Tips for Choosing & Using Apps for Kids with Special Needs

Finding the right apps for your child with special needs can be an overwhelming task.  At times, the search can also feel like a shot in the dark since many app developers offer little insight into the look and feel of their apps.  This leaves us, as consumers, with limited information prior to taking the purchase plunge.  As mobile technology consumers with the best interests of our special kids in mind, we want to make educated choices when it comes to these apps.  After all, the "Ah, it's only 99 cents, what have I got to lose?" idea only goes so far, especially when that $.99 turns into $29.99, $249.99 and so on. :)

Figuring out the best way to support children with special needs as they use this wonderful technology can also be daunting, and at tines, the importance of scaffolding from savvy and supportive facilitators (the would be you:) is overlooked.  Many apps can help children develop new skills, but they are all utterly useless without the proper support from a facilitator (e.g., parent, teacher, therapist).

Here are a few general tips to guide you through the process of choosing and using apps for children with special needs:

Find Apps on Blogs and App Review Sites Before You Buy: The App Store offers just a snapshot of information about Apps, and since the descriptions are written by the developers, they are quite bias. Many times, Apps will have no reviews or few reviews in the App Store.  Many blogs and review sites offer a more detailed, hands-on description and critique of apps. Here are a few great sites that offer reviews of educational apps for kids with special needs:

Bridging Apps (formerly SNApps4Kids)
Smart Apps for Kids
Moms With Apps
Apps for Children with Special Needs (a4cwsn)
Therapy Apps 411

Be sure to visit "SNEAK's Fav Blogs" and "SNEAK's Fav Links" on the SNEAK homepage for more great sources for App reviews.

Connect with Developers:  Many of the developers who create the Apps we use have websites of their own that you can connect to through the App Store.  Going to developer websites helps you gain further information on particular Apps.  It also helps you see what Apps are coming up from that developer and what other Apps they make that you might want to check out.  Sometimes, developers will even have more screen shots and/or videos that let you get a better idea of the App you are interested in.  Sign-up for email updates from App developers you like so you know when they release new Apps.  Don't be afraid to email developers if you have specific questions.  I have found that most are very willing to talk about their Apps and how appropriate they might be for your child. Some of my favorite developers include:

Grasshopper Apps
Toca Boca
Duck Duck Moose

Check for a Lite Version:  Many of you may be well aware of the "Lite" or free versions of Apps.  More app developers are starting to provide this version for their Apps so that users can try before they buy.  However, the Lite version of Apps doesn't always come up first, so you may have to include it in your search terms.

Watch Video Demos When Possible:  Search You-Tube or App developer websites for video demos and video tutorials.  Add "You Tube" or "video" to your search terms on Google and other search engines in addition to the App title in order to limit your results to just videos.  Videos are an awesome way to see if an App is appropriate for your child.  Check out "SNEAK's Peeks" for video demos of Apps as well (I promise to add more videos soon!:)

Ask Around:  Don’t be afraid to reach out to other parents and professionals in your community and/or   through online forums (blogs) by asking questions about specific apps.

Play With a Purpose:  Most, if not all apps, can be used to target a variety of skills when supported by the right guidance.  Work with the therapists, teachers, and others who support your child to see how you can modify App play to promote your child's development of language, speech, fine motor skills, social skills and cognitive skills.  Incorporate real-world activities around the themes and language in the Apps you present to your child.  For example, Playing Toca Kitchen together to model pretending with toy kitchen items and food and then playing with a toy kitchen set works on
refining real-world skills by creating opportunities to experience what is seen on the App.  Technology is a great stage for practice, but real-world experience is the ultimate tool to build long lasting skills.

How do you find great Apps for your child with special needs?  


Technology for Kids with Visual Impairment

I was recently invited to be a guest speaker on two teleconferences for parents seeking support for their children with visual impairments. These impairments included cortical visual impairment (CVI) and LCA, a genetic condition which leads to blindness. I really enjoyed participating in these calls and gaining some perspective on the information these families are seeking for their kids. They all had such wonderful questions and I admired their innovation and bravery. Although the focus of this talk was definitely geared more toward mobile technology, we also discussed some great computer and web resources to enhance play and learning for these kids. I thought this information might be helpful for other families supporting children with cortical visual impairment and other forms of low vision and blindness.   I thought it might be helpful to other parents to have some of this info as well.  In a series of posts this week, I will share some further tips and resources on technology for visually impaired kids.  Click on the links below for information related to each technology category .:)  I will try to post these quickly this week so if a link doesn't work today, please try again tomorrow!

App List for Kids with Visual Impairment

Tips for Choosing & Using Apps for Kids with Special Needs

iPad Positioning Tips for Children with Visual Impairment

Tips to Assist Motor Access For iPad

Software & Online Games  for Kids with Visual Impairment

What resources are you looking for to help kids with visual impairment?

App List for Kids with Visual Impairment

Here are some great Apps to use with children who have visual impairments.  I will keep adding to this list as I discover new Apps that work well with these kids. :)  Please feel free to recommend other Apps in the comments below and I will add them to this list.  This list is for iPad but many of these Apps are also in Android Form.  You can find them in the Amazon AppStore for Android.

