I’m continually impressed and amazed at how much impact the iPad is having in education – and especially in helping students with autism or on the autism spectrum. So I’m delighted to share this guest post today, covering 10 great iPad apps (and one great iPad case) for Students on the Autism Spectrum.
This post was written by Cathy Hoesterey. Here’s a little background on Cathy and her qualifications to write on this subject:
Cathy Hoesterey is an assistive technology specialist and occupational therapist living in Bellevue, WA near Seattle. She works for Belllevue School District in the special education department providing technology for special needs students ages 3-21 years old.
Cathy presents at national conferences and gives webinars on iPads and other assistive technologies. Her blog iPad for All is designed to support iPad users of all ages and abilities, as well as educators, therapists and families. She finds the overwhelmingly positive response of her students to the iPad energizing and rewarding.
As an assistive technology specialist working with special needs students for many years now, I’ve seen a lot of technology come and go. However, I have never seen a device so engaging and versatile as the iPad. In the past it was not uncommon for a student to abandon an expensive communication device because it was too complex to use, heavy and often unattractive. The iPad has a certain cool factor with students and their peers that cannot be underestimated. Teachers and family members are also more willing to use it.
ABC News recently reported that a government survey of parents says 1 in 50 U.S. schoolchildren has autism. The definition of autism has expanded to include less severe and related conditions such as Asperger Syndrome. I work with dozens of students who have significant communication needs, the majority of them with autism. The apps that follow are some of those that we most frequently use with students on the autism spectrum. Of course, every student’s needs are unique so we do customize the iPad or other device to meet their particular needs.
Proloquo2Go and other Communication Apps
Proloquo2Go by AssistiveWare is our go to app for students using augmentative and alternative communication (AAC). It’s rich with vocabulary organized for beginning communicators on up to those who need a more complex core vocabulary. For those who don’t need symbol or photo support for each word, there’s an option to type in messages with word prediction. Recently Proloquo2Go released some advanced children’s voices which are a tremendous improvement over synthesized voices options for kids previously available. There are also voices that speak English with accents. One of our students from India was thrilled to find a voice with an Indian accent.
Because we have the option of putting this $189 app on an iPad2 or iPad mini, it’s opened the door to giving more students the ability to communicate. In the past, we relied on specialty devices ranging from $4,000-$12,000 each. Typically the children with the most severe communication needs were getting access to a device. Now we have over 65 students using an iPad for communication. It’s not just the money saving factor, we trial each student with devices to see what is the best fit and the iPad frequently comes out on top.
There are some apps like AutisMate and Go Talk Now with the option for scene based communication. This allows a picture of a room or other location to have embedded hotspots that open up to relevant vocabulary or video clips. For students who may prefer to type their communication messages, AssistiveChat and Something to Say give them that ability.
This free app by Grasshopper Apps uses beautiful photos, has 1,000 lessons and gives the ability to create your own new boards. There are Flashcards that have a word and picture. Students can play mini-games by touching the correct photo or matching up images to the correct word. Word and sentence builder have the child drag and drop letters or words into the correct sequence. It’s easy to create new boards that can be tailored to their curriculum. Grasshopper Apps offers numerous free and inexpensive early learning apps that offer flexibility and customization that is so important for our students. Kindergarten.com has nineteen excellent ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) flashcard apps that are worth exploring too. The iPad versions now collect data and offer other enhancements.
FotoFarmHD uses Google image search filtered for kids. Since many of our students with autism use photos for communication programs and visual schedules, this provides a quick and easy way to find appropriate ones. I like the way it often gives you images with a clean white background, which cuts down on distracting elements. Let’s say Kevin needs a page about his favorite restaurant and menu items for a communication app. You can go an find a McDonald’s logo and pictures of hamburgers, fries, etc. using this FotoFarm HD. Now Kevin can go to McDonalds and order his meal independently by touching the photos and having the app say the item aloud.
Many of our students on the autism spectrum use visual schedules to help them navigate various routines throughout the day. Traditionally visual schedules were made with picture symbols that were laminated and then velcroed to boards. Now we can create all kinds of different visual schedules that are much less labor intensive and don’t have to keep track of all the bits and pieces.
The Choiceworks app by BeeVisual offers three different types of boards and each can be customized. The Schedule board allows up to eight steps and when an item is done you slide the finished task to the all done column. The Waiting board has a timer that counts down. The Feelings board helps to identify emotions and create strategies to cope in a positive way- such as when they are feeling angry or frustrated. Over 150 images are included or you may use your own symbols or photos. You may also record audio.
Toca Hair Salon 2
Teachers and therapists report this and the original Toca Hair Salon being all time favorites of our students. Even adults love this app. Students can play Toca Hair Salon 2 independently or take turns playing with others. An “error-less” activity, means there is no right or wrong way to play it. Characters in a beauty salon get their hair shampooed, cut, blow dried, curled, straightened, or dyed and accessorized. The characters interact by making funny noises and facial expressions. We had one student with selective mutism start talking while she was playing this with some other students. She blurted out “Don’t cut her hair!” much to her own surprise as she clapped her hand over her mouth. But it was just the beginning as she began verbalizing more and more during therapy as she relaxed and enjoyed using the iPad. Her increased verbalization has now carried over into the classroom.
Toca Boca makes lots of other wonderful apps that all invite kids to use their imagination, explore and learn through playful activities.
Before the iPad came along, we used the desktop version of Time Timer red visual countdown clock to help students on the autism spectrum see how much time was left in an activity. This helped make transitions smoother and avoid meltdowns. Now we load the iPhone version (it is a simpler version of the iPad Time Timer) on iPads. I use Time Timer on my iPhone when giving presentations and webinars as it allows me to see at a glance how much time is left and pace myself accordingly.
Speech Journal by Mobile Education Store creates books that allow you to pair recorded voices with an image. Don’t let the name fool you, it’s not just for speech therapists. You or your student can create social stories, talking photo albums, illustrated multi-step tasks for job skills training and more. You can use the iPad camera to take a photo from within the app or use pictures from the photo album.
We put our all our iPads in Otterbox Defender cases. It protects them from drops, spills and rough handling. With more than 130 iPads and iPad minis now being used with our special needs students, we have not had a single damaged device (knock on wood). Not so for the convertible tablet PCs we used prior to the availability of iPads. I have a boneyard of those devices with cracked screens and missing keys. For some students we had to purchase the more extreme military grade toughbooks, but at a price.
What I like about the Otterbox Defender is the built in screen protector, the rubberized case that recesses the glass surface so it doesn’t hit first, and the cover that doubles as a stand. A sturdy, stable stand is important for students using it as a communication device, so it does not slide around a desktop and can be used in a variety of positions.
Of course there are many other outstanding apps that I have found useful not included in this article. I plan to share many of them in my blog iPad for All. I try to keep my blog user friendly so beginners as well as families, users with disabilities, educators and therapists can all find something useful.