We love to find out more about apps that are not only fun to use but provide a great benefit to their users' lives. So, when I heard about AutisMate, a new app aimed at helping those with autism develop their communication and behavioral skills, I jumped at the chance to find out just how it came to be.
The History Behind It
AutisMate has quite an interesting history, as it was created by Jonathan Izak, who was motivated by wanting to help his 10 year old brother, Oriel, who has autism.
"As with many on the spectrum, my brother was often frustrated by the inability to express himself and understand what others expected from him. I recognized that those on the autism spectrum generally have stronger visual learning abilities and that there was a huge need for a solution that could help my brother and others connect with the world around them," he explained.
"AutisMate does this by taking well-researched visual therapy interventions such as video modeling, visual schedules, and visual stories and making them interactive and easily personalized." Jonathan pointed out that while assistive speech technology is already available for some, it's "limited to sentence building."
"This starting point was too advanced for my brother. For this reason, AutisMate uses visual scenes as a starting point for communication and progresses to the more demanding sentence building. Research shows that visual scenes are more intuitive to the early communicator."
Researching How AutisMate Could Help
Jonathan's initial experiences with autism came from his brother, but he appreciated that while making AutisMate, it was "important to partner with a wide variety of parents, therapists, teachers and other autism professionals." As anyone with experience with autism knows, every person on the spectrum is unique and has their own different challenges, and that's without taking into account the different needs of caregivers and professionals working alongside the autistic person.
Jonathan worked to create a "flexible platform…designed in such a way that it can be personalized to each autistic child and caters to the needs of whoever is using it." While he explains that he wanted to help Oriel, he also wanted to "build a solution that would help him and the many other children like him who are challenged by the wide variety of developmental issues associated with autism."
Taking a year and a half to develop, Jonathan started by testing early builds of the app in local schools and private practices. "Along the way we built a network of over 300 industry experts, researchers, clinicians, educators and even parents," he said, "who provided a 360 degree view of the wide variety of needs and strategies to promote communication and behavioral development for individuals with autism. We also formed an autism advisory board that is made up of some of the leading industry experts and researchers."
Reaping The Benefits
Always wanting to create a new approach to overcoming the issues that many with autism suffer from, Jonathan was still stunned by the positive response. "It’s unbelievably rewarding to get to experience how something you are working towards is impacting the lives of so many families."
He recounted to me examples of how a child was able to overcome a fear of elevators by "[using] a visual story to prepare him for what will happen." and he's appreciated the many "heartwarming emails" from educators and caregivers, "describing how their child is communicating for the first time."
It's been good news for Oriel, too. "Beyond the apparent increase in spontaneous speech, it has also helped my brother with daily activities like tying his shoes, behaving when going to a restaurant or doctor’s office, and learning how to interact with others."
AutisMate is currently available solely for the iPad, but Jonathan informed us that besides numerous updates, they are also currently busy working on expanding to both the iPhone and Android platforms. Additional products are also in the pipeline, so things are looking very promising for those after a solution for various special needs.
Thanks to Jonathan Izak for taking the time to answer our questions.
AutisMate is available now, priced at $149.99. To learn more about it, check out the AutisMate website.