I got into iPhone developing for my daughter Caitlyn with no real intention of selling the programs. She is on the autism spectrum but is very high functioning (as in half her doctors say she is autistic, and the other half say she is not). Almost 100% of her deficits are centered around language. She is 8 but has the expressive language of about a 4-year-old. She is placed in a main stream classroom with an aide.
When I got into developing about 18 months ago, her primary issue was that she could not put together a grammatically correct sentence. The school district and her aide were making little progress helping her in this regard, and the language education CD’s we were buying were so expensive, we were being driven into bankruptcy. On top of that, there wasn’t a lot of content for your money and nothing to make them fun to play. Caitlyn really resisted playing. After looking around iTunes for programs for her, we found that all of the autism-related programs were for either much younger kids or for much more severe cases of autism. We couldn’t find anything that was geared for language on high functioning autistic kids. Thus the Mobile Education Store was born.
Sentence Builder was designed specifically for her to teach her how to put together a grammatically correct sentence. I spent a tremendous amount of time on encouragement animations (jumping dogs/dancing cows – that sort of thing). They are what make the program fun to play. Once she started playing, she made such dramatic improvement in her sentence formation that I decided to “throw it up” on iTunes. I have been shocked at the number of SLP’s and parents from around the world who have contacted me telling me how much they like the program.
So, I didn’t plan on doing any more programs until we did a conference with her first-grade teacher at Thanksgiving last year, where we found out that Caitlyn was not being asked any questions in class because when she was asked a question, she would only echo the question back rather than answering it. The teacher decided to stop asking her questions so Caitlyn wouldn’t be “embarrassed”. After recovering from our shock that this had been going on all year and nobody bothered to mention it to us, I started work on Question Builder. The framework is similar to Sentence Builder, but now she has to answer questions.
Since in the end, we wanted her to be able to listen to a question (and perhaps an abstract one) and then answer it, I designed Question Builder with 27 different levels so we could slowly make it more difficult for her. In addition, I made it have 600 different questions. I did this primarily because Caitlyn has a photographic memory, so I wanted to prevent her from “memorizing” the answers. Creating the content was a bigger job than creating the application (600 question and 600 answer audio clips takes a bit of time to record). As with Sentence Builder, her ability to answer questions improved instantly once she started using this program. I had it finished in March of this year, and between March and June, she went from echoing every question back in class to never echoing a question back. Her teacher commented to us at the end of the year that she couldn’t believe the progress she made in such a short period of time. After I finished it, I told my wife I could die now. It is my Picasso.
Once Caitlyn was able to do the top level of Question Builder, I started on Story Builder (iPad). In Story Builder, the student gets to answer questions by recording the answers in their own voices. After all the questions have been answered, I stitch the recordings into a single narrative that they can play back. My goal here was to have her be able to record her own sentences about a picture, rather than pick out the correct one from the list. I figured that once she could do that, we would be home free. She has struggled with this program more than the others because she can’t depend on her memory and a process of elimination for the answers. It really gets to the core of her language deficit. We play every day, she really loves it. The one thing that surprised me when I was doing field testing of Story Builder with friends who had autistic kids was that their non-spectrum kids loved playing too. Something about hearing their own voice is a real kick. On a side note, I had my 10-year-old son do all the voice-over work for Story Builder. He has such a great kid voice and it was a lot of fun to work with him on it.
So that is my story about how I became an iPhone app developer and how my apps came to be. I have three programs that were custom designed for a single person, but in the process of doing that, I ended up with 3 programs that I have been told are very helpful for a lot of kids. I have to admit that this has been the most satisfying thing I have ever done in my life.