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11 Expert-Recommended Autism Apps for Kids

By Gen Cohen

These 11 apps for kids with autism are designed to support emotional and social needs.

By Melissa Willets via parenting.com

Using apps for kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) can be useful for learning and social development, according to Dena Aucoin, M.Ed., the Assistant Academic Chair in the Educational Studies program at Kaplan University.

"[They allow] for learning to take place in many environments, which helps aid in generalization of the attainment of skills," she told Parenting.com. "For example, if we are only teaching the skill of greeting others in the classroom, we may see less success when attempting to greet others at the grocery store."

More from Parenting: 11 Books for Kids on the Autism Spectrum

"[They] can be helpful to provide visual supports, to provide structure, a schedule, and language or pictures to facilitate communication," adds Patricia Aguayo, MD, MPH, Medical Director Autism Services, Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist at Hospital for Special Care. She explains the most important thing to consider when choosing an app is what the specific needs of the child are and what your goal is for introducing it.

Aucoin adds, "Anyone can make an app so do a little research. What company is presenting this app? Are there supportive applications that go along with it? Is it credible? These considerations can help in making choices that fit the need."

Aguayo urges parents to use an app in collaboration with the school team.

"It is important that everyone involved in the child's life is consistent and use the same app or device," she says.

More from Parenting: Behavior Training Helps Families Cope with Autism More Than Education

She recommends two books to help parents narrow down their app options:

But here are 11 autism apps for kids that our experts recommend trying:

1. First-Then Visual Schedule

This app provides visual schedules to help with transitions and decrease anxiety. "First-then support can offer children of most intellectual and language abilities to understand what is expected of them, and what will come next, or what the reward will be," explains Aguayo.

Cost: $9.99, available for iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch and Android.

2. iPrompts

"iPrompts is a highly recommended app for supporting organizational skills, setting expectations for performance, and setting up subtle supports and reminders," says Aguayo. Users can create and modify visual schedules, as well as use a countdown timer with picture supports to indicate how much longer a task or activity will last.

Cost: $49.99, available for iPhone and iPad.

More from Parenting: Why Dental Care for Your Special Needs Child Is So Important

3. Autism Track

This app is brought to you by the creators of iPrompts and is designed for parents of children with ASD to help them track data. "This customizable data tracking tool allows parents to easily track behaviors, interventions and symptoms in one place," says Aguayo. "Behaviors and symptoms can be rated, as well as particular medications and their doses, diet changes and therapies. Parents can also review trends in their child's data and share these data with school and medical providers to inform treatment planning. This app is especially helpful for children with challenging behaviors, psychiatric conditions or both."

Cost: Free to $9.99, depending on the version, available for iPhone and iPad.

4. Learn with Rufus

"This app uses a child-friendly character to teach emotion words, facial expressions associated with emotions, and to identify emotions in others," Aguayo says, and it may also help with the development of language, communication, and social skills.

Cost: $4.99, available for iPhone, iPad and Android.

5. E-Mintza

This customizable, bilingual app is designed for augmentative communication using a family's own pictures. Aguayo says it's free, but time-consuming to set up and customize.

Cost: Free, available for Android.

More from Parenting: Mom Recycles Military Uniforms into Weighted Vests for Kids with Autism

6. Stories2Learn

"S2L offers parents and educators the ability to create personalized stories using photos, text, and audio messages," explains Aucoin. "These stories can be used to promote an individual's literacy, leisure, as well as social skills." The app supports reciprocal play, non-verbal communication, playground and school rules, turn taking, and more.

Cost: $13.99, available for iPhone and iPad.

7. Model Me Going Places 2

"[This] is a great visual teaching tool for helping your child learn to navigate challenging locations in the community. Each location contains a photo slideshow of children modeling appropriate behavior," says Aucoin. Locations include the hairdresser, mall, doctor's office, grocery store, restaurant and playground.

Cost: Free, available for iPhone and iPad.

