Published on Wednesday, March 20, 2013
There's some really good apps out there for iPad's and Android devices that people with disabilities use to communicate with. Some of these apps have even been configured for children with disabilities to use as a communication aid too (AAC apps). When I first came across these AAC apps, my first thought was "man... we could have used THAT earlier today..." and then the thought of my 3 year old sending me an invite to play "Words with Friends" someday kinda blew my mind. The other thing we noticed was AAC apps are not very cheap, so first we wanted to see if our son even wanted to use a tablet. My wife uses and iPad and I use an Android tablet, so both of us began looking into some of the free apps available for each device. At the time we weren't necessarily looking for "special needs" apps or communication aids, we were just looking for puzzles, books, and learning games. Basically we just wanted to see if he could learn to use, play and navigate an app on a tablet. We quickly found out that searching through app after app can get be a little exhausting, and before we knew it our tablets were FILLED with way too many apps to keep track of. We also found out very quickly that some apps were a little overwhelming, deterring, and frustrated Jacob to the point that he didn't even want to use the tablet. It took a little time but after narrowing it down to a select few, this is what WE found useful.
My First Puzzles Lite (Available for iOS and Android)
There's quite few wooden puzzle apps available, but Jacob seemed to like this one the most. The app is easy for him to navigate and the puzzle pieces do not snap back to their original starting point if placed in the wrong location. When a puzzle piece is placed in the right hole, there's a little "ding" that sounds. I think this was a good one to start with because of it's simplicity. Once we saw that he was able to navigate and complete all the puzzles available in the Lite version, we ended up buying the full app ($1.99 iOS and Android) which unlocked the remaining puzzles. This was actually the first thing he learned how to complete and navigate on a tablet. Once a puzzle is complete, there is a back button in the top left corner that brings you pack to the puzzle selection screen.
Barnyard Games For Kids (Available for iOS and Android)
Learning games have also proven to be quite useful. Not only has it helped with his fine motor tuning, Jacob has also been doing a great job learning his numbers and colors. The free version of this app for Android has 3 games available in the lite version, and you can unlock the remaining 6 games if you purchase the full app ($1.99). He did pretty good with the three free games, so we bought the full app. Each game within this app is labeled with the appropriate age level. I thought a couple of the 18 month+ games were good "cause and effect" teaching tools. For example, one of the 18 month+ games is an animated image of a farm with animals. When you touch an animal you hear that animals sound or if you touch the barn doors, they open. As simple as it sounds, I think this helped Jacob learn the effect of touching images on the screen.
The process didn't happen over night, but after a few weeks he really started getting the hang of it. I remember sitting in the living room while Jacob was playing on my tablet, and I started hearing "ding"...."ding"... and then another "ding". I was like "where the heck is that coming from..." I looked down at Jacob and he had three puzzle pieces in the right spots. I was so proud and excited, I had to make him do it again to make sure it wasn't an accident. By the next day he was showing off, hitting the back button and picking out new puzzles on his own. It wasn't long after that when he figured out where the Home button was and started changing to different apps. One thing I will say is if your tablet has an account linked to it, like Amazon Prime, make sure you set the parental controls. Trust me!
I hope this is helpful to anyone interested in a touch screen tablet as a communication aid for their child. Like I said earlier, we downloaded tons of apps and these just happen to be the ones that worked best for OUR son. What works for one kid may not work for another. I'd like this to be considered as a "growing" article. As we come across new apps that seem useful in teaching a child to use a tablet, I will update the article. We're currently putting together our own review of the TapToTalk and Proloquo2Go AAC apps and will post separate reviews for each of them when we're done. We'll be focusing on how well our son is able to navigate and adapt to the application, but we are also interested in reviewing the management interface (if available) for parents.
I provided the links to each app store for the apps we have listed above for your convenience, and so you know which device the app is available on. We don't get paid or anything if you decide to purchase or download an app we've reviewed. This is just our list of what we found useful.
If there is an app you've found that helped your special needs child learn to use a tablet, please share it in the comments below.
Categories: Assistive Technology