Top 5 iPhone and Android Apps for Autistic Children

Gone are the days of bulky augmentative alternative communication (AAC) devices.

Enter iPhone and Android apps designed specifically to help autistic children. These apps help with a range of communication needs and can be conveniently accessed from a smartphone.

We’ve chosen to list five top-rated apps that meet a range of needs—some function as classic augmentative alternative communication methods, while others work to strengthen social cues and eye contact (common struggles for autistic individuals.)

In today’s high-tech age, these apps aren’t only used by parents and caregivers, but also by special education teachers, speech-language pathologists, and of course, applied behavior analysts.

In 2013, a Canadian study determined that smartphone apps designed for autistic children helped the children express themselves and engage with others. The study showed that the apps also boosted the children’s ability to interact socially. (HealthDay, “Smart Technology May Help Kids with Autism Learn”).

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Since 2013, smartphone tech for autistic children has picked up speed, and many new intuitive apps have been developed for handheld devices.

Some parents and professionals have expressed concerns that autistic children may become dependent on the technology and that the apps may end up standing in the way of developing and improving verbal communication over the long term. To this, Shantha Bloemen, Chief of Communications and Partnerships for UNICEF China, says, “Communication is communication, and any way an autistic student articulates his wants or needs can lead to greater comprehension and critical thinking skills down the road.” (“How Apps Are Helping Kids with Autism Learn to Communicate,” Mythili Sampathkumar).

Here are five highly-rated apps for smart phones that are extremely useful for parents, caregivers, teachers, and ABAs who work with autistic children:

  1. iConverse

iConverse is a simple but useful AAC tool.

Designed specifically with autistic individuals in mind, it helps children who have trouble verbally expressing themselves by giving them a way to express basic needs.

When the app is opened, it shows six tiles that represent needs such as hunger, thirst, and sleep.

To use the app, children simply need to touch the tile that represents their need. The app comes with six built-in tiles, but you can also create your own.

For instance, if a child has a favorite toy or game, a tile can be added to represent it.

This app is highly-rated because it can be easily personalized to fit the individual child’s needs.

  • Available for: iPhone and iPad
  • Price: $9.99
  1. Learn with Rufus: Emotions

Learn with Rufus isn’t an AAC app, but it does help autistic children learn to identify emotions in others.

Children with autism often struggle to pick up emotional cues from others, especially subtle cues.

Learn with Rufus uses a learning section and two games to keep children interested in the app.

The first game, “Find it!” asks children to identify an emotion (such as sadness) by showing them a variety of facial expressions and asking them to identify the “sad” expression.

The second game, “Name it!” shows children an emotion and asks them to identify it.

The game has various levels of difficulty, ranging from easily identifiable emotions to subtle facial cues. It aims to keep children interested by giving them “drawing breaks,” where they can finger-paint on the screen with a variety of bright colors.

This game is geared towards very young autistic children and non-readers.

  • Available for: iPhone, iPad, and Android
  • Price: $4.99
  1. Grace App for Autism

Like iConverse, the Grace app for autism seeks to augment communication between the autistic child and the caregiver, parent, teacher, or friend.

The Grace app allows the child to communicate their needs by selecting a sequence of pictures to spell out what they need, but stimulates verbal communication by encouraging the child to speak the sentence.

For example, a child may choose a photo of a car and a park in order to form the sentence: “I’d like to ride to the park.”

The app will display the sentence, but doesn’t read the sentence aloud. The Grace app is meant to encourage the child to read/communicate for themselves.

The app comes pre-programmed with categories: colors, shapes and numbers; food and drink; places; things I like; and things I need. It also allows the user to take photos (a favorite toy, food, or place), and add it to the app, building a growing vocabulary.

This app functions both as an AAC device and as a learning opportunity for the autistic child. It is a little more expensive than the other apps on this list because it is intended to store a growing vocabulary for the child and function as a daily assistant.

  • Available for: iPhone, iPad, and Android
  • Price: $29.99
  1. Look in My Eyes: Steam Train

Look in My Eyes: Steam Train is an educational app disguised as a game.

Many autistic children struggle with eye contact. To help the child become more comfortable with eye contact, the app presents a picture of a child. Next, numbers will momentarily flash in the child’s eyes. Then, the app asks what the number was, requiring the autistic child to maintain eye contact long enough to identify the number.

Answering correctly results in winning “money,” which is spent on steam train rides.

The app also allows the children to explore the virtual train, control the whistle and bell, adjust the steam pressure, and shoo cows off the tracks.

Because the app offers rewards and incentives, it easily keeps children’s interest and helps them practice eye contact.

  • Available for: iPhone and iPad
  • Price: $2.99
  1. iPrompts PRO

iPrompts is an app used by caregivers to help autistic children learn to keep track of their own time and follow a schedule.

All children benefit from following a routine, but autistic children find comfort and security in a regular schedule. You can facilitate this by creating your own schedule on the iPrompts app, prompted by visuals and timers for daily activities: waking up, brushing teeth, making the bed, eating breakfast, etc.

Not only does the app help children follow a routine, but it helps children learn to keep track of their time. When brushing teeth, for example, the timer will set itself to two minutes. The child learns the appropriate time for activities.

The app also includes “video prompts”, which show children modeling appropriate behaviors. These might include asking to play a game, brushing teeth, or completing schoolwork.

While iPrompts is helpful for parents and caregivers, it is also relevant to applied behavior analysts for use within their practice. Since ABAs often use schedules, visual countdowns, and choice boards to help their autistic patients learn how to manage time and make decisions, iPrompts can be used to fulfill each of these teaching tools.

  • Available for: iPhone, iPad, and Android
  • Price: $9.99