Here's a list of helpful apps for young people with ASD and anyone else interested in using technology to do more, level-up, and make life easier. Click here to download a printable PDF.
One of several “gamification” apps out there, this one functioning as your daily checklist. As the name suggests, this app combines tracking habits and to-dos with elements from RPGs (that’s role-playing games, for non-gamer folks). When you complete your tasks, you gain experience points and level up your (adorable) pixel-art avatar character. While the app has ever-increasing depth to it like joining a party, and taking on challenges, it is incredibly easy to use for the basics of getting things done.
We find it especially helpful that the app uses three categories for "doing": “Habits” (e.g. ”Work Out”), “Dailies” (“Take Medicine”), and “To-Dos” (“Call Grandma”). Nobody wants to add “Work Out” to their to-do list every day, and yet it is still important to keep tabs on the good habits you are maintaining or trying to get into.
We would recommend to put all "Dailies" as "Habits" at first, because if you don't do your "Dailies," your character takes damage. They regularly update the content, and the development team is responsive to the community. Who knew that the same system for slaying monsters in dungeons would be so effective for wishing grandma happy birthday?
Honorable Mention: Chore Wars (Free)
Similar to HabitRPG, but best used in a household, among roommates, or in an office or lab with regular chores to be delegated among your party. Turn your dungeon into a done-geon.
How do you get a bunch of gamers to go outside? Turn outside into a game! Ingress is an amazing Alternate Realty Game app that I’d encourage you to try on a walk downtown wherever you live. There are two teams globally, Green (“The Enlightened”) and Blue (“The Resistance”), and there are “Portals” that can be captured located at places of interest around your city. This commonly includes murals, monuments, sculptures, fountains, and storefronts. If all of this sounds terribly confusing, think of it like a complicated GPS-based global game of capture the flag. The interface and design is sleek, and the sound effects are perfect. I love bringing up the app for the first time with people who haven’t seen it; it makes me look like a futuristic spy. If you are into games and technology, it is hard not to get giddy about what a few years of development might bring to an already exciting concept.
3. FitbitIt seems these days that Fitbits are as ubiquitous as iPods in '07, but they are well worth a mention here for their excellent interface for tracking not only steps but also sleep, diet, and weight.
Zombies, Run! is running app which I would describe as (mostly) a “timed-audiobook” where you are a supply "runner" for a small community during the zombie apocalypse. Several times during a mission, you hear an alert that the zombies are close by, and you have to pick up the pace to escape them. I love running with this app around dusk, when families tend to walk around the local park trail. It's easy to imagine their silhouetted figures as the undead.. the creep-out definitely puts a quick in my step.
4. I Can't Wake Up! - Android (Free)
What a great alarm clock! While everyone has had the misfortune of hitting the alarm clock off without truly waking up, sleep inertia can be especially tough for individuals with ASD. "I Can’t Wake Up!" features options like having puzzles and math problems to complete before the alarm (or song of your choosing) can be turned off.
PillPack sends you your medication presorted into personalized packages. It couldn’t be simpler: no bottles to open, pills to sort, or med sets to fill. Important note: this service can’t be used with controlled substances (Adderall, Ritalin, etc).
6. Meetup.com - Android | iOS (Free)Facebook is the obvious choice for connecting with organizations, businesses, bars, theaters, or the like, but if you haven’t checked out Meetup.com, you might be surprised at the diversity of clubs, interest groups, workshops, and outdoor activities happening in your area. Meetup is great for writing workshops, boardgaming groups, and also for regular outdoor activities like hiking and kayaking. Every time I’ve attended a Meetup Group the other members were friendly, welcoming, and warm. In other words, for people who typically have a difficult time socially, this is an especially great way to do a weekly social activity and make connections, even friendships, with others.
Mint is hands down the best way to organize your finances and see your month budget visually. In less time it takes to read this sentence, you can bring up a chart of five years of your pizza purchases and compare it with the pizza purchase average in your local area. It's as fun as budgeting gets... which, it turns out, is actually kinda fun!
8. Amazon Prime - $99/year | Free TrialAmazon Prime (and yes, the associated apps - Android | iOS) probably either seems like "Huh?" or "D'uh!" The grocery store can be a sensory overload and a bit of a social nightmare for folks with ASD (and, of course, plenty of us off the Spectrum). On top of that, the whole business of making-a-list-and-getting-everything-on-it is a herculean feat for those who are easily exhausted by executive skill demands. Make things easier and “lessen executive demands” by ordering necessary household items like dish soap, laundry detergent, toilet paper, and body wash on Prime. Get a three-month subscription so you don't even have to worry about it. Having an extra bottle or two of shampoo is better than not having any. Focus on food at the grocery store. Leave the rest to Amazon and your mouse hand. In fact, they've already put together some college essentials to get you started. *College students get a free 6-month trial and 50% off regular membership price.
9. Amazon DashDash isn't really an app for your phone, but think of it like an app for life. Here's how it works: let's say you’re about to run out of laundry detergent. You have a Dash button next to the washer, and all you need to do is press it. In a couple days, more detergent arrives. Pretty awesome!
Emotions, like endangered wildlife and packages from Amazon, can be tracked. MoodPanda is the app to track your fluctuating feelings with a simple 1-10 rating. Hypothetically, regular assessment of your moods can increase your emotional awareness and metacognition (i.e. get smarter). It's wonderful to have a discrete way to "stand back" and look at the ebbs and tides of your daily blues and joyful moments, and maybe even have a better shot of making sense of it all. The data can be quite useful to a psychiatrist or therapist working with you. For this reason, I'd highly recommend MoodPanda for individuals who are changing medications or doses of medications. I particularly love checking in on the "Global Mood," which tends to hold somewhere in the middle. It could be worse! *Hugs*
Public transportation can be a sensory challenge and immensely difficult for those who struggle with time-related thinking. Both Lyft and Uber are perfect for those who can't drive and aren't lucky enough to have public transportation or can't take advantage of it for whatever reason. The possibility of developing a friendly relationship with a couple drivers can mean the difference between a trip you dread to a trip you look forward to.
The Transit app shows departure times for all transit lines (bus, subway, streetcar, etc.) close-by for more than a hundred cities in the US and abroad. There is also support for planning A to B trips, favoriting trips, notifications for disruptions in service, and alarms to help you get to whatever station in time.
Mother is the, uh… mother of all personal data collecting devices. This one falls outside the "living away at college" category, but it is awesome for a household regardless of the ages of the family members. Mother comes with “Sensor Cookies” that can be used for a variety of useful daily tracking: taking meds, having coffee, brushing your teeth, taking medication, etc. The interface is simple, and the cartoon avatars are incredibly charming. Mother is pricey ($299), but it is a beautifully executed device that offers functionality you simply can't get with a Fitbit or smart phone alone.
About the Author
Jim Walsh lives in Bloomington, Indiana and has worked as a coach to young adults with ASD for nine years.
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