For young adults with autism and other learning differences, technology serves as a lifeline, particularly during challenging times of transitions. For instance, when students are preparing to graduate from high school and move on to college or join the workforce, it’s easy to become overwhelmed. The support that they once had may not be available anymore.
Fortunately, smartphone and browser-based apps have made huge strides over the past decades in providing skill development and executive functioning support. The following free apps can help young adults with autism and other learning differences learn to focus and accomplish more every day.
Apps to Help with Focus
Not every person with autism has difficulty focusing, but it’s very common for young adults with autism to have trouble focusing on things that don’t interest them. In college and even in the workforce, most people find that they sometimes need to focus on things that are outside of their key areas of interest. When that happens, these apps to help them focus come in very handy.
A highly-rated app for both iOS and Android, Focus Keeper utilizes the pomodoro method of productivity. Users start a 25-minute timer (one pomodoro) with the intention to focus on a single task for that entire time. When the timer expires, they take a five-minute break, followed by a longer break period after completing four pomodoros. The simple app with a visual timer makes it a great option for those who struggle with focus.
Another app that leverages the pomodoro method is PomoToDo. Similar to Focus Keeper, the app allows users to set a 25-minute timer with five-minute breaks in between activities, but this app also integrates a to-do list, so it’s easy to keep track of the activities worked on during a given time span. Users can also note when a pomodoro was interrupted and what interrupted it, making it useful for understanding habits and distractions.
Whether it’s schoolwork or job-related tasks, working online can be challenging due to all the distractions. RescueTime is an app that makes it easy to set limits on certain websites and to block them completely at certain times of day. When users try to access a blocked site, the app displays a simple reminder that the user should be working. RescueTime Lite is a free version with paid premium versions offering more features.
Apps to Help with Executive Functioning
The Harvard University Center on the Developing Child describes executive functioning as “the mental processes that enable us to plan, focus attention, remember instructions, and juggle multiple tasks successfully.“ Although focus can fall under the umbrella of executive functioning, apps to improve executive functioning are more about helping people to remember tasks and organize their lives, which are essential skills for any young adult moving out on their own.
Learning to keep track of daily activities, scheduled classes and meetings, and blocking time out for personal hygiene or exercise can be very helpful for anyone. Google Calendar syncs with Gmail and other Google applications on iOS, Android, and any browser to help with organization. It includes functionality for creating new tasks as well as scheduling recurring reminders. Users can personalize Google Calendar to look and function in a way that suits them.
Todoist is an extremely popular To Do list application that works on iOS, Android, and any web browser. The app allows users to add tasks with due dates, break tasks into subtasks, share projects, and more. It’s mostly free for individuals, but some features require a monthly subscription.
Remember the Milk is another To Do list management application that is designed to help users get tasks out of their heads and put into practice. A simple user interface lets users add tasks and tag them based on categories they create, such as work, school, and personal.
For people who work best with highly visual task management tools, Trello may be a great choice. Trello lets users create an interactive kanban board, where they can create tasks and drag and drop them into different categories based on their status — to do, in progress, finished, etc. Trello can be a great option for organizing big, long-term projects.
Other Autism Support Apps for Teens and Young Adults
Whether a young adult is entering the workforce or going off to college, it’s essential for them to stay healthy and organized. The following apps can help with supporting basically anyone who is struggling with productivity.
Evernote is a classic note taking app that is useful for both students and working professionals. The Evernote app syncs across devices and makes it easy to take a quick note in passing or type out more thorough notes to recount a lecture or an important meeting. Users can also scan and tag handwritten notes or drawings and store them in the app.
Healthy sleep is essential for anyone who needs to stay focused, but it can be a big challenge for young adults who are out on their own for the first time to get enough of it. A transitional period, such as experience at a summer camp for young adults with autism, can be helpful for developing a good sleep routine. Alternatively, an app like Sleep Cycle can be useful. Sleep Cycle helps users sleep with calming sounds, and it tracks sleep quality. The free app also includes customized alarms that use sleep cycle tracking to wake users up at the optimal time for the best quality rest.
How to Support Young Adults with Autism
If you have a child with autism or other learning differences, it can be extremely helpful to find apps that will support their focus and executive functioning. However, many young adults benefit from more intensive support, especially during transitional periods. Transitions offers weekly camps and a career training program resulting in a Certificate of Completion in Career and Life Studies. Each of these programs can help students to reinforce focus skills while also developing independent living skills, social skills, and life management skills. Learn more about Transitions programs.