From Barcelona to the world: two game-based teaching apps for children with autism and Asperger’s

Image | Erik Tjallinks

While it’s often said that the Internet has radically changed our lives, perhaps many don’t realize just how much. Now, thanks to Mobile Medicine or mHealth, apps can help many people with disabilities or illnesses in their day-to-day lives, as well as their parents and caregivers.

App developers have worked hard to help parents and caregivers of children with autism and Asperger’s syndrome, two conditions that require a great deal of special care. An example of this is the Planeta Imaginario Foundation, headquartered in Barcelona, that is dedicated to helping children with pervasive developmental disorders. It has committed itself to innovative learning methods through the world of apps. The foundation has recently presented two of its ‘star products’: an update of iSecuencias and AbaPlanet.

iSecuencias is based on 100 pre-programmed scenes that allow multiple combinations of exercises for learning basic language structure and perceiving emotions. It is especially designed for children with high-functioning Asperger’s syndrome and autism. Victor Rodriguez, clinical director of Planeta Imaginario, now recalls the time when the app was created in late 2012.

“We entered a contest held by the Generalitat,, and we won. The award allowed us to create iSecuencias 1.0 at no cost and introduce it to the market,” said Rodriguez. Currently, it has over 80,000 downloads and several awards, “including being recognized as one of the 50 best Spanish-language health-related apps,” awarded by The App Date, he said.

Following the success of iSecuencias, the foundation wanted more. And that’s when AbaPlanet came about, which was a “more specialized and comprehensive” app allowing adults and children to work with the most basic forms of objects and vocabulary, classified into 18 categories including vehicles, clothing, and food. The app adapts to each child, ‘deciding on’ the content to work with according to his or her own pace of learning. It can be used both at home and during therapy sessions. Here is how one of its exercises works, according to Rodriguez: “The child must match an image to an object (for example, a green shoe) with its pair or something similar (with another green shoe or yellow shoe). This way we can work on something very important prior to language, which is object recognition and generalization.”

With it, Planeta Imaginario wanted to “capture all our knowledge, the basis of ABA (applied behavior analysis) and create a tool that would work as close to what we do in our sessions with children,” says Victor. The app’s level of intelligence is such that it knows when to help the child and what kind of support to offer the child, as well as recognize when the child has learned the word well so it can go on to the next one.”

For the future, they are looking to take a step forward with their apps. “From now on, we want to continue developing modules to help children acquire more complex verbal skills such as actions, colors, special adverbs” and other complex skills such as empathy.

The global outlook on applications for children with autism and Asperger’s syndrome is attractive, with numerous tools available, but Rodriguez explains that much remains to be done in Spain. Similarly, parents and teachers are increasingly interested in the app market, “they know more and are more demanding with what these apps offer,” he says.

About eight years ago, the psychologist was told that “new technologies, and especially the world of tablets, would be the future, and we had heard they could become a defining tool in treatment for children with special needs. At the time, we thought those people were crazy … But now we see them as visionaries.”

The mHealth competence centre forms part of Mobile World Capital Barcelona’s Programme of International Competence Centers (PCCI). mHealth works with a three-fold objective: to identify mobile technology opportunities in the provision of health services, to transform current healthcare models and processes, and promote the interoperability of health services in the field of mobile technologies and connectivity, building foundations that make it possible to integrate mobile health solutions.

Mobile World Capital presents a global vision that effectively integrates mobile technologies into the fabric of the industries transforming our lives. Committed to expanding the mobile experience throughout Barcelona, Catalonia and Spain with strong support of the public and private sector.

Mobile World Capital is leading mobile transformation through commitments in Competence Centres, local Industry Development, and Entrepreneurship and Innovation programmes.

MWCapital offers an open platform and exhibition showroom where citizens can understand and experience how mobile is enhancing our lives: The Mobile World Centre, located in the heart of Barcelona on Plaza Catalunya.

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