More from Parenting: How to Make Flying with a Child with Autism Easier

8. The Social Express

This online interactive program addresses core deficit areas standing in the way of school, social, and life success for kids with social learning challenges. It uses "highly interactive and visual presentation" and animations to encourage children to practice social skills in an interactive way. According to Aucoin, this app "employs rich graphics and audio and offers a high degree of quality in every aspect of the app."

Cost: Free for version II, monthly and annual rates available for iPad.

9. Cognoa

Dr. Clara Lajonchere, former VP of clinical programs at Autism Speaks, helped to develop the Cognoa evaluation tool, which not only identifies autism in kids, but also tracks a child's behavior and milestones for doctors and teachers. "Features include expert-recommended activities, which can help autistic children who have issues with fine motor and sensory, socialization, tantrums and more," she says.

Cost: Free, available for Android and Apple products and online.

10. Pictello

Pictello is a simple way to create visual stories and talking books, explains Aucoin. "Each page in a Pictello Story can contain a picture, a short video, up to 10 lines of text, and a recorded sound or text-to-speech using natural sounding voices." The app can be used to teach social skills or to help kids remember events, and supports non-verbal children in communication with others. Better yet, stories can be shared with other Pictello users and even non-users.

Cost: $18.99, available for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch.

More from Parenting: New Autism Research: Social Struggles & Increase in Diagnoses Explained

11. Dreampad

This unique app uses a pillow with embedded transducers that play relaxing music through vibration to induce relaxation and sleep. A study on kids with autism conducted by Dr. Sarah Schoen of the SPD Foundation concluded all 15 participants showed improvements in sleep initiation, duration of sleep, reduction in night waking, and improved daytime behavior.

Cost: the pillow is $169, and the accompanying app is free; available for Android and Apple devices.

Check out Assistive Ware and I Get It apps for more apps that support autistic children. Parents should also note that while not specifically created for kids with ASD, developers, such as Toca Boca, Oceanhouse Media, Duck Duck Moose and Spinlight Studios are consistently developing apps being used in treatment settings.

But Aguayo wants to caution parents: "It is also important to keep in mind that, just as with typically developing children, electronics can become an obsession, and their use for breaks, reinforcers, and during free time should be monitored and limited. Apps, even those that can help children with ASD, should never replace real-world interactions and interventions that help to develop social and communication skills in natural settings."

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How Busy Parents Find Creative Ways to Bond

By Gen Cohen

Use your skills, your kids' talents or pair up your interests to find ways to spend time together,

By Sarah Raymond via parenting.com

These days, a lot of parents are so overwhelmed with the daily grind that they don't have the energy to think of creative ways to bond with their children. But we talked to some busy parents who are connecting with their kids in a variety of inventive ways. We hope these parenting tips for working mothers and fathers inspire you.

Use Your Talents

Amy Reyes is a senior graphic designer for a major corporation, an illustrator and all-around talented artist, but she is also a single mother of one. To her, the hardest part of being a mom was admitting that it is OK to do something for herself; especially if it helps her to be a better parent in the long run. Her solution for creating a bond with her son combines her need to work on her own art and her desire to create something special for her son. So she has started utilizing her skills as an artist to work on her lunchnotes series. Every night, instead of writing a traditional note for her son to read the next day at school, she draws him a character to greet him during his lunch and remind him that she is thinking of him.

"As an artist and a single mom, there never seems to be enough time to fit my art in. It gets so frustrating, and it's something a lot of people don't understand. If I don't draw, I get really depressed. So the lunchnotes were kind of born out of necessity. I wanted to let my kiddo know I was thinking about him during the day, and I also wanted to draw every day," Amy says. "At the end of the evening, I have 45 minutes to myself. This way it's a win-win. I get to draw and he gets a special hello from Mom every day."

Amy realizes not everyone can draw, but anyone can get on board with the main purpose behind lunchnotes: making a connection.

"Artistic abilities aren't necessary to connect," Amy says. "Don't set up a long list of rules for what you have to do in order to connect. There are endless ways to connect, and every parent has their own special something to contribute."

