Dordt College News

Dordt professorís autism app concept is Hackathon winner

March 21, 2013

Kathleen VanTol, assistant professor of education at Dordt College, has created an app for autistic children that was won first place in the 2013 AT&T Hackathon. The competition, a collaboration between AT&T and Autism Speaks, solicited the most empowering and helpful ideas for using technology to unlock untapped potential in those with autism.

VanTol’s app concept could become a reality thanks to its first place finish in the school age (K-12) category out of more than 230 submitted overall.

The app, titled “Good Things,” encourages school-aged children to identify and focus on three positive things that happened during their day.

“The app would consist of a menu of choices that could be customized for the student with graphics or clip art, pictures, or words depending on the needs of the student. At the end of the school day or at set times during the school day, the student could identify three positive things from that day,” reads VanTol’s app description. “For example, at the end of the school day, the student might choose these three things from the menu of choices: 1. Playing with a friend a recess; 2. Liked the hot lunch; 3. Did good work in math. Ideally, the app would save these choices by day so there would be a record over time.

“This information could be used in several ways,” the description continues. “At home, it would give the student something to talk about with the family. When everyone in the family is talking about their day at dinner, this child would have something to contribute as well. The family could ask questions or talk about the student’s choices to encourage the child to work on communication and participate in the family conversation. In school, the teachers could use these student’s choices as topics for writing assignments or other activities. The data gathered over time would also be useful for program planning for that child.”

Participating tech savvy developers will now have the opportunity to create the winning apps at the Hackathon on April 12 to 13, in San Francisco, California. Dordt Education Professor Van Tol’s could be one of them.

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