Camp Discovery Uses The iPad to Teach Kids With Autism

Camp Discovery

Autism is an epidemic that can’t be overstated. The disorder is really a spectrum of behaviors and needs, and it affects about one in every 50 children in the US alone.

The Center for Autism and Related Disorders (CARD) has developed an app that puts its research-based interventions into an educational iPad app with mini games for reinforcement. The app, titled Autism Learning Games: Camp Discovery, provides children ages two to eight with direct instruction on topics that kids with Autism have trouble sorting out.

“The idea here is that there are so many things a kid needs to learn, to ‘catch up’ with their peers,” CARD’s chief strategy officer, Dennis Dixon told Cult of Mac during a phone call. “Autism has a number of skill deficits. ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis) targets those skills one at a time.”

Camp Discovery, then, is like having a behavior intervention teacher on the iPad, presenting lesson after lesson with 100 percent accuracy. But will kids play with it?

The app’s creative director, CJ Miyake, told us that the trick was to make an engaging app for all kids.

“Creatively, he said, “it’s finding the happy medium between clinical soundness and incorporating stuff to make it feel like a game, to make it fun to play. The challenge was opening up the game to a wider audience, and still deliver(ing) good stuff for the kids it’s made for.”

When kids launch the app for the first time, they’re given a set of animations and pictures that they can choose from. This is the preference assessment, and it helps kids buy in to the process of being rewarded. Then, they’re presented with specifically targeted lessons to help them focus in on one skill or topic at a time.

“We looked at CARD’s curriculum,” said Dixon, ” and which of these things we could teach within an iPad format. We took all the best practices for discrete trial training and converted them to iPad activities.”

If a child gets an answer wrong, they’re not just told it’s wrong. The app actually starts making things easier so that they can get it right, and then slowly removes the extra help over time.

Parents and teachers can track their children’s progress via the built-in system, which itself links to the industry standard SKILLS database of things kids with autism need to know to be successful in school and life.

“We’re tracking outcomes,” said Dixon. “The app itself has graphs that you can look at and find out what kid has mastered and then track this over time. If a kid is already using SKILLS in a treatment plan, it integrates directly into the SKILLS system.”

That way, treatment teams can use the iPad app to help guide actual ABA therapy in a clinical setting.

That’s huge, but there are still a large number of kids who don’t yet have these kinds of direct intervention services. Camp Discovery might be a way to get these kids something while they are still waiting for live interventions.

“It’s available to children who don’t have services or access to ABA programs,” said Miyake, “and this might be a good start. We’d like to create apps and games that can help those families on wait lists.”

Camp Discovery isn’t a replacement for actual therapeutic intervention, though, cautions Dixon.

“Our intent is to maximize every moment of the day with fun activities that enrich and practice these skills in a way kids like,” he said. “I really see this as supplementary to therapy they’re already receiving.”

In the end, having an app with research-based techniques out there can only help. The team plans to add a new lesson to the app every week, which will end up having a large amount of autism-focused curricular content.

Camp Discovery is available for free in the App Store now.

About the author

Rob LeFebvreAnchorage, Alaska-based freelance writer and editor Rob LeFebvre is Cult of Mac's Culture Editor. He has contributed to various tech, gaming and iOS sites, including 148Apps, VentureBeat, and Paste Magazine. Feel free to find Rob on Twitter @roblef

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