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Apps and Websites That Teach Children Empathy

By Tracey Dowdy

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and autism are both general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development. These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors. Autism Speaks

Last Wednesday was World Autism Day. If someone you know has been impacted by autism, you know what a challenge even the simplest things in daily life can present. Although the term autism covers a broad spectrum of developmental issues, one issue that often occurs is difficulty in social situations, resulting in inappropriate responses, behaviors, or actions. Helping a child with autism develop coping skills and equipping them to face social situations with confidence is a key part of their development.

The following apps, DVDs and games are a few of the many options available to parents and kids to help learn empathy and social skills. Not all are directed at individuals on the autism spectrum and can easily be used or adapted for any child.

Pre-School (ages up to 5)

Model Me Going Places 2 is based on the Model Me Going Places™ DVD, part of the Model Me Kids® social skills tutorials for children and teenagers with Autism and Asperger Syndrome. However, the training tools are excellent and could be used for any child. Each situation is presented in a photo slideshow of children in real-life settings modelling appropriate behavior. The video takes kids through everyday situations like getting a haircut or going to the doctor or shopping with mom. (iTunes – free)

Social Adventures is an 8 week program designed by speech and occupational therapists to help kids understand social situations and learn appropriate behavior. Each session is stand-alone so parents can pick and choose among them. There are over 40 activities presented as games or cartoons, so while the content is effective, the format is presented in a manner that will keep kids engaged. (iTunes – $9.99)

Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster is an adventure that allows kids to interact one on one with some of their favorite Muppets. Not only does it teach your child to play cooperatively with a partner, it’s designed to get your child up and on their feet and moving. In true Sesame Street fashion, the games focus on positive themes like forgiveness, friendship, responsibility and generosity. (Xbox 360 – $49.99)

Elementary (Ages 6-12)

My DPS (Digital Problem Solver) uses CGI videos to teach kids how to recognize emotions and equips them with appropriate problem-solving tools. Kids learn how to read those emotions by recognizing facial expressions, body language, and spoken or written language. The app has visual and aural cues to make it accessible to visually or hearing-impaired kids, and users can customize the app by adding their own images and text to make it an even more effective tool. (iTunes – $0.99)

Herotopia is a browser-based, massively multiplayer online game (MMO) that is kid safe and friendly. Kids can sign up and begin play immediately, but if parents confirm the sign up via email, kids get tokens toward free in-game purchases. The games are free, but for $5.95 you can move your character to a higher level or own a pet. (Web – free)

Thomas Was Alone is at first glance a very simplistic 2-dimensional video game. Instead of people or animals, the characters are shapes – rectangles, squares – that move through the landscape as kids solve puzzles. The narration is compelling and each shape takes on a distinct personality; some are arrogant, others feel like they aren’t special at all. But as the story unfolds, kids will need to make the shapes “cooperate” by stacking on top of each other or forming a line in order to overcome the obstacles in their path. By working together, they come to see the value of one another. (Web – $9.99)

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