There are mobile applications for just about everything these days. From convienece and productivity, to games and teaching tools, parent use apps all day long.
Apps geared toward children with special needs have exploded over the past several years. From apps that turn a tablet into an augmentative communication device for speech, to ones specifically tailored to children with a specific diagnosis, more and more companies are gearing their products toward this audience.
Here are some app recomedations from area therapists and parents of children with special needs.
From the Professionals
Norma Honeycutt, executive director of Partners In Learning, recommends Twinkly Twinkle Little Star interactive sing along app. This app is a collection of intuitive and educational games, including the a vivid interactive and high quality production of the beloved song. “It is my favorite because it is so simple. Most children learn through music. This is usually the first song that the children I work with learn. When the star is touched the it moves and when the owl is touched it hoots. There is also a peek-a-boo game. This is a simple first opportunity for children to experience cause and effect.”
Another favorite of hers is Cookie Maker, an app that allows children to virtually mix, cook and decorate a cookie. “It is one of my favorites because it makes the child go through steps to get a final product, a cookie. This teaches sequencing and problem solving.”
Katie Zink, CBRS Therapist for Partners In Learning, recommends Dexteria and Dexteria Jr. This app has won numerous awards and is a set of therapeutic hand exercises (not games) to improve fine motor skills and handwriting readiness. “They both focus on fine motor skills, such as finger isolation, pinching, and tracing. I also use these games to encourage speech, such as “When you pinch the pepper, say ‘POP.’”
She also uses SoundingBoard to turn a tablet or phone into an augmentative communication device. “This allows the user to create a communication board with pictures and verbal words that the child can then pick from to make choices throughout their daily routines.”
Zink also uses Mr. Potato Head during her therapy sessions with young children. This app is a game Zink uses during therapy to work on the childrens’ goals. “It is my new favorite with all of my toddlers,” she said. “They can tell me which body part they want to put on first and where they want Mr. Potato Head to ‘visit’ next. This one also works on fine motor and finger isolation when they move their finger to place the parts in the correct holes.”
Dr. Ashley Deaton, Occupational Therapist ad Co-owner, One Step At A Time Therapy Services, agrees with Zink that Dexteria provides several good fine motor activities for pinching objects and tracing.
She recommends My Play Home and My Play Store. She says these are great apps for real world simulation that can be used as modeling for every day routines and behaviors. “For example, you can pick out and put the clothes on the family members, give them a bath, take them outside to jump on the trampoline, or get food for them out of the refrigerator. With My Play Store, you can go to an ice cream shop and scoop ice cream or you can go to the market and buy bananas and apples and feed them to the family members.”
Deaton also recommends Letter School as a fun, interactive app for learning to write letters. This app also has won numerous awards and is described as an intuitive game to learn all about letters and numbers: writing, counting, phonics and more.
From the Front Line – Mom’s Choice
One of my new favorites is Special Words. The app was created by Down Syndrome Education International, an organization that work with parents and teachers worldwide to improve educational outcomes for children with Down syndrome. The app teaches children to recognize written and spoken words, and encourages their speech development, using pictures and sounds. It’s a great app because it’s backed by research and because it is set up to be motivational, clapping for the child after each round of success.
Another family favorite is Cookie Doodle. An occupational therapist reccomended this to us as an app for following directions and fine motor. Our son enjoys creating virtual cookies, while engaging in speech, fine motor and multi-step direction following skills.
A great pre-school app we also us is Monkey Preschool Lunchbox. The number one preschool game in the iTunes app store, this app offers seven fun educational games for preschoolers about colors, letters, counting, shapes, sizes, matching, and differences. Our son loves the games and making sounds along with the monkey in the app.
Lindsy Maners, mother of a son with Down syndrome, reccommends Articulate for a speech app. “You can program it for exactly what your child needs to work on,” she said. She added that it allows for grouping by letters or sounds and focus and also group by working on beginning, middle, endings. It tracks progress each time as well.
Another mom of a child with special needs, Emily Henry uses Alphabet Aquarium School Adventure. This app provides the opportunity to learn letters through four fun games. “It is great for fine motor and letter identification.
She also recommends Toddler Teasers. This company offers several apps. Henry uses these for teaching shapes. “He knows all of his shapes now he still likes to play it. It also is good for fine motor and matching.”
With the new apps coming out all the time, by the time you try these there will be some new ones to try.
Jill Wagoner is Secretary of the Board of Directors at Partners In Learning and the parent of a son with Down syndrome.
Jill Wagoner is the mother of a child with Down syndrome. She serves as an advocate, writer, speaker, fundraiser, and grant writer for organizations that support children with special needs. A former journalist and current marketer and public relations specialist, Jill has been published in many publications and blogs, including The Salisbury Post, Modern Parent, and Rowan Magazine.