Ina Fried

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Brotherly Love Prompts Young Entrepreneur’s Autism App

When Jonathan Izak looks at AutisMate, he wishes something similar had existed when his brother was younger.

The iPad app, which Izak and colleagues have spent the last 18 months creating, is designed for autistic children — kids like Izak’s brother.

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“I think it definitely would have helped him [with his] acquisition of language,” Izak said.

In recent years, the iPad has been a hotbed for apps designed to help those with autism and other special needs, so AutisMate will have plenty of company when it hits the App Store later this week.

Some apps, such as Proloquo2go, replicate a staple of the autism field — the sentence builder that kids can use to build sentences using symbols and basic concepts such as “I want.” Such devices have long existed as standalone machines that can cost thousands of dollars. Other autism apps mimic the kinds of flash cards that can be used to visually represent things that one has trouble verbalizing.

AutisMate aims to handle those kinds of functions, but doesn’t stop there. One of its key features is designed to help kids even before they are able to piece together sentences that explain their desires. The scene-builder module uses pictures of the child’s own settings, such as their bedroom, work room, living room and kitchen.

Support for GPS allows the child to see one set of rooms, for example, at home and another set of scenes when at school.

The scene builder can also incorporate a variety of licensed videos to help with other settings, such as visits to the dentist or barber shop, as well as to help educate on concepts such as how to make it clear when they need a break.

Another portion of the app breaks tasks up into different components and time frames, tying completing the activity to a reward, such as a cookie.

At $150, AutisMate is certainly pricier than the average app, but it’s in the same ballpark as Proloquo2go and other comprehensive software for those with special needs.

“It’s generally in the range of apps out there,” Izak said. That said, there are other apps — including free and low-cost apps — for specific functions. There’s even an app, Autism Apps, that is a guide to other autism-related mobile apps.

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Izak left his role at the University of Pennsylvania’s linguistics department to start work on AutisMate. Initially, he did the hands-on programming, but now he serves as CEO of the 10-person New York startup behind the app.

Eventually, Izak hopes to build his tiny company into a larger educational software firm.

“Really, the vision when I started this whole thing was pretty broad — to use modern technology to help those with a variety of special needs,” Izak said. “I started with autism because it was very close to home, and close to my heart.”


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There’s a lot of attention and PR around Marissa, but their product lineup just kind of blows.

— Om Malik on Bloomberg TV, talking about Yahoo, the September issue of Vogue Magazine, and our overdependence on Google