I am off tomorrow to the National Autistic Society professional conference in Harrogate – and I’m only sorry I can’t stay for the whole thing (my childcare duties call me home!). Speakers I’ll be missing include Pat Howlin, Dinah Murray, Vicky Slonims and Judith Gould. I only hope I’ll be able to catch some of them over coffee.
As usual these days, I’ll be talking about ways to use technology to support people with autism across the lifespan. My goal is to provide practical advice, but like a lot of people in this field I find it a daunting task. Yes, I do know a bit about technologies for this community. I’ve co-designed one, and written a review of published evidence for others. But there are so many out there, and because my work has been with iPad apps for pre-schoolers, I’m less well informed about technologies for older children and adults, and those available on different platforms. Most often, when asked for advice about choosing technologies, or managing technology use, I’m drawing on personal experience with my own children more than research evidence.
The Autism Speaks website  currently lists 345 apps for people with ASD (as shown in this pie chart). What is notable here is that the vast majority of apps have been designed to tackle the surface behaviours which make autism challenging. For example, “Communication” apps aim to provide alternative communication systems for people with ASD who are pre- or non-verbal. “Organisers”, “functional skills” apps and many “behavioural therapy” apps target day-to-day behaviour management, supporting skills such as waiting, getting dressed, cleaning teeth and so on. There are only 22 apps – just over 6% – which purport to target social skills, even though these are considered by many to be the developmental root of autism. In addition, of those 22 social skills apps, only three have been created by, or in partnership with, a research institution.