Making Great Apps for Kids With Autism, Kids Like Leo

I'm going to be spending all today at HP's App Hackathon, the IRL manifestation of their HackingAutism.com project. You can check out the Hacking Autism idea gallery to see apps people have suggested, and you can still add your own thoughts. As you might imagine, I have a few app ideas of my own -- how about a game based on Stephen Shore's excellent Using a Public Bathroom video? Leo would love it, and it would be fun, educational, and appeal to not just Leo but ten-year-old boys the world over.

I was initially invited to the Hackathon to give a talk, but apparently the developers decided at the last minute that they don't want to hear about why they should be hacking -- they just want to get to the hacking! So I'll be there as a parent resource and as a blogger.

But because I already wrote up the slides for my talk, I'll slap those bullets up here. This is what I want the Hackathoners to know about developing apps for kids like Leo:

How Apps Expand Learning and Leisure Opportunities for People With Autism
  • Independent learning and leisure can be a challenge for kids like Leo – and he deserves to play! 
  • Apps are motivating and dynamic: they have audio, visuals 
  • Great content and ideas are useless without a straightforward user interface
Why Apps Work for Leo 
  • No cursor analogy - direct touch screen
  • Fine motor ease: stylus, mouse not required
  • Replace backpacks and cupboards of activities
  • Learn independently, or with support
  • Incidental, interstitial learning 
What Helpful Apps Do
  • Simplify, focus – break learning down into discrete chunks 
  • Support literacy but don’t require it 
  • Avoid nested, cluttered, text-heavy interfaces 
  • Use reinforcing audio, visual cues 
Ideal App User Interfaces
(Adapted from Injini.net's results from beta-testing their very recommended Injini app suite with children with autism)

  • To keep children with autism engaged, apps need:
    • Consistency 
    • Predictability 
    • Simplicity 
    • Visual cues, structure 
  • Clearly defined, consistent beginnings and endings:
    • Support learning
    • Ease transition anxiety
 Elegant does not mean perfect or polished! It means simple and straightforward.
    Collage/art app Faces iMake: one of my very favorite, easy-for-Leo-to-use UIs


  1. Most excellent synopsis. Ok if I share?

  2. Now that I've corrected the headline, be my guest. Thanks!

  3. harder and hard to resist! 9 days til my birthday. . . I see the handwriting on the wall.

  4. Anonymous6:37 PM

    My husband flew out to be one of the developers. He said it was a busy but productive day. :)


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