Besides drawing lunchnotes, Amy goes dark on electronic devices from Friday evenings until Monday mornings and makes Saturdays strictly fun days. She and her son don't do chores and do activities together.

"Put your phone away. Disconnect from your world and meet them in theirs. Allow yourself to be silly-hearted and to have fun. All they want is your time. That's it. It's up to you to decide what to do in that time," Amy says. "Childhood is short. Make that connection early—when you are in their world. And you'll still hopefully have it when you aren't anymore."

Take an Interest in Your Kids' Passions

Maria Singleton, mother of two, credits her connection to her two daughters to being "creative individually and as a family unit. I think it's important to know what your children love to do and explore those areas for deeper connections."

Her oldest daughter, a teenager, enjoys reading, cooking and sports, so Maria participates in those activities with her one on one. Her youngest has a passion for playing dolls, so Maria makes time to play with her.

"Any time I make the time to initiate the invitation to play dolls, her little face beams with joy," Maria says.

Like Amy, Maria agrees that it's important to take time for herself. She meets once a week with a group based in faith-driven studies, and she leaves each meeting "refreshed and filled with creative ways of handling the busyness and stresses of life."

Share Hobbies

Christopher Watson, a graphic designer, musician and father of three, enjoys working on creative video projects with his 9-year-old son. They enjoy creating worlds within the video game Minecraft together, and it inspired a project: a video walk-through of one of their creations. They planned out the tour, and his son did an ad-lib narration while Christopher filmed. They edited it on the computer and even composed some custom music. The end result was a fun video that they posted on You Tube.

"I think this was a great way for us to bond and complete something legit and meaningful. It was also a ton of fun for both of us. We have some other video and building projects in the works—some quick and easy and some that are more complex," Christopher says. "I think it's good for him to see the benefits of keeping at a project that takes some time to complete. I think it shows that some of the best rewards and accomplishments don't happen instantly."

Christopher spends time with his daughters a bit differently. The youngest is an active 2-year-old who enjoys playing and physically interacting with her world. Christopher isn't afraid to jump in and play at his daughter's level.

"Our time together is spent doing much simpler activities compared to the other two kids, but the connection comes from being active and involved instead of just sitting around inside," Christopher says.

Time with his eldest daughter is spent drawing or taking trips to the store together.

"I think the value of my time spent with her is the opportunity for us to talk and communicate in a relaxed setting, as opposed to the usual prodding conversations surrounding getting ready for school or bed," Christopher says.

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Toddler Lunch Ideas

By Gen Cohen

We have new healthy lunch ideas for toddlers like delicious sandwiches, wraps and mini-pizzas.

By Jennifer Saltiel, Stephanie Eckelkamp and Kelly Ladd Sanchez
parenting.com
Honey, Almond Butter & Banana
Spread 2 slices of whole-wheat bread with almond butter or peanut butter. Top 1 bread slice with a drizzle of honey (for kids 1 and up) and a layer of banana slices. Cover with the other slice, butter side down.
Pear & Avocado
Mash 1/2 ripe avocado in a bowl. Add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and season to taste with salt and pepper. Spread the avocado evenly on 2 slices of sourdough bread. Add a layer of thinly sliced Bosc or Asian pear to 1 bread slice. Cover with the other slice and press gently to adhere. Swap in pomegranate seeds for the pear, if you like.
Apple, Cheddar & Peanut Butter
Split a focaccia square in half crosswise. Spread the cut side of 1 half with peanut butter. Top with a layer of cheddar-cheese slices and then a layer of thin apple slices. Cover with the other half, cut side down and press gently.
Strawberry & Goat Cheese
Split an English muffin and lightly toast the halves. Spread each half with softened goat cheese or plain whipped cream cheese. Top with a thin layer of strawberry jam, followed by a layer of thin strawberry slices. Place the top half of the muffin over the bottom half, and press gently.
Slice It Right
If it seems like that sandwich you packed in the morning makes a soggy return uneaten in the afternoon, swap in Pepperidge Farm Goldfish—shaped bread. It'll remind him of a familiar snack and get him to eat up. $3 to $4; grocery stores.  Try our Healthy Lunch Maker Tool for more more kid-friendly ideas.
Leave a Message
Whoever said you can't package hugs and kisses? Surprise your little scholar by tucking a love note into her lunch box so she knows you're thinking about her even though you're far away. And you'll know that every day at 12:30 p.m., she's reading your note and thinking of you, too!
Cut It Out
Turn the ordinary lunch-box staple into a menagerie of animals with these sandwich cutters. Check out Munchkin's elephant cutter, above ($3; Walmart stores).

