As a full-time programmer, Matthew kept his eye on the latest tech news. When the iPad was announced, he was immediately drawn to its interactivity as a potential communication and learning tool for his son with autism. When Matthew first presented the iPad to his son, the way he engaged with it confirmed that it could be a powerful teaching tool. The next step was to identify the best ways to harness its interactivity.
Although Matthew was an experienced programmer, iOS was new to him. As soon as he signed up for Treehouse, he started making his way through the iOS Track. Once confident with his iOS skills, Matthew started building an app for his son to teach him the effects of choices on the feelings of others. Prior to the app, they’d used a whiteboard or piece of paper to draw out the cause and effect chain. The app is now a portable and valuable tool that is both effective and helpful for Matthew’s son.
For now, the app is only deployed on his iPad, but Matthew has only just got started with app development. His next goal is to polish it up and release it in the App Store to help other children, as well as develop other app ideas to help teach and reinforce both social and communication skills.
We caught up with Matthew to hear more about the app and his experience creating it.
What first drew you to iOS development?
When I go back to the beginning, I think about when the iPad was first released. Prior to its release, there was a story in Wired magazine about how the iPhone was going to reboot education. Given that my son had been diagnosed with autism we were always looking for new ways for him to both communicate and learn. Knowing that the iPad was coming out in April, I preordered one and had it on day one. When I saw how immediately my son took to it and how intuitive it was, I knew it could be a powerful teaching tool. I needed to learn how to tap into that power and focus the great ideas we’d get from his therapists and teachers.
What were you doing when you joined Treehouse & what encouraged you to learn with us?
I was and still am working as a programmer in the political research industry. I had purchased an iPhone app building course and was disappointed with its quality. A few years ago I signed up with Treehouse via a promotion through AppSumo. I was encouraged to learn from Treehouse by its professional presentation of the material. The courses were well thought out and it showed.
You recently built a valuable app for your son. Can you please tell us about the app and the experience creating it?
Right now it’s just deployed on his iPad because the emojis I purchased are not licensed for wide use.
A key thing to remember with autism is that when teaching behaviors one has to be consistent and more importantly explicit. The intent of this app is to teach the effects of choices on the feelings of others.
The app is based on A-choices (good) vs. B-choices (not good) This is the model used by his school and it works pretty well. The user indicates what type of choice is made which leads to a screen which illustrates the result. If one makes a B-Choice one is taken to a table of A-Choices to be read to or by the user. That list is stored in core memory and can be edited by a parent or teacher depending on the needs of the situation. The phrases and words being read on the other screens are recordings of my daughter I made on my iPhone. Sound was actually a request from a teacher. All or none of the B-choice emojis can be toggled on and off. After the A-choices are read the user then moves on to the A-Choice result for positive re-enforcement. When the app goes to sleep or home button is pressed it jumps back to the home screen so the user can start over.
Prior to the app, one would use a whiteboard or a piece of paper to draw out the cause and effect chain.
This app is meant to capture his attention, be quickly used, and set aside so he can go back to what he is supposed to be doing. It is meant to be simple so he doesn’t get too drawn in as he does with games and videos.
Due to the cyclical nature of political research I had some time this summer so I decided to complete the iOS development with Objective-C Track. It was the Tracks and the way the courses built upon one another that made things interesting. As I would worked through a new course I would file away ideas I had to create something that would help my son. When I got about halfway through the track I started building the app in earnest. Each course helped me add a little more functionality to the app. It was through completing the different courses that I started to see the patterns which allowed me to generalize what I was learning. It’s important that Treehouse instructors are all on the same page when it comes to creating those patterns. I think it’s a real piece of value that Treehouse adds. It’s analogous to a curriculum in a school system.
What has the value of a Treehouse education meant to you?
Treehouse revitalized my interest in learning programming. In particular, I’ve gained an appreciation for the difficulty in programming a solid user experience. People who do it well create real value.
What are your future plans for the app and what’s up next on your learning path?
I’d like to spend some time polishing up the app so I can release it on the App Store. I’d like to think it has the potential to help other kids. I have ideas for other apps which can help teach and reinforce both social and communication skills. I may complete the Swift Track as that’s where Apple’s energies appear to be focused. I also may look into completing the Unity course.
Is there any advice you’d like to share with new students who are just starting out?
My advice is to stick with it. If you can only complete one segment a day that’s okay. Some of the courses may be extra challenging since Xcode and iOS versions have changed since those courses were created. Look at these as extra-credit challenges. Solving those challenges can be especially satisfying. It’s only through solving problems that you really cement some of those concepts. Also, remember that the Treehouse instructors and Community are there to help. They want you to succeed. Finally, when it comes to building apps it’s important to get out version 1.0 no matter what its quality. It’s much easier to edit and improve something than to face a blank screen.
To read more inspiring student success stories, check out the Treehouse Stories Page.