While many people use smartphone applications every day for everything from simply flash games to making credit card purchases, Dr. David F. Cihak is using them to help educate children with autism.

Cihak appeared at the UT Science Forum on Friday to discuss how simple apps that can be used by anybody can greatly benefit the education of autistic children.

“Initially these (apps) were designed for people with disabilities,” Cihak said. “But we find that these broad applications can help with (autism).”

After giving some basic characteristics and information about what autism is, Cihak began discussing some of the many apps that he is studying and using to help autistic children.

The first app was the Proloquo2Go, which is designed to help with communication. The iPad screen is filled with cards that have drawings and phrases on each one. An example would have a person waving with the words “Hi/Bye” written below. When a card is tapped, the phrase is read out loud.

While the product, created by AssistiveWare, is designed to help anyone who has trouble communicating, Cihak said that it works very well with helping autistic children who have trouble conveying exactly what they want to say.

Next, Cihak discussed an app called “video social stories.” These are apps that allow visual stories to be created using video, pictorial and audio clips. These stories can be used to help autistic children who have difficulty handling new situations or changes, such as going to get a hair cut for the first time.

Stories can be created to illustrate what will happen during an upcoming event, step by step, so the child will know what to expect and will be able to better handle the new situation.

While there are several different types of this app, a free one is available at http://www.modelmekids.com/iphone-app-autism.html.

Cihak next discussed Touch and Learn — Emotions, which can help autistic children better identify what emotions people are feeling as some children have trouble recognizing facial cues.

Children see pictures of people displaying different emotions through facial cue, and must identify which one is happy or sad. This app can also be used to help an autistic child learn to distinguish between different age groups by picking the photo with a child, teenager or adult.

Touch and Learn — Emotions is also available for free download on iTunes.

But what drew the most interest from the audience were the augmented reality apps. Augmented Reality is when the images seen through a lens and depicted on a screen (such as on a smartphone) are shown with new computer-generated graphics.

The one Cihak demonstrated that drew the most attention was designed to help guide an autistic individual from one place to another. The app, combining the smart device’s GPS and video camera, would locate the person, process directions from getting from A to B, and then show directions on the video screen while depicting the world around the individual.

What would appear on the screen would be the different buildings and streets surrounding the person, but the reality would be augmented to include arrows pointing which way to turn, the walking distance from one location to the next and the time of arrival.

All of the apps Cihak discussed are available to download online, offered for free with the exception of the Proloquo2Go, which is $189.99 on iTunes.

Brandon Swinford, junior in psychology, was very impressed with the presentation.

“I hope to work with kids with autism,” Swinford said. “I’m thinking about and exclusively designing technology for working with autism, so this (program) was exactly something I’d like to see.”

The UT Science Forum meets on Fridays from noon to 1 p.m. at the Thompson-Boling Arena near the Café in Private Room C-D. Those attending are encourage to bring a lunch.

Next week Mark Blevins will be the speaker discussing “This Most Uncivilized War — Reenacting Civil War History in the Classroom.”

You can find the entire Spring Semester schedule at http://research.utk.edu/forum/.