AT&T and Autism Speaks Hosting Hackathon In Honor of Autism Awareness Month


Published 2013-03-20 (Rev. 2013-06-03) -- Autism Speaks and AT&T teaming up to host mobile app development competition or hackathon of Autism Applications.

Contact Details: For further information please contact AT&T Corporate Communications

Quote: "While AT&T has hosted more than 30 hackathons, this is the first AT&T Hackathon solely dedicated to the development of apps for individuals with autism"

Definition: Defining the Meaning of Hackathon

Hackathon - (also known as a hack day, hackfest or codefest) is an event in which computer programmers and others in the field of software development, like graphic designers, interface designers and project managers collaborate intensively on software projects to collaboratively code in an extreme manner over a short period of time, usually at least a few days and generally no longer than a week. The roots of hackathons are with open-source projects and especially noted in the context of OpenBSD development. Most recently, many companies have adopted the hackathon concept.

Main Document

Mobile technology has changed the way we organize, learn and connect, and that's especially the case for those living with autism. But Autism Speaks and AT&T believe that we can do even more. That's why they're teaming up to host a mobile app development competition, or a "hackathon," and they want the public to share ideas that they'd like to see made. Those close to autism answered the call with more than 200 app ideas posted to Autism Speaks' Facebook page.

From an app that shows peaceful scenes to help calm a child down from a sensory-overload to an app that sends an automatic message or phone call to a teen or adult with autism of a voice of someone they know and trust, the app ideas addressed many unmet needs in the autism community. Community voting (nearly 1,200 votes) narrowed the apps down to 12 winners in four categories: apps for those on the autism spectrum who are verbal, non-verbal, school-aged (K-12) and adults.

In honor of Autism Awareness Month, AT&T and Autism Speaks are hosting an Autism Hackathon where developers will have 24 hours to 'hack' an autism app based on the ideas submitted. These developer teams will be vying for $20,000 in cash prizes for the winning apps.

While AT&T has hosted more than 30 hackathons, this is the first AT&T Hackathon solely dedicated to the development of apps for individuals with autism, and the first time the app ideas were crowd-sourced from the public.

The Autism Hackathon will take place on Friday, April 12 and Saturday, April 13 in San Francisco.

12 App Idea Winners:


Always with Me!

IDEA: An app that sends an automatic voice message or phone call to an autistic teen or adult so that the user can always hear the voice of someone that they trust. This can ease anxiety if there is a break in the routine and they are not able to be with someone at a certain time. If they are alone with someone new, they can have that trusting voice in case things go awry.

BENEFIT: This app will help those with autism live, work and play a little more independently when they are away from their routine. It can allow them to be a little more accepting of environmental changes.

Bi-lingual Autism Feelings App

IDEA: An English/Spanish App, that would show a face making an expression of feeling and then underneath the face, the emotion would be identified in both English and Spanish (for example, J = "happy" and "feliz.")

BENEFIT: The app would help children with autism in multi-cultural homes to express their emotions and recognize them in others.

Family Member Picture Flashcards App

IDEA: An app that allows the user to take a picture of anyone and save it with their name and family relation to the individual with autism. There would be many different titles available for choice when saving a new family member, including pets, friends, different relations due to re-marriages, and even an option to enter your own title if one to your suiting isn't available.The app would have two modes: "random" and "my whole family."

  • Random - Any family member's picture can appear on screen at random. Tapping the picture will flip it over like a flashcard. On the other side - in large, easy to read letters - the name and relation would appear. There should also be an option to have the information read aloud. Then the user can move on to the next randomly selected family member.
  • My Whole Family - This mode presents all saved family members on screen, allowing the user to select their family member of choice.

BENEFIT: A simple game featuring loved ones would help to build memory skills and familiarity with family and friends. Existing flashcards don't last long due to wear and tear and aren't customizable the way an app can be.


Noun Identification for Nonverbal Toddlers

IDEA: An app with flashcards already set up that can be customized by taking a picture with your device or uploading pictures from your phone. The parent or caregiver can then enter the word that the picture is intended to represent and record their voice revealing the answer.

BENEFIT: Existing noun identification flashcards for the non-verbal community often don't look enough like what the individual with autism encounters in their day to day life. A simple app to help children with autism begin basic noun identification with a picture of their own shoes and their parent's voice as they go through the flashcards could really help them identify certain items.

A Trip to the Dentist

DESCRIPTION: Have an app that would completely explain what is going to happen when they go to the dentist. Explain how the chair will go back, they need to open their mouth, rinse, etc. For more background, please refer to this Wikipedia article on social stories and the social story on going to the dentist from the Center for Pediatric Dentistry.

BENEFIT: In my experience, the number one complaint of parents with nonverbal kids it that it is very hard to go to the dentist. An app that explains in simple terms exactly what will happen would make going to the dentist so much easier. The parent could take the tablet with them and show them the app pictures as the cleaning is taking place too.