Turkey Pinwheels 
Serves 1
Spread dollop of store-bought hummus on whole-wheat tortilla, then layer a slice of turkey and some spinach leaves. Roll up and cut.

Serve with:
Cheese cubes
Fruit salad

Pack it up: Svenja Lunch Box, $34, beatrixny.com; Small Round Containers, $16 for two, kidskonserve.com; Light My Fire Spork Little, $7 for three, amazon.com; Teacher's Pet Picnic Pouch, $7, oonae.com; White Traveler water bottle, $25, mysigg.com

 

Egg Salad Sandwich
Serves 1 to 2
Mix two crushed hard-boiled eggs, ½ tsp mustard, 1 tsp mayo (or plain yogurt) and salt and pepper to taste. Serve on whole-wheat or multigrain bread.

Serve with:
Oranges
Pretzel sticks

Pack it up: Maxi Storage Box in Blue, $36, mysigg.com; Sigg Cuddle Monsters water bottle, $20, mysigg.com; Light My Fire Spork Little, $7 for three, amazon.com; Jam Session Picnic Pouch, $7, oonae.com; Snack Disk, $6, oxo.com; large and small bowl set, $10, oxo.com

Vegetable Pasta
Serves 4
Mix 6 oz cooked tricolor rotini pasta, ½ Tbsp melted butter, ½ cup cooked peas, 2/3 cup quartered cherry tomatoes and salt and pepper to taste.

Serve with:
Carrots
Applesauce

Pack it up: Frog Zoo Lunchies, $13, skiphop.com; Large Round Containers, $19 for two, and thermos, $21, kidskonserve.com; Love, Not Waste hand Towel, $7, peopletowels.com; Beverage Bottle With Solid Cap, Spring Green 9 oz, $13, lifefactory.com; Light My Fire Spork little, $7 for three, amazon.com

 

Pita-Butter and Jelly
If your child's main food staple is PB&J, but peanut butter is a no-no at her school, here's a peanut-free option. Substitute butter or cream cheese in for peanut butter and spread on whole-wheat pita bread. Top with jelly, or if she loves apple pie, try cinnamony apple butter.

Serve with:
Hard-boiled egg (If you child hates the yolk, serve two servings of egg whites instead.)
Squeezable yogurt tube
Sliced grapes & sliced grape tomatoes

 

I Heart Turkey
A plain ol' turkey sandwich gets a little love with this Thanksgiving-inspired, heart-shaped version. (Kid not a heart-lover? Stars or dinosaur shapes work, too.) Spread a thin layer of cranberry sauce on two pieces of whole wheat bread. Layer two slices of roasted turkey breast and sliced cheese. Use a cookie cutter to cut the sandwich into the shape of a heart.

Serve with:
Baby carrots with ranch dressing dip
Squeezable applesauce tube

 

Build-Your-Own Sandwich
Let your little chef test his culinary skills by packing the ingredients to a sandwich á la Lunchables. Assembling his own meal right at the lunch table may inspire him to eat it as well. Slice lunch meat and cheese into small squares. Serve with whole-grain crackers and individual packets of mayonnaise or mustard.

Serve with:
Pear or apple slices (squeeze a bit of lemon juice on them to prevent browning)
Store-bought cinnamon pita chips

 

Mini Pizzas
This kid-favorite gets a healthy makeover to fuel your child's busy body all day long. Make these the night before to save time in the morning. Top English muffin halves with jarred marinara sauce (if your child won't object, add chopped steamed broccoli or spinach to the sauce.) Sprinkle pre-shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese on top. Bake at 350 degrees for 5 minutes. Let cool, then wrap up.

