SaaS for ASD, ADHD and Neurodivergents
As someone who identifies as an autistic adult, I will have bypassed the development of software designed for children and young people. Yes, I had autism as a child, obviously, but I would not have had access to the software that’s available today. This is a good thing, but what exactly is there out there?
I mean, what kind of software is available today?
How can software as a service help individuals on the spectrum, whether they’re children, young adults or possibly fully grown adults like myself?
How can SaaS create software that helps adults and children on the autistic spectrum?
There are many ways that software as a service (SaaS) can create that can help individuals on the autism spectrum.
Here are some of the most well-known types of apps developed for autism (most of the ones I found were for children and young adults) :
Communication apps: Many individuals with autism have difficulty with social communication, so any app that can help with that is particularly helpful. For example, there are apps that offer tools for nonverbal communication, such as an image or symbol-based communication systems. Some examples: Speech Aid, Proloquo2go, MyTalkTools, Otsimo (Warning!: uses some ABA therapy, which is unpopular with many autistic communities)
Behaviour tracking apps: Many individuals with autism struggle with impulsivity and regulating their behaviour (although this is something I would normally associate with ADHD). However, there are apps available that allow caregivers and individuals with autism to track and monitor behaviour in order to better understand any triggers and patterns. I feel slightly uneasy about this, but I can see the need for it. Mightier, Autism Tracker Pro (there’s also a light version).
Social skills training apps: Yep, social anxiety is one of the biggest triggers for me. Mention parties, dinner with friends or any kind of social gathering for whatever occasion, and watch me shrink from view. Many individuals with autism struggle with social interactions and understanding social cues. There are apps out there that provide interactive exercises and training to help individuals with autism improve their social skills. Four Little Corners (includes helpful reviews on this link) , Smiling Mind (not necessarily designed for asd alone, but might be helpful), Kid in Story Book Maker,
Educational apps: Individuals with autism often benefit from learning using different methods to those used by children and young adults in more traditional educational establishments. It’s not that they can’t learn, or are incapable, they just need to access other ways that will help them to thrive.
As we now know many autistic people are extremely intelligent, talented and gifted individuals, but they may need different and more imaginative ways of learning than most neurotypical people. The good news is that there are apps available that provide educational content and games that are specifically designed to be engaging and interactive for individuals with autism. Speech Blubs, Autism ABC app, Special Words.
Scheduling and Organization: Many individuals with autism may have difficulty with structure and routine. There are apps that can help with these issues by providing tools for scheduling and organization - this is something I’d find extremely helpful as well so it’s something I may well explore. Simple Mind Pro - Mind Mapping, Due - Reminders & Timers, Remember the Milk (not specifically created for NVs, but I included it because it serves its purpose, its fun, and I LOVE the name). There are many apps out there designed for neurotypical people for help with managing time, scheduling and organisation that are equally useful, think Evernote, Asana, Trello.
It's important to note that the autism spectrum is wide and diverse, and what works for one person may not work for another. Therefore, it's important to involve individuals with autism, as well as their caregivers, in the development and design process, in order to create software that is tailored to their specific needs.
This is preferable to using a “one size fits all” approach. By involving those on the spectrum alongside caregivers (if required), or their parents, every step of the way through the design stage will give you valuable feedback on whether the software is going to work.
Software as a Service (SaaS) can help people with other neurodivergent/neurodevelopmental conditions in a variety of different ways, depending on the specific software and condition.
Some examples include:
Software that helps individuals with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) manage their tasks and schedules, such as apps that allow users to set reminders and deadlines, track progress on projects, and prioritize items on their to-do lists. Similar to the scheduling and organization section we discussed earlier. (See above)
Tools that assist with communication and social interaction, such as video conferencing software that allows people on the autistic spectrum to communicate more easily in a remote setting. Assistive Express,
Software that can help people with dyslexia and other learning disabilities read and write more effectively, such as text-to-speech software and word processing programs with built-in spell checkers and grammar checkers. Speechify
Virtual reality or online platforms can help with mental health and self-regulation, such as mindfulness and meditation apps and cognitive-behavioural therapies. VR software for MH, https://www.forbes.com/sites/solrogers/2019/04/03/how-virtual-reality-can-help-those-with-autism/?sh=28964268198e (some great examples both in the UK and the US in this Forbes article)
It is also important to note that providing accessibility options on SaaS platforms is a great way to serve neurodivergent/neurodevelopmental conditions, as well as people with physical disabilities.
If you haven’t already considered it, you could hire more people with ASD and ADHD to work within a SaaS setting and utilize their skills within the workplace - you don’t have to be developing neurodivergent software specifically. Help them to help you develop your SaaS software across the board.
Some of the skills they can bring to the table are -
1. Pattern recognition
2. Detail orientated
3. Good visual perception
4. Creative and artistic skills
5. Mathematical and technical abilities
6. Interests or expertise in 'niche' areas
7. Character strengths such as honesty and loyalty are a great advantage as well as reliability and punctuality.
Remember that apps with ASD in mind should never be about controlling a person’s behaviour for other people’s comfort, as discussed in this 2016 Mashable article. The most tangible results come from those apps that have involved users and their carers from the outset, with a view to helping people, and not policing and controlling their behaviour for other people's convenience.
Keep this in mind if you’re in the process of developing software for anyone on the spectrum, or anyone else in the neurodivergent community. Involvement, inclusion and asking the right questions are essential in creating apps that truly help people on the spectrum or with ADHD/ADD to help enrich their daily lives.
Other links you may find useful: