With new apps being developed every day,the launch of Autista might have missed notice had it not been for the noble intention behind the innovation. For,instead of helping one find the distance or convert currency,this app is aimed at helping children with autism better their motor communication skills.
Manuj Dhariwal,developer of the app which won the special mention (jury) award in the recently held NASSCOM gaming event in Pune said the idea came from observing autistic children near his office in Bangalore. Children with autism find it difficult to express themselves and get into repetitive behaviour. It becomes a challenge for them to string words in sentences and also failure to express themselves frustrates them, he said.
Other than the desire to help such children,Dhariwal also had a personal angle in his desire to develop an app as he suffers from Tourettes Syndrome,a neurological disorder that leads to repetitive behaviour. His desire got a boost when his idea caught the imagination of M K Belmonte,a professor of MIT research lab,who works on autism technology. Their collaboration lasted for nine months and the app Autista was the result of this extended research.
Autista involves both speech and touch coordination for children. It involves the child in assembling objects by putting the right parts on an iPad. The game involves the child assembling objects like shampoo bottles,towels,apple,among others. Coordination is a problem for autistic children. So,the app has been so designed that if the child is able to fit the part within the periphery of the slot,it is accepted as correct, he said.
The app,which would be released on the iOS platform in the next few days,uses the basic hurdles faced by autistic children in motor coordination as means to overcome them.
Autistic children get latched on to repetitive and predictable behaviour like switching on and off a light switch. In normal gaming environments,apps give feedback for a wrong input. For autistic children,that sound might become a point of latching up. Hence,it was removed and a loop detection was put in place,which would detect such a scenario and advance the child to the next step automatically, he said.
Another important component of the app was addition of the speech recognition mode. Since the biological vocal mechanism is intact,such children can speak and need practice. We put in a speech mode in the app,which encourages the child to speak and complete the puzzle, he said.
The app also can be used by therapists and researchers as it stores information of the motor activities of children. Such behaviour can be analysed and conclusions can be drawn,which would help in understanding autism and autistic children better, he said.
A graduate of IIT Guwahati,Dhariwal also has the credit of creating the first Indian language word game Aksharit. Incidentally,although in the developed world such apps for dealing with autistic children are aplenty,in India this would be only the second such app.