As a speech-language pathologist who has been working with autistic children and adolescents for over 20 years, I could not be more thrilled about the release of the Flummox and Friends iPad app, FlummoxVision, this week. This is the app clinicians, teachers, and parents have been waiting for.
Why? Because my 6–12 year old clients love media. They love the iPad. But when I visit the App Store to search for excellent iPad apps for kids with social communication challenges, I find an overwhelming selection of educational apps designed for very young children and targeting everything from voice output to understanding prepositions to producing a perfect “r” sound.
And while speech therapists are grateful for these apps, there has been a gap in the offerings for our older kids with autism: well-designed social emotional apps.
Central to any autism diagnosis is a difficulty with “social communication and social interaction across multiple contexts.” We can help autistic kids find success in social relationships when we work with them in a motivating, dynamic, natural context, supporting their social understanding with visual supports in real time. But, when we want to break down the skills and focus on social interaction using visual materials in the moment, there have been no apps specially designed to support this important work in a way that is interesting and entertaining for kids.
Now we have one. The brand new Flummox and Friends app, available free on the App Store, allows kids to interact with a team of quirky inventors who navigate the murky waters of social interaction with each other and a couple of good friends. The live-action show is engaging, entertaining, and smart: perfect for kids who love to laugh and are turned off by educational offerings that feel heavy-handed or didactic. It’s ideal for “quirky” kids who struggle with social communication and emotional regulation, whether they have a formal diagnosis or not.
My clients love the Flummox and Friends app and ask to work with it repeatedly. I have seen many kids look up in surprise, saying, “I’m just like Milo!” or “Wanda gets lost in her books just like me!” Kids are amazed to see characters depicted who share some of their unique strengths and challenges.
Without exception kids have been enthusiastic about the episode that is pre-loaded on the app, “The Party,” which focuses on why and how to stay tuned in to a group activity and the importance of keeping one’s body and brain in the group. I can then reference our shared understanding and vocabulary from the show in the moment when the kids are playing together in a social group as a positive way to remind them to practice the skill. Because they have learned the “how and why” of this skill it has meaning for them, and they understand why adults suggest they stay in close proximity and on topic with their peers while playing together.
Many engaging activity suggestions for extending the learning concepts in “The Party” at home and school (including sample goals for teachers and clinicians!) can be found in the Curriculum Guides created by fellow Co-Creator/Curriculum Developer Liesl Wenzke Hartmann, MA, CCC-SLP and myself. The Curriculum Guides are available for purchase on the Flummox and Friends website.
The kids I work with love to turn on the show’s subtitles, which supports their language comprehension as they watch. I’ve observed that they prefer to watch the videos in “Discuss Mode,” where characters appear on the screen to ask an interactive question about what is going on in the show, a perfect feature to assist teachers, clinicians and parents who want to support this type of learning in varied settings. The kids are excited about the new video shorts that will be available for purchase on an ongoing basis. An excellent new short called “The Alternate Method” is already there, available for purchase for those who download the app.
The team at Flummox Labs is excited to bring high quality, entertaining material to smart, quirky kids with iPads everywhere. Enjoy!
Jordan Sadler, MS, CCC-SLP is a co-creator of Flummox and Friends and a practicing speech language pathologist in Chicago.