Helen O’Callaghan reports on a new autism assistance app.

A ground-breaking new app that acts as a virtual personal assistant for people with disabilities has revolutionised life in Lorraine Murphy’s home.

The Monaghan mum of three is “not massively techno” yet she finds the Avail app easy to use to set up schedules for her children — nine-year-old Jacob and seven-year-old twins Phoebe and Eva who have autism.

Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) tutor Lisa Marie Clinton developed the idea for the app and supporting software while working with toddler Liam McArdle, who had autism and has sadly since passed away. 

Using step-by-step instructions and through the use of pictures, video, audio and text prompts, the technology allows users — children/adults with intellectual and development disabilities — to conduct day-to-day activities like brushing their teeth or taking a bus, which they’re currently only able to do with assistance.

The task Jacob Murphy uses most is his school morning schedule. 

“He knows how to get into it himself,” says Lorraine, outlining the steps Jacob can now do without her prompting: rise and shine, choose what to eat for breakfast, off with pyjamas, on with school clothes, brush teeth, coat on, get schoolbag and finally ‘reward’ step — ‘Great job Jacob’. 

“It keeps him on task,” says Lorraine.

Jacob also uses the app as a coping tool when he gets upset. 

“If he can’t change the TV channel, he might say ‘ooh!’ and throw the remote.” 

Jacob Murphy (in the stripy top) using the app with Lisa Marie Clinton and Oscar Farrelly Duffy.
Jacob Murphy (in the stripy top) using the app with Lisa Marie Clinton and Oscar Farrelly Duffy.

Encouraged by Lorraine, Jacob clicks into ‘when I get angry’. Steps include ‘use my quiet voice’; ‘I don’t throw’; ‘take a deep breath and count to 10’. He uses his ‘cool off box’, which has items that help him calm down — eg, stretch band and chewy tube. 

“I set my timer for five minutes. He’ll say ‘time’s up’. I ask ‘how do you feel now’. He’ll say ‘I’m happy now’.”

Shopping was a nightmare for Jacob. 

“It was sensory overload — he was just swamped.” 

Lorraine set up a ‘when I go shopping’ sequence and it proved transformative.

“Once he knows the sequence of events, that this will end and how it’s going to finish, he’s OK. Uncertainty is what causes him to have meltdowns.”

Once the child has one schedule down, parents can use Avail to set up tasks for another routine/behaviour that needs improving.

The Department of Social Protection’s North East Division has included Avail software in the Department’s workplace equipment adaptation grant.



Avail benefits:

* Replaces time- consuming techniques such as laminated cards.

* Reduces user’s reliance on other people, thereby promoting independence.

* It’s portable and discreet and uses smart prompts based on the person’s ability.

* Empowers parents to create personalised programmes.

* Outcome-based goals are measure and recorded through Avail web portal.


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