Figuring out what a person is thinking or feeling is a challenge in the real world, but even more so for someone who has been diagnosed with autism. Can a computer program help teach a child with autism how to relate to others? One Southern California family is utilizing technology in an innovative way. There's a new application that helps parents and kids navigate those situations together.
Jared and Jason are identical twins who both have autism. Their parents, Marc and Tina Zimmerman, noticed unusual signs when the boys were 2 years old.
"Jason and Jared were not paying attention to us when we'd walk in and out of a room," said Marc.
They had repetitive behaviors. Their language was severely delayed. Marc describes a heartbreaking moment at preschool.
"When I picked them up that day, they walked right by me like they'd never seen me before, and that was a very tough moment," said Marc.
"By definition, autism is the inability to relate to others," said Marc. "So you want to work on that all the time. That's just something that's a work in progress."
Marc and Tina's desire to work on their son's social issues led to them to develop "The Social Express." It's a colorful, interactive software application that teaches kids with autism how to read emotions, how to empathize and how to react.
"And by watching how those scenes play out, the user then learns the proper social and emotional skill that we're trying to hone in on," said Marc.
Not only does The Social Express help them identify how they're feeling, it helps them pick a coping strategy.
"I learned how to take a break," said Jared
"Take five deep breaths," said Jason.
Jared and Jason say it really helps by giving them tips on how to talk to others.
"We should talk and face forward in the group," said Jason.
"This kind of evolved as a way for us to work on the concepts they needed to work on without it making it look like I was trying to be their therapist," said Tina.
The Social Express is just one piece of the puzzle. The creators of the app, along with their advisory board, encourage parents to seek out help from therapists and teachers.
The app also provides off-line activities to help kids apply what they've learned to real-life situations.
"It's a combination of just keeping everybody busy and really just being a typical family at the end of the day is really what you're striving for," said Marc.
The Social Express program normally costs about $90, but the company is offering it at half-price until March 31.