REVIEW: VAST Autism 1 – Core (app)

It’s time for an app review!

While we jump into a fresh new year, one thing remains the same for me: I am increasingly interested in the concept of video modeling as a teaching tool for autism. This is partially due to the fact that I can see how powerful video can be for Quentin, who imitates so much ridiculous stuff he sees on television – including gestures and facial expressions. Up until now, I’ve only seen video modeling used to teach social interactions or good behavior, which seems like an obvious choice for teaching children with autism. But could video modeling be used in other ways?

VAST Autism 1 – Core by SpeakinMotion is an app for the iPad or iPhone that uses video modeling to teach speech.  In essence, the app is really a set of well-organized videos that feature a mouth carefully enunciating selected words. Used in the right way, this seems like it can be a powerful teaching tool for children with speech delays or apraxia, which is what Quentin has.

mouth movieThe app is clearly intended for Speech therapists and teachers; this is not an app you should just hand a child and let them explore. In that way, it did not work so well for Quentin who is used to being “in control” of the iPad at home. I watched as he played. He tapped on words (which he may or may not be able to read) and he eventually got to the videos. As he watched, he actually was imitating the spoken words quite a bit. The videos in the app simply display the target words in a plain font, followed by a mouth saying those words. While he was interested in the fact that these were videos he could control (he loves controlling videos with the fast-forward and rewind symbols), they didn’t hold his attention for very long. I guess you could say that a video starring a mouth lacks a certain pizzazz he’s used to.

Really, I should have read the handy User’s Guide first. Featured on the home page of the app, the guide explains that user’s should be assessed for their level first, and then shown the videos appropriate for them. Finally, it is explained that mimicking should be encouraged throughout – even if it is just a small utterance. This kind of philosophy works really well with ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis), which offers rewards for positive behaviors.

Videos are listed in a clear progression: syllable repetition, single-syllable words, multi-syllabic words, phrases, and sentences. You can view full-length videos of each of these, or pick and choose in the separate play lists. One cool feature is that you can create a custom playlist, selecting specific words that you’d like your user to focus on. For an additional cost you can even get the company to do custom recordings for you. (It would be really cool to have the mouth say, “Quentin” – he often struggles to say his own name.)

Another cool feature is the “mirror” function. This is not a real mirror, but makes use of the iPad/ iPhone’s camera on the front. By tapping the “mirror” button you can watch yourself mimic the words in the videos. A nice idea, but I fear that using the camera function is a little too distracting for most kids, as they may associate it with taking pictures. Quentin immediately wanted to turn it off; perhaps he had thought we hit the wrong key.

All in all, I would strongly recommend this app for therapists and educators. Used in a therapeutic or classroom setting, this kind of video modeling might really allow a child to focus specifically on the mouth movements without any other kind of distractions. However, the app might not be as useful in a home environment where a child has certain expectations of being able to play and explore with an iPad on his own. This app definitely needs adult direction to work effectively.


VAST Autism 1- Core is $4.99 and can be downloaded here.
A Spanish version of VAST Autism 1- Core costs $7.99 and can be downloaded here.


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