Using an iPads, iPhones or an iPod Touch as an aide to communication with Autistic children, is becoming more and more popular in the States and the UK. I would love to see this technology made use of much more here in Australia, and with that in mind I have put together this list of apps I have found that are very useful (in my opinion) to kids with developmental delays and/or autism, among other disabilities – the possibilities are endless. The machine itself is very easy to use as is most of the software, the touchscreen is very easy to manipulate (even for some with motor skill challenges), children seem to require very little direction when it comes to the use of the screen – most, as have mine, take to it straight away. What is it with kids and technology?
With a lot of parents already owning an iPhone they may want to consider heading off to iTunes and simply searching on the word Autism, about 200 apps will appear and a lot of them are free, all you need do is download and explore. Your iPhone can become your new picture communication book! We have been using the iPad and iPod touch with our autistic children for some months now and we have seen great improvements in their speech and ability to communicate the needs to us, using an app to do so. I can’t even begin to tell you how exciting the change we have seen, especially in Georgie and her speech. I believe every parent needs to know about the ‘tools’ available to them, I found out about this stuff by chance and have now been speaking to various services around my region encouraging the use of the technology. My children favour the Grace App, that’s Georgie pictured below assembling a ‘sentence’ strip to tell me a need.
The following is a list of useful iPad and iPod touch applications that are helping to give kids with Autism a voice.
Apps for Communication.
Tap to Talk – this is a fun talking communication app, all a child need to is choose a picture – tap it, and it will speak their need. The starter app is free and comes with a basic album of fun looking pictures which will get you going – you can upgrade and add your own albums, pictures and sounds. The basic free app however is enough to have in your iPhone when out and about it has enough pictures to meet basic needs. I would consider this to be the most universal app that can be applied to most kids.
Proloquo2Go – this is the most expensive app on my list, but it is the complete package at $249. It is fully functional (no extras needed) communication solution, for autistic children who have difficulty speaking. It has text to speech voices as well. Parents I have spoken to (OS) that use this app say that it the cost is outweighed when looking at buying a AAC device or system such as Go Talk, it works out cheaper. Hit the link to find out more.
Grace – this app will help autistic and other special needs children to communicate effectively by building sentences from relevant images to form sentences. This app is favored by my kids as they are used to using the more basic communication pictures – you know the ones that you have to print out, laminate, stick velcro on and then whack them all in a folder? Yes I total pain in the… especially if you have kids like mine that chew on EVERYTHING, I was reconstructing the set of pictures at once a fortnight! The app is able to be customized with your own pictures, and just like a communication book (PECS) you can assemble a sentence on a strip at the bottom of the screen. This app goes for $45, this may be consider pricey by some but this (so far, in my searching) is the only simple communication picture app I have found the replicates the physical system so well. I have written a review about the Grace app previously you can find it here.
First Then Visual Schedule – This app allows you to create visual schedules (i.e. morning routine or therapy schedule) or steps needed to complete a specific activity, (i.e. using the bathroom). This app has done well with all our kids. It costs $9.99 and is customizable to user needs, you can record your own voice and use your own images. I have used it create step by step morning routine schedules – Starting with toilet, wash hands, breakfast, teeth brushing, dressing etc. It has been useful when a change in routine needs to eased through, especially in kids that need structured routines.
AutismExpress – This app helps kids express emotion or interpret them, it is free and is a lot of fun for kids to play. The app features face picturing different emotions which – when tapped – bring up a bigger picture of the face which animates, like laughter for ‘happy’ and has a sound effect too.
Model Me – This app is all about Social stories. Social stories can be a life saver when you are going places and need to ‘prep’ your child for the outing. The free app comes with six slide show stories, like going shopping, getting a hair cut that takes the child through a virtual tour of the outing with pictures of a child doing the same and speech telling the story.
YES NO – Very simple, one screen app with two buttons. Ask the child a question and they can respond by tapping the red No or green Yes, the answer is also vocalised as well. Cheap at $1.19
Apps for Fun & encouraging speech – these are apps which we have used with our kids to encourage talking through play.
First Words – you can get sampler versions of this app for free, but in my opinion it really worth paying the six bucks to get the full app – it helps kids learn letters and words, even if they can’t read yet. They can assemble a word by moving the letters around till they find the right spot for it, once they have a whole word the picture animates and the word is spelt then said whole and a sound effect is heard. My four-year old daughter plays with this app constantly and her speech has really come along.
Baby Go! – this one is very simple. They are presented with a screen filled with blocks with letters on them, they touch a block and it says the letter. Keeps my toddlers amused in waiting rooms very well, there are versions available for your Blackberry and iPhone too.
My First Puzzles – great for preschools, the app looks like a virtual wooden puzzle – very easy for kids to pick up and do.
ABA Flash Cards – these are awesome. Your child will be presented with either a screen that has three picture choices on it or a single picture, a clear voice will ask them to find an item or ask them which item doesn’t belong, about every six ‘card’ they will be rewarded with music and a rolling ball will appear for them to play with for a short time. My kids do very well with these apps, some are free but the paid apps (at only $1.19) are worth getting for the variety. The only downside, as with most apps is the voices – either British or American accents, but you get used to it.
Fun Free Games for the iPad!
Feel free to share this list with anyone who needs it 🙂 I hope it has been useful.
Click here to find my previous rantings, writings on Autism.
And just one more thing, if you have a kid like mine that doesn’t like to be parted from their iPod, or you are worried about them dropping them – then you may be interested in these handmade cases. I have yet to find similar commercially made ones, I have bought two of these and they are well made, padded & adjustable.