Sunday, May 27, 2012

Looking Around the House

Over the years I have heard Konner talk about using something called Zac Browser. We first heard about this software when Konner was in head start. Now I knew that this was a site for children with autism, but I had never actually researched it. This seems like a great site, especially for younger children, to help learn how to use the computer.

The problem with most search engines is that they are not kid-friendly. In fact they are geared toward adults to help locate their interests. With this in mind, one grandfather came up with a program to help his autistic grandson navigate the internet easier.

According to the website, John LeSieur, a software developer who has two grandchildren on the spectrum, designed the browser and launched it in 2008. The site states:

At age 5, Zackary was enrolled in a specialized school. One of the proposed activities was to have him spend time using the computer. Zackary didn’t like this activity at all. It seemed that every click lead to a different result than what he expected. On several occasions he simply pushed away the keyboard or threw the mouse.

When I heard about his experience using the computer I asked what software his school was using and I was surprised to find out that Zackary was using a conventional browser with a popular search engine. I thought to myself, “Wow, How frustrating for Zackary” – Zac needed a tool to provide the best sites and protect him from undesirable content.”

This can be extremely true. Konner is a wiz when it comes to the computer. However, there are some very inappropriate things that are very easy to find. With Zac Browser we don’t have to worry as much about what he is doing on the computer.

The browser is very easy to use. You go the website and push the download button. It installs an icon on the desktop which is easy to find and takes you directly to a page with six other icons. These will serve to link the child to kid-friendly pages including an aquarium, television, stories, music, games, and whiteboard.

The aquarium is simply a page with fish swimming around an underwater scene. This seems too minimal, but trust me it used to be one of Konner’s favorite things. In fact, when he was in kindergarten his teacher had a similar item in his safe room and he loved it. It would keep him occupied for a while and calm him.

The television link includes many videos that he can connect with and enjoy for hours. This is great because Konner has recently discovered The problem with youtube is that anyone can upload videos. I have been sitting in the living room and overheard some of the videos that he has downloaded on youtube and had to run to the computer to stop it. With this I don’t have to worry.

The stories button will take you to classic tales which are read aloud. They are also animated which grabs the child’s attention. When I was looking at the site I turned one on and both boys ran to me to watch. One turned into three. I finally had to turn it off so I could continue writing.

The music page included interactive music games and sites. This of course if a favorite of mine, but when I was checking this out Konner got behind me and was entranced at one of the sites. There were band members that you could turn on an off with different styles of music and instruments. It was by FisherPrice and played popular children’s songs.

Games are what Konner used to enjoy the most. He would play with games that were very interactive, and geared toward children on the spectrum. There are also popular games from Angry Birds to Dora and Calliou.

Whiteboard is basically a draw and paint game. This keeps him entertained and lets him explore his creative side. When asked Konner said this and the games were his two favorite things about Zac Browser.

He doesn’t use this as much as he used to, mostly because he has outgrown some of the things on it. The other reason is that he learned how to explore using it and has moved on to other sites. Occasionally he will get on this though and play for hours.

The best part of this is that it is a free download. The site says that, “Over the past 3 years, Zac Browser has helped over 2.5 million children from around the world with autism by providing a free software solution filled with activities and videos.”

I think this is actually a great tool for a child of any age with or without a disability.

Disclaimer: I am in no way claiming to be an expert. I’m just a father who is trying to learn as much about Autism as I can to help my child. I hope that you all can learn from me, and I from you. I ask anyone who has questions or comments about something I have written, or autism, please contact me at I will try to answer questions as I have time, and if I find it interesting enough I may touch on it in my column.

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