Mobile Apps Help Overcome Obstacles for Children with Autism

How many mobile apps do you use each day?  I did a quick count and realized I use anywhere from 10 to 15.  Everything from weather, to music and social media, or email, maps, and games … just to name a few.  Unconsciously, apps have become a natural and integrated part of my daily routine.

Recently, I had the pleasure of talking with Ryan Stafford, a colleague at AT&T, whose eight-year-old son has autism. He shared with me some remarkable stories about how tablets and smart phones are helping with his son’s development.

For example, mobile apps are becoming an important part of innovative treatment solutions for children with autism.  This weekend April 12-13, 2013, the AT&T-Autism Speaks Hackathon will be held in San Francisco inviting software developers from around the world to create, design, and code their way to delivering mHealth apps that can provide critical developmental tools for children with autism.

So, how can mHealth apps benefit a child with autism?   Let me share with you a few examples that my colleague Ryan says are helping to shape his relationship with his son.

How has mobile technology impacted your son’s development? 

RS: My son loves technology.  He has learned to use his smartphone as an extension of the way he communicates with us. He is a prolific texter and uses emoticons to bring an entirely new level of emotion to our conversation.   It really is his “communication buddy” and he is able to say things through texting conversations that he may not discuss with us face-to-face.

Has this become your family’s new norm – communicating through tablets and smartphones?

RS: Absolutely. My son is considered verbal on the autism spectrum, but there is no doubt technology is helping us have more open conversations.  As his parents, we want to find every way to help him. If that means using text and other mHealth apps as learning tools to support his development,  we will easily embrace those methods and make it part of our daily routine.

How do you think these applications can help children with autism?

RS:  Autism affects children in different ways; however, for a non-verbal child they  may learn to express emotions by clicking on pictures that describe what he/she needs.  For instance, “I want an apple or I feel happy.” It might also be easier to tell a parent about their day by text or share an “I love you” emoticon.

What do you think can be achieved in a developer’s forum like this? 

RS: One of the struggles that children with autism and their caregivers face is to find therapies and resources that help make their day-to-day life as normal as possible.  We need many more apps that will help children across the entire autism spectrum. The hackathon provides an opportunity to bring together smart, creative people with the goal of focusing on the needs of this particular community.

Event information:

Innovative app solutions were crowd-sourced and submitted by developers as part of a contest created to source the best possible ideas. The event is open to the public and teams are looking for individuals with health or autism expertise to join their team or simply attend the event and offer ideas and ask questions.

Geeta Nayyar, M.D., M.B.A. is the Chief Medical Information Officer for AT&T.

Event details:

When: 6:00 p.m. on Friday, April 12 – 10:00 p.m. on Saturday, April 13
Where: Hattery, 414 Brannan St, San Francisco, CA 94107

For more information: