Skip to main content

There are thousands of apps claiming to help children and young people with autism, but which are any good? Sal McKeown from our SEN team selects her favourites.

Start the clock

The top choice of apps for children of all ages is a timer. Use the one on your phone.

When children need to keep track of time an app saves a lot of arguments and disasters.

'Ten minutes to bedtime', or 'three minutes on the cross trainer' are a challenge for those who get lost in their own thoughts, and reminders can lead to arguments, but an app is less confrontational and makes them feel more in control.

Exploring feelings

For younger children, one of the most attractive apps is SmartyPants (Apple and Android) from Inclusive Technology, which lets children explore and talk about feelings.

Smile at Me, an app developed for the iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch, is designed to help children with autism interpret social cues to determine when smiling is a good response.

Book Creator lets children make up their own stories, put in photos, add voices, write text and export them to iBooks. Families with young children might make books about home or nursery, for teenagers the same app is an ideal vehicle for social stories.


Children want to play games and have fun, but many children with autism like something a little more strategic than the shoot 'em up type games. Two of the most popular are Subway Surfers (Apple and Android), an adventure with fast and furious action but with no blood or gore, and Minecraft, where children create a game world that possesses a similar logic to the real world, but can be edited and manipulated quite easily.

Creative types

Some autistic children like art apps where they can paint and create illustrations without getting their hands dirty. Use Shadow Puppet to create a photo story and add an audio track or commentary. Choose a picture of a famous person and use the Morfo app to transform the image into a talking 3D character.

For young children who like music try Music Box Free. It is easy to use, ideal for those with low frustration levels, and has lots of instruments to play. GarageBand is the proper professional package. With a variety of instruments, recording and editing facilities, it's like having a recording studio in your pocket.


For secondary aged students, have a look at Talking Mats Taster, which is a structured way of getting young people with communication difficulties to think and talk about topics such as hobbies, and people they like working with at school. Talking Mats Taster includes 10 symbols from the Leisure (Home) symbol set in a free App for iOS and Android devices.

For those who need communication support an AAC app Proloquo2go on the iPad is a good choice for some young people who need AAC (Assistive and Augmentative Communication). Families and support staff can programme the app with the most useful and relevant PECS symbols which the software will speak out loud. Once this is done it opens up a world of independent communication.

Coping strategies

Brain in Hand is an app to increase independence. It lets users plan out their week, identify with help the possible stress moments, and plan strategies to help them cope. Part of the value of Brain In Hand is it has led to better discussions of problems and coping strategies between the user and their key worker or a family member. The app also features a red button that users can press to call for help in time of crisis.

Social networks

Autism Connect is the UK's first social network for people with autism and their families. It is autism friendly with lots of free information resources, videos for professionals and for siblings.  It is completely free but is only for an iPad and they are looking for further funding to develop an Android app.

Look out on blogs and forums for other suggestions from families because you may find the perfect app to match your own child's interests and enthusiasms.



 Apple and Android

 Smile at Me

 Apple only

 Book Creator

 Apple and Android

 Subway Surfers

 Apple and Android


  Apple and Android

 Shadow Puppet

 Apple only


 Apple only

 Talking mats

 Apple and Android

 Garage Band

 Apple only but imitators on  Android such as PocketBand


 Apple only

 Brain in Hand

 Apple and Android

 Autism Connect

 Apple only






Related articles

  • Special Needs introduction

    Signs of special needs in school age children; how to get help; which type of school to choose; Education, Health and Care Plans ... Read more ... Need help? Perhaps you suspect your child has some learning difficulty and you would like advice on what you should do. Or perhaps it is becoming clear that your child's current school is not working for him or her, and you need help to find a mainstream school which has better SEN provision, or to find a special school which will best cater for your child's area of need.  Our SEN team helps…

  • Anxiety in girls with autism

    High levels of anxiety are commonly seen in autistic people, but it manifests in a different way in girls to boys. Eating disorders, self-harming, and depression can be some of the effects. How can parents recognise and deal with anxiety in an autistic daughter?

  • Autism in girls

    Autism in girls can be harder to spot than in boys, because they are better at imitating social actions. How can parents spot the signs of autism in their daughter, and tackle the meltdowns, eating disorders, and anxiety that come with it?

  • Choosing a residential special school

    When your child goes to a residential special school, the school is only half the picture. It's equally important that you can be happy with the care staff and the provision made for them out of school hours. Here's our guide on how to winkle out the best residential schools.

  • Developing friendship skills

    No-one wants to play with me. Words we dread as a parent. How can we teach friendship skills to children who struggle with appropriate social skills and self-esteem?

Subscribe for instant access to in-depth reviews, data and catchment:

Comprehensive catchment maps for English state schools inc. year of entry.
 School exam results by subject and performance GCSE, Alevel or equivalent.
 Which schools pupils come from and go onto.
 Honest, opinionated and fearless independent reviews of more than 1,100+ schools.
 Overall school performance by GCSE, Alevel or equivalent.
 School data comparison by A/B weighted, relative success and popularity.
 Compare schools by qualities and results.
 Independent tutor company reviews.

Try before you buy - The Charter School Southwark

The Good Schools Guide subscription

 GSG Blog >    In the news >


Educational insight in your inbox. Sign up for our popular newsletters.

This month 'Breducation'

Are you knowledgeable about Scottish schools? Would you like to review them for the Good Schools Guide? Click here for more information.