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Autism and other neurological disorders affect millions of people around the world and can pose significant challenges for those directly affected and for parents and caregivers. Together the conditions are known as autism spectrum disorders (ASDs), and a person affected is said to be "on the spectrum." Fortunately, innovative use of technology is helping people with autism and related conditions live fuller, more productive lives. Autism software may be designed to build skills, foster expression, and creativity, or even assist with autism research. Some programs originally designed for other purposes have been embraced by autistic users.
Computers and technology have proven popular among many people on the spectrum. Many individuals with different types of ASD have exceptional visual thinking skills or respond well to imagery. As a result, software with a high emphasis on visuals is popular among many with autism or related disorders on the spectrum.
Software specifically tailored for autistic users is available from both commercial and non-profit organizations. While much of this autism software is aimed at children, it can usually be used by anyone. Some programs use flashcard-styled interfaces to help users associate images with words or phrases and build language skills. One web browser designed for autistic children hides traditional computer interface elements and uses pictograms for navigation. Software designed for smartphones and other portable devices can also assist some users with communication skills.
Autism software can also be used to collect information for autism research. One group of researchers known as the Autism Collaborative has created a video game designed to compile a variety of behavioral information from users during gameplay. These researchers hope that by exposing autistic children to different types of stimuli at the same time, new insights about autism can be gained.
Some programs not originally designed as autism software have gained fans within the ASD community. One notable example is 3D design software, which both requires visual thinking skills and encourages creativity. A number of children and teenagers on the spectrum have found this type of software very compelling.
There are also useful types of software not necessarily directed at autistic users. Web-based platforms exist that enable parents to exchange information, track treatments, and even store information for use by physicians. Researchers have also demonstrated that software may be capable of detecting signs of childhood autism in speech patterns long before the onset of other symptoms.
Working in the software industry could even be a career choice for some individuals on the autism spectrum. Many people with ASD excel at tasks where others would simply lose concentration or interest. Several companies have come to see the persistence, focus, and high attention to detail exhibited by many on the spectrum as valuable traits for software testers.