Good Things

IDEA: This app would allow students to focus on the positive things in their day by providing three menu choices that could be customized for the student with graphics/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. 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 at 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.

BENEFITS: This app would serve several purposes. First, it helps students to focus on the positive things in their day. Guiding our students to identify the positive things that happened in their day can help them develop a more positive self-image leading to better self-determination. Secondly, this naturally leads to better communication with families about their child's day at school. Many children come home and only remember the bad things in their day or don't say anything at all. This helps parents to know that their child is having good experiences as well. Finally, the collected data builds a record over time of what is working for this child which can be invaluable when planning for programming for that child.

Calming Scenes Reduce Sensory Overload

IDEA: This app would provide calming scenes for a child in sensory overload to look at and interact with to help them 'come down' from the meltdown. The user should have several scenes to choose from, for example:

  • A fish tank with the option to add your own fish or accessories
  • A night sky with the option to add your own stars or planets
  • A bed with the option to add your own stuffed animals or blankets

BENEFIT: Getting a child with autism to come down from a sensory overload meltdown is very difficult, but this application could make it easier.

Picture Scheduler/Daily Organizer

IDEA: The app would consist of many pictures (small blocks) that either the child/student could arrange themselves or an adult could help them. Each block would be a picture representing the activity they do during each specific time of the day. The pictures can serve as cues to help them identify what activity they are scheduled to do. The app could have a built in alarm clock or reminder with the set picture to pop up when it was time for that activity. No loud ringing or startling noises, maybe just a vibrate option.

BENEFITS: Working in a special needs classroom with many autistic students (all ranges), we used laminated photos to help them put together their schedule for the day. We also had picture cards to help them connect to what the activity was and learn the word or words associated with it. I think this app would benefit in that we are taking what so many apps have already done - gone from paper, to interactive technology. The pictures on the app could make use of this technology by allowing the child/teen/young adult to 'plan' their day and incorporate the use of technology.


Independence Maker

IDEA: A task app that you can tie specific info to each task. Can schedule short term and long term tasks with any repeat option. Reminder could also be location specific. Can tie pictures, notes, or contact information to each task. Examples: a weekly reminder to vacuum the floor with step-by-step pictures to guide you through the task, a daily reminder to check in with your family with a 'click to call' button built in, or a reminder to talk to a coworker that comes up with notes on how to start the conversation. Many interfaces for apps that may be similar are juvenile or too complex. This customizable app would have a simple but mature looking interface that would not only allow the individual to successfully navigate the tasks in their life but make them look good in the process!

BENEFIT: Many adults on the spectrum need concrete information presented to them at specific times. This app will help them navigate their day while providing them with the information they need to be successful when and where they need it.


IDEA: The app would display agencies and organizations in the local that provides assistance to individuals or parents of kids with autism and autism friendly community events, including autism friendly movie showings, events, retailer, service providers, restaurants, caregivers, etc.. You should be able to filter the results based on the type of assistance you need, and it should provide you with contact information, services offered, etc. Additionally, for special events, like Walk Now for Autism Speaks, there should be a push notification.

BENEFIT: Families/individuals will be able to access these agencies without the run around and will be more easily able to find new resources if they move. It will bring everyone together! It would give families a way to connect with other families, and easier access to any service in the area. It would also be a method for organizations and companies that provide these special services to advertise to people who need it most or would be of interest to.

Related Information:

Health & Disability Apps for iPhone & Android Mobile Devices - Disabled World
VoiceOver Compatible Apps for iPhone and Mac - List of handy and accessible compatible VoiceOver Apps for iPhone and Mac computers for persons with disability - (Published 2011-03-06).
iPod Touch Helps Adults with Autism in the Workplace - Apple iPod Touch helps adults with autism function in the workplace - (Published 2012-09-03).
ComApp 3 from Special Learning for Those Affected by Autism - ComApp3 offers a fully customizable adaptation using a simple-to-use icon-based system that adheres to the principles of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) - (Published 2013-02-15).
Special Needs Apps for Kids - Information on using the iPad iPhone and iPod touch Apps with children who have special needs - (Published 2011-04-12).
  • Apps for College Students with Special Needs - Several helpful Apps for students with special needs attending college including class schedules note taking and audio recordings of notes - (Published 2012-02-09).
  • Verbally - Free iPad App for Speech Disability - Verbally is a free communication aid for people with speech disabilities caused by apraxia ALS stroke traumatic brain injury Parkinsons cerebral palsy autism spectrum disorder or muscular dystrophy - (Published 2011-07-25).
  • ADHD Organizer App for iPhone - The ADHD App was released on 17th May 2011 and is described as the ultimate tool to help you lead a better life with ADD or ADHD - (Published 2011-06-28).
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