An educational app to help improve social and communication skills in autistic children

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complex developmental disability that is manifested during the early years of life by qualitative difficulties in verbal and non-verbal communication, social
interactions, and a tendency to stereotypical behaviour. Autistic children differ from one another in terms of their intellectual and functional abilities. However, all of them to a certain extent experience social difficulties and emotional impairments, which are quite challenging to overcome without professional support and assistance.

While for the majority of children social-interaction skills and patterns are acquired naturally from their environment, this is not the case for children with ASD. The use of computer technologies ‒ and educational applications in particular ‒ is considered to have a beneficial influence on the development of social and communication skills in autistic children. Such technology would help them gain valuable communicative experience and useful behavioural patterns within a safe and emotionally comfortable environment.

In view of the above, the development challenge of this project was to create an educational application that could help autistic children in developing essential social and communication skills. Extensive background research and consultations with domain experts identified the needs in the application that would become an interactive support for the manual Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) training, while also serving as a bridge that would facilitate the child’s communication with family, tutors and peers.

The direct involvement of professional educators helped to carefully plan and design the application. Subsequently, the app was implemented using React Native, which allowed the creation of a dynamic, intuitive and attractive user interface aimed at motivating and engaging a child in practising communication skills.

The evaluation of this project focused on whether a mobile-based educational application could motivate and assist children with ASD in improving their social and communication skills. Professionals working with these children provided positive feedback, highlighting that the application was engaging and effective in assisting the children towards succeeding in their communication training programmes.

Figure 1. Vocabulary user interface displaying the ‘Domestic animals’
Figure 2. Use-case diagram

Student: Elena Fomiceva
Course: B.Sc. IT (Hons.) Software Development
Supervisor: Dr Peter Xuereb