Serve with:
One half cup of blueberries
Individual chocolate pudding

 

Brunch for Lunch
Who says French toast and eggs are just for breakfast? This traditional morning meal makes a power-packed lunch. Feel free to make these the night before. French toast cinnamon sticks: Add pureed squash or sweet potatoes to egg-milk batter for an extra boost of beta-carotene. Cook French toast and sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar mixture. Let cool and slice into sticks for an easy-to-eat fork-free option.

Serve with:
Hard-boiled egg (If you child hates the yolk, serve two servings of egg whites instead.)
1/2-cup fruit salad

 

Go Fish!
An under-the-sea adventure right in your child's very own lunchbox: Tuna fish sandwich shaped like a fish. Cut a corner off of the bread and reverse it, placing the point at the middle of the cut line. Use a round slice of baby carrot for the eye.)

Serve with:
Baby carrots (Write "Fish Food" on the plastic bag)
Blue-raspberry "water"—an individual Jell-O container
Mini goldfish-shaped cheese crackers

 

Fruit Roll-Up

While your child would no doubt enjoy diving into a meal of sticky sweet fruit leather, this guilt-free version offers nutrients and energy to keep her going for the second half of the school day.

Spread blueberry or strawberry-flavored cream cheese on a whole-wheat tortilla wrap. Top with fresh blueberries or sliced strawberries and roll tortilla.

Serve with:
Small container of hummus
Celery sticks and sliced cucumbers for dipping
A real fruit roll-up for dessert

 

Kid-friendly Chicken Salad
Sliced grapes and cubed apples add sweetness to plain old chicken salad. If your child eats nuts, add crushed cashews for extra crunch. Serve in a small container with whole wheat crackers or flatbreads.

Serve with:
String cheese
Cook-free S'Mores: Spread Marshmallow Fluff on one graham cracker square, nutella on the other and press together and enjoy!

 

Rainbow Wheel
A colorful, super-healthy lunch choice. Spread white bean dip on a whole-wheat or spinach tortilla wrap. Layer with lettuce, sliced tomato, cheese, thinly sliced cucumber (or pickle if your child is a fan), avocado and other favorite vegetables. Roll up the tortilla. Then slice into 4 1-inch cross-sections to make the wheels.

Serve with:
Banana
Chocolate milk

 

Cube Food
Kids love finger foods—why not serve up a whole meal of uniform, easy-to-eat cubes? Serve with a toothpick if your little one doesn't want to use his hands.

Cubed rotisserie chicken
Cubed cheddar cheese
Cubed sweet potato (microwave the whole potato for 8 minutes, let cool, then cut.)

Serve with:
Cubed cantaloupe
Cubed brownie bites

 

Ham and veggie pinwheels
Pinwheels aren't just cute toys. Try these tasty sandwich alternatives.

 

Don't forget the snacks!
It's always a good idea to toss some after-school snacks in their lunchbox, too. Stock your pantry with these delicious and nutritious munchies, sure to keep them happy until dinner.

Brain Snacks for Kids
These yummy, healthy treats make great back-to-school snacks

7 No-Mess Snacks
These neat eats are yummy, healthy and easy to clean up

7 Delish Snack Mixes
Salty pretzels, cheesy crackers, protein-packed nuts, sweet raisins and more—all mixed up for some yummy snack packs

6 Naturally Sweet Treats
Your kids will love these dessert-like snacks—just don't tell them how healthy they are!

7 Snacks that Teach
Kids can learn about numbers, letters, colors and even bugs with these yummy treats

8 Fruity Snacks Kids Love
They see: cookies, gummies and chips. Yum! You see: fiber, vitamins and calcium. Score!

7 Healthy Kid-Friendly Dips
Kids will have fun getting their fruits and veggies with these yummy sauces and spreads

7 Snacks That Won't Spoil Dinner 
Stave off "when's dinner?!" whining with these nutritious treats

 

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