“When your child has communication difficulties you are desperately looking for whatever can help.”
I’ve heard this now several times from parents with children on the autistic spectrum. Each of them try and buy lots of different things to help. Each has also recently come across our KidCoachApp and say that it is helping massively!
When I built this app I would admit that it was not specifically for parents of autistic children. And I don’t have first-hand experience of autism with myself or my kids.
But I was so pleased to learn that we are helping in wonderful and unexpected ways, and I was curious to find out how we can help these families even more.
A quick bit of context so the rest of this article makes sense!
The KidCoachApp has hundreds of quick, fun and thought-provoking questions for 6-12 year old children. There are lots of questions on varied topics, where children get practice at talking and thinking in new ways, e.g. “Should everyone have magic wands?” or “Would chocolate rain be a good thing?” or “What are 10 things you can do with a cup?”
So why do parents of autistic children seem drawn to it? Speaking to some of them, these four things jumped out for me.
People on the autistic spectrum are amazing. Just take for example these confirmed individuals - Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton and Elon Musk!
One characteristic trait that some have is an uncanny ability to memorise and recall vast amounts of information. I was speaking with Clare, mum of a 10 year old boy on the spectrum. Apparently, he was reading books he had never seen before by 3 and counting to 100 before that. She told me he loves memorising, for example, learning how to count from 1-10 in numerous languages.
One thing that her son seems to struggle with though is “higher order thinking”. While good at recalling facts, he finds it harder to apply them in new contexts. Clare introduced me to the Blanks levels of questioning that they are using in conjunction with their local speech and language therapist to help with this. Her son has no problem with Levels 1 and 2, which are about naming and describing things. Like many children on the autistic spectrum however, he struggles with Levels 3 and 4 – talking about stories / events and solving problems / answering why questions.
It struck me that the questions asked at Levels 3 and 4 are exactly like what we have in the KidCoachApp, e.g.
- What could happen next?
- Why do you think that?
- How might that person be feeling?
- Can you give me an example?
- How do you know that?
In the app, these style of questions are used in the “prompts for kids” section. We write several prompts for each main discussion card to help stimulate thinking and extend dialogue.
As Clare said to me: “We’ve really been enjoying the app. It’s very visual and I can let him have a look and pick himself. The prompts help me to ask him – what about this or could that work – sort of questions, to expand his thinking. I find it very useful that there are several follow-up questions listed like this. It’s a really great app!”
As I learn more about autism I have learned more about “Theory of Mind,” and how a child on the spectrum can struggle to appreciate that different people might know or believe different things.
For example: Jane puts sweets in a cupboard and leaves the kitchen. John comes and moves them to the drawer. When Jane comes back, where will she look for the sweets?
It seems that autistic children tend to struggle with this sort of question. Many would think Jane would look where they actually are (the drawer) not where she last left them (the cupboard).
Connected to this is the idea of perspective-taking. The notion that other people have views, that they might differ from our own and that is OK! This is a valuable skill for all children and one that I know many parents are keen to develop. We want our children to grow up to embrace lots of viewpoints, before deciding from themselves what they believe and why.
Since the KidCoachApp has hundreds of open-ended questions with no right answer, it is perfect to help children take different perspectives!
Suzy is a mum of a 10 year old ADHD and autistic son. She too has been using the KidCoachApp for several months and said: “It’s helpful for him to realise that other people might have different views to him and to become comfortable with this. All the questions in the app are open-ended with lots of possible ways someone might think about them, so this helps him think of those other opinions.”
Suzy is also a home educator and you can read more on how she uses the KidCoachApp exactly in this short case study.
Several parents have recounted stories of how their autistic children can talk very deeply on something they are passionate about – their latest toy, or football team or book they are reading. This level of concentration and education is impressive, but the flip side is that the fixation doesn’t let them broaden their horizons.
Parents tell me how they are keen to open up dialogue to be broader and more varied. Sometimes finding fun and interesting things to talk and think about can be challenging however, especially after a long day at work!
Probably all parents feel this to a degree (I know I do!). Like most parents, I struggle to think of fun and stimulating things to discuss on the fly. Which is why I built the app!
Jade is a mum of two boys aged seven and five and also runs The Autism Page. She said: “Your app looks great and I can see why it is helpful to some families with autistic children. Often autistic children struggle with communication especially questions like ‘how was your day’ etc. As with most children you need a bit more direction to stimulate the conversation. The guided questioning you have is great for the kids but also for the parents, when you are tired and busy it can be hard to think of conversations that might be stimulating for your kids.”
Some people prefer to see rather than hear information. I am one of them! But it appears that this is trait can be common with children on the autistic spectrum also.
Many parents have told me that the KidCoachApp is very well designed. Simple and snappy are common adjectives used. The pictures for each question make it visually appealing, and the well laid out text makes it very scannable.
It sounds like this is perfect for autistic children to look at the questions themselves to then be in a better position to discuss them.
Clare said: "The app is very visual. My son enjoys looking at it and choosing the question for himself," and Jade said: "The app is effectively a visual aid to the conversation. Many autistic people struggle with processing time particularly in relation to language so being able to look at the question will be very helpful."
As I keep talking to and learning from parents with autistic children, we will keep adding to and improving the app. The prompts seem super helpful so we will definitely continue with that!
In fact, upon reading his article, Clare emailed me this: “I definitely feel the app has helped us expand the topics we talk about. It’s tempting to start off a conversation about something my son is interested in as that almost guarantees engagement, but obviously in the long run we need to help him develop the skills to talk about a range of topics and show interest in other people’s conversations. The prompts are useful for me too as it’s not always easy to think of new engaging topics and follow up questions."
If you have an autistic child and are keen to develop their communication skills in a fun and new way, then you should give the KidCoachApp a go.
Lizzie is a mum of a nine and seven year old who are on the spectrum. She blogs at A Curious Journey and officially reviewed the KidCoachApp here. She said: "The app wasn’t specifically created with the autistic community in mind but there are great benefits for verbal autistic children. I was delighted to see that many of the prompts tie in with the boys’ speech and language targets. Encouraging critical thinking, seeing things from a different perspective and encouraging back and forth conversations are all things we’re working towards."
The KidCoachApp is free to download from your usual app store, takes 43 seconds to register and get started (super quick – we’ve timed it!) and you can immediately browse hundreds of great questions for your child.
Try the KidCoachApp now with your kids!