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Web browser for autistic kids eliminates frustration

Published June 9, 2008 12:00 am
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2008, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

John LeSieur is in the software business, so he took particular interest when computers seemed mostly useless to his 6-year-old grandson, Zackary. The boy has autism, and the whirlwind of options presented by PCs so confounded him that he threw the mouse in frustration.

LeSieur tried to find online tools that could guide autistic children around the Web, but he couldn't find anything satisfactory. So he had one built, named it the Zac Browser For Autistic Children, in honor of his grandson, and is making it available for free.



The Zac Browser greatly simplifies the experience of using a computer. It seals off most Web sites from view, to block violent, sexual or otherwise adult-themed material. It presents a hand-picked slate of choices from free, public Web sites, with an emphasis on educational games, music, videos and visually entertaining images, like a virtual aquarium.

LeSieur's browser essentially takes over the computer and reduces the controls available for children like Zackary, who finds too many choices overwhelming.

The Zac Browser disables extraneous keyboard buttons like ''Print Screen'' and turns off the right button on the mouse. That eliminates commands most children don't need anyway, and it reduces the chance an autistic child will lose confidence after making a counterproductive click.

Children using the Zac Browser select activities by clicking on bigger-than-normal icons, like a soccer ball for games and a stack of books for ''stories.'' The browser also configures the view so no ads or flashing distractions appear.

''We're trying to avoid aggressive or very dark or complicated Web sites, because it's all about self-esteem,'' LeSieur said from Las Vegas, where he lives. ''If they're not under control, they will get easily frustrated.''

Autism generally affects a person's ability to communicate, and Zackary doesn't speak much. But his mother, Emmanuelle Villeneuve, reports that the boy can start the Zac Browser himself. He enjoys listening to music through the program and trying puzzles - things he has always liked before but hadn't been able to explore online, she said.

Perhaps most tellingly, while he still acts out aggressively against the TV, she said, he doesn't try to harm the computer.

LeSieur didn't create the browser by consulting with people who are considered experts on autism. The small software company LeSieur runs, People CD Inc., essentially designed the Zac Browser to meet Zackary's needs, and figured that the approach would likely help other autistic children. Early reviews have been positive, though LeSieur plans to tweak the program so parents can suggest new content to add.

On the Net

* The Zac Browser can be downloaded or run directly from www.zacbrowser.com.

 

 

 

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