is cheeky, hilarious, stubborn and the cutest little boy in the world.” She writes on her Autism Seriously? blog and released, Autism/Special Needs Daily Organiser, an autism schedule app for better understanding of requests and establishing routines. Sounds like an invaluable tool, so I am curious to find out more!
Brooke, tell us what inspired you to create your autism schedule app?
I found that I had a house covered in request boards and routine boards: cardboard posters of food and daily activities all stuck up on velcro, covering the walls and appliances. My son, instead of engaging with them, preferred to launch attacks at them like a little commando; subsequently, turning them into confetti in about 5 seconds. He also was not engaging with the iPad apps I was selecting for him. One night, I was lying in bed and going over and over in my mind what I could do to solve the confetti and engagement issue. I built a plan in my head of what an ideal app for my son would be and then thought, if I want it exactly right, I need to create an app myself. I sourced a developer and away we went!
How will the app be used?
The app has two primary functions, firstly, daily routines and secondly, request boards. Users can establish a profile for a child or for several children, so it is great for schools too. When I refer to “users” I am meaning both the parent/teacher/guardian who set it up and the person with autism/special needs who will use to help plan/prepare for their day. Users can set an entire daily routine for each day with the capability to plan days, weeks and months in advance. The request boards are categorized for things such as “Food”, “Play”, “Family”, “I Want”, etc, where users can upload pictures of foods, family members/teachers for the child to request. The Feelings board allows you to use the special icons designed for the app to communicate feelings.
Can you give me a step-by-step example of how it works?
Users begin at the profile page. You enter the name and age of the child and proceed to setting up the Daily Routine by adding activities.
On the Activities page, the user enters the information for the activities that go on the Daily Routine. Users can include written instructions or use uploaded photos to create step-by-step visual instructions. Users can also apply activities across a number of days to avoid constant, pesky, data entry. It also assists in ensuring consistency across the week for standard activities such as those in a morning routine.
The activities that the user sets up will appear on the Daily Routine page. The activities of the day are ordered by time on a world globe, so each day is like taking a trip around the world! Activities that are completed become a light color, the current activity is bright and enlarged and the next activity is waiting to help the user prepare for it. Touch the current activity to go to the screen that shows the instructions for the activity – either typed instructions or uploaded photos. The user can also easily access the request boards from the Daily Routine page, which are on the top right “Family”, “I Feel”, “I Want”, “Play” and “Food.”
The Feelings board contains images, designed by Edway Apps that are exclusive to the app. They are great at communicating feelings and allowing the user to communicate their emotions. The other requests boards allow users to upload photographs to assist in making requests for food, family members, etc.
Have you tested it with your son and, if so, how does he like it?
I am currently working with the prototype. I have shown it to him a few times and I am getting smiles and gesturing so that is very positive. Often he will look at the iPad and just move on but not with this app. If I am getting his engagement just from the prototype, it is very exciting!
Has it made communicating with him much better?
At this stage it is too early to tell but I would love to update you after a couple of weeks of use.
Let me switch gears now and ask you about your blog, “Autism Seriously?” What do you write about?
The title, “Autism Seriously?” is based on reaction to a conversation I had with the pediatrician when he first became suspicious that my son might be on the spectrum. I said to him “Autism…seriously?” The blog is a very honest, warts and all approach to living with a child who has autism and the brilliant and hard times we face. It traces my son’s development from diagnosis through the challenges and triumphs we experience week by week. It also explores the impact on me as a mum, if I am feeling defeated, I say it, if I am feeling elated, I say it.
The app, the blog…what is your overall message to parents, families and caregivers about helping our children on the autism spectrum?
You need to meet your child where they are. All of the dreams and goals you had for your child before the diagnosis are not gone, they might be different, modified or taking a new path to get there. You will continue to be amazed and inspired everyday as long as your eyes are open to the gem that is your little one.
Where can we connect with you now so we don’t miss out on the release of your app?
There are a number of places – I am quite the accessible woman!
Good luck with your autism schedule app! And bravo to you for using your creativity to come up with an inventive solution for helping your son and others with special needs.