How Apps are Used by and with Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Scoping Study with Stakeholder Consultation

How Apps are Used by and with Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Scoping Study with Stakeholder Consultation

Christian U. Krägeloh (Auckland University of Technology, Auckland, New Zealand), Sheree Briggs (University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand), Hye Jeong Hannah An (Auckland University of Technology, Auckland, New Zealand), Erica Hinckson (Auckland University of Technology, Auckland, New Zealand), James G. Phillips (Auckland University of Technology, Auckland, New Zealand) and Bruce J. Tonge (Monash University, Melbourne, Australia)
Copyright: © 2016 |Pages: 21
DOI: 10.4018/IJCBPL.2016040101


The number of smartphone- and tablet-applications, or apps, for health and wellbeing continues to grow at a rapid pace. This scoping study identified articles reporting on the use of apps by and with individuals with autism. Professionals and parents of children with autism also completed a questionnaire as part of stakeholder consultation. Of the 40 studies identified, 28 reported on the use of apps specifically designed for autism, with clearly the most frequently being the communication support app Proloquo2Go. Other uses include assistance in the teaching and maintenance of social and life skills as well as faciliation in the delivery of behavioral interventions. Stakeholders confirmed the importance of apps to assist communication. While empirical data are available on the effectiveness of apps for augmentative and alternative communication, areas for further research include the functionality and effectiveness of apps for delivery of behavioral interventions and educational games for individuals with autism.
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Emerging technologies are developing the potential for services to go beyond the clinic, and to be extended to outpatient settings (Clough & Casey, 2015; Gravenhorst et al., 2015; Yan, Chen, & Yu, 2014) and delivering a variety of contingent forms of assistance “on site” in “real time” (Auer & Griffiths, 2014; Gainsbury & Blaszczynski, 2011), for people with a variety of mental health problems (Campbell, Caine, Connelly, Doub, & Bragg, 2015; Griffiths, 2010). The present paper considers the potential for technologies to assist those with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD).

Innovative technology frequently plays an important role in interventions for ASD (Grynszpan, Weiss, Perez-Diaz, & Gal, 2014). Some of the latest technological advances include the features provided by smartphone- and tablet-applications, or apps. Because of its ease of use and broad accessibility, this technology has the potential to revolutionize how behavioral support is provided to individuals with ASD, and a review of the literature on the way in which these apps have been used so far in this field is thus timely. Outlining the purposes for which apps have started to be used will be helpful to guide further development, especially by identifying areas of untapped opportunities.

Recent technological advances have dramatically influenced the way in which people organize their lives and interact with each other (Godine & Barnett, 2013). Apart from being a telephone, so-called smartphones provide multiple functions, such as taking photos, playing games, providing ubiquitous access to the Internet, being a global positioning device, and many of the features previously fulfilled by personal digital assistants (Ozdalga, Ozdalga, & Ahuja, 2012). Smartphones and tablet devices share the same kinds of operating systems that run pre-installed or downloadable software applications referred to as apps. At the beginning of 2014, the Apple App Store offered more than one million apps for its devices within the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch range, and sales for 2013 exceeded 10 billion USD (Apple, 2014). While Apple was the top smartphone manufacturer in 2013, the most commonly used smartphone platform was Google Android (Comscore, 2014), with also more than one million apps available for download to various Android smartphone and tablet models (Appbrain, 2014).

At the end of 2013, more than 156 million people owned a smartphone in the United States alone, representing 65.2 percent of the country’s mobile phone market (Comscore, 2014). The most popular tablet device is the iPad, with estimated sales figures of more than 170 million since 2010, while its main competitor, the Samsung Galaxy tablet, could boast sales of 40 million within 2013 alone (Trustedreviews, 2014). With such market penetration, smartphones and tablets have naturally become a major communication device in the health sector. More and more physicians use smartphones (Ozdalga et al., 2012), which is not only limited to the use of these devices for communication and access to the Internet. For example, by installing just a small number of apps, an ordinary smartphone may be modified to fulfil the functions of medical devices such as heart monitoring or body analysis (Lippman, 2013). While regulatory guidelines and quality control for apps are still lagging behind (Buijink, Visser, & Marshall, 2013; Pandey, Hasan, Dubey, & Sarangi, 2013), this type of technology is clearly going to play an increasingly important role in healthcare (Gravenhorst et al., 2015; Mosa, Yoo, & Sheets, 2012).

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