Clinicians at Vanderbilt University in Nashville have developed an app to help children with autism prepare for appointments. Called "MyRoutine®," the iPad app was patterned after a regular "hard copy" visual schedule used at the hospital to help patients with autism and other developmental disabilities get through appointments or procedures with less anxiety.
Dr. Niru Madduri, clinical director of the Center for Child Development at Vanderbilt University’s Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital, says the app provides a timeline of pictures for the child to follow.
"The pictures in our printed visual schedule illustrate a short narrative about what happens during the course of a clinic visit," Madduri explains. "A child will check in. He’ll sit in the waiting room. A nurse calls his name. During his physical exam, the nurse checks his blood pressure and asks him to stand on a scale, and so on."
At each step, a picture depicts the part of the procedure, and it ends with the child picking out a toy from a treasure chest at the end. The app makes the appointment happen in a "natural progression," she says.
"For instance, MyRoutine allows you to take or upload your own photos for each step in a schedule," Madduri notes. "We recommend using photos that are familiar to your child. The familiarity will help your child tap into the strength of his or her visual memories. For your child’s upcoming medical appointment, for example, you might upload a picture of his or her doctor."
As the child moves through the day, he or she taps the picture that corresponds to each task they’ve finished. Then they receive a “happy response” image. The app also allows parents to add a sound bite of a recording to praise the child, such as "Good job!"
"I love the expressions of satisfaction I see on children’s faces when they tap that photo and receive the positive feedback," says Madduri. "We’ve also seen how using this app gives children a feeling of being more in control of a situation."
MyRoutine allows users to create routines for home, school, or other situations.
"Every day, we witness firsthand how this app helps reduce anxiety," Maddurri explains. "Recently, one mom started to cry during her son’s appointment. 'You’re the first person he’s let look in his ears,' she said with relief and amazement."
MyRoutine is available free as a download on iTunes, courtesy of the advocacy organization Autism Speaks.