A Few Great Apps for Cause-Effect/Early Play
The apps below work nicely for children with visual impairments because they are visually simplistic and easy to interact with. Many of these apps not only facilitate early, case-effect play, but could also be paired with language modeling to teach many basic concepts and language skills.

Peekaboo Lady Bird Baby Touch
Peekaboo: Ladybird Baby Touch - Penguin Books

Baby Tap
BabyTap HD - 42 LLC.

Tap Bubbles
Tap Bubbles! - Toy Box

Bubbles for Toddlers
Bubbles for Toddlers - popping calming fun! - Yevgeny Kolyakov

Hatch! Plus
Hatch! Plus - Phodder

BalloonMaker - Troy Tegeder

Tap n See Zoo by Little Bear Sees
Created specifically for Children with CVI
Tap-n-See Zoo - Little Bear Sees

Baby’s Musical Hands
Baby's Musical Hands - Streaming Colour Studios

Baby Symbolizer
Baby Symbolizer: High-Contrast Infant Stimulation - HuggaMind, Inc.

Baby Screen
Baby Screen - Planet Sloth

Bright Start Baby
BrightStart Baby: A Bright Start for Smart Babies - Eieio Software

Baby Finger
Baby Finger HD - DJ International

Balloonimals HD - IDEO

Apps That Encourage Vocalizing/Speech
The apps below are voice activated so they are a great way to encourage vocalizing and speech from young kids with visual impairments.  When activated, the apps move or repeat what you say in a funny way.

Bla Bla Bla
Bla | Bla | Bla - Lorenzo Bravi

Talking Carl
Talking Carl HD - Tayasui

Talking Carla
Talking Carla - Tayasui

 Talking Tom Cat
Talking Tom Cat 2 for iPad - Out Fit 7 Ltd.

Talking Baby Hippo
Talking Baby Hippo for iPad - Out Fit 7 Ltd.

Building Basic Concepts
The apps below are simple apps that also encourage basic concept knowledge because they present numbers, colors, and other concepts.

123 Telephone
123 Telephone: Play Phone HD FREE - Victor Ren

Play Phone HD
Baby Play Phone (by Happy Touch Games for Kids) - concappt media

Peek-a-Boo Barn
Peekaboo Barn for iPad - Night & Day Studios, Inc.

Interactive Alphabet
Interactive Alphabet - ABC Flash Cards - Piikea St. LLC

Toca Robot Lab
Toca Doctor HD - Toca Boca

Music and Songs
The Wheels on the Bus by Duck Duck Moose
Wheels on the Bus HD - Duck Duck Moose

The Itsy Bitsy Spider by Duck Duck Moose
Itsy Bitsy Spider HD - by Duck Duck Moose - Duck Duck Moose

Old McDonald by Duck Duck Moose
Old MacDonald HD - by Duck Duck Moose - Duck Duck Moose

Drum Kit
Drum Kit! - On Beat Limited

Sound Shaker
Sound Shaker - zinc Roe

Music Draw
MusicDraw - Remi Piro

Flux Tunes
FluxTunes - Quokka Studios Pty Ltd
Flux Tunes gives kids sight-free access to music on the iPhone or iPad by turning the whole touchscreen into a fully customizable control pad.  You can change songs and perform other functions with simple touchscreen gestures that do not require you to use your sight.


Glow Coloring
Glow Coloring - MobiTech 3000 LLC

Art of Glow
Art Of Glow - Natenai Ariyatrakool

Glow Draw
Glow Draw! - Indigo Penguin Limited

Neon Draw
Neon Draw! - Mark Watson

Glow Tunes
GlowTunes - Chris Martone

Kids Doodle Movie
Kids Doodle HD - Create Movie With Your Drawing - for iPad - Bejoy Mobile

Pretend Play
Toca Hair Salon
Toca Hair Salon - Toca Boca

Toontastic - Launchpad Toys

Toca Home
Toca House - Toca Boca

Toca Tea Party
Toca Tea Party - Toca Boca

Toca Kitchen
Toca Kitchen - Toca Boca

Toca Doctor
Toca Doctor HD - Toca Boca

Art Maker by ABC's Play School - Australian Broadcasting Corporation

My Play Home
My PlayHome - Shimon Young

Visual, Motor, & Cognitive Skills
Sparkabilities by Bottle Rocket Apps
Sparkabilities is an App Suite that includes many different "Segments" designed to develop various skills in babies, including visual recognition, tracking, and color theory.  See the website above for a full description of the science behind this app.  

Sparkabilities Babies 1
Sparkabilities Babies 1 HD for iPad - Bottle Rocket

Sparkabilities Babies 2
Sparkabilities Babies 2 for iPad - Bottle Rocket

Interactive books on the iPad are a great way to get your kids interested in reading.  In addition to Apps with interactive books like I Like Books I Like Books - 37 Picture Books for Kids in 1 App - GrasshopperApps.com you can use the Apps below to create your own interactive photo books.

Scene Speak
Scene Speak - Good Karma Applications, Inc

Pictello - AssistiveWare

Scribble Press
Scribble Press - Scribble Press

Keynote - Apple

Little Story Maker
Little Story Maker - GrasshopperApps.com

Switch Accessible Apps  (non-AAC)
The following Apps are games that can be played using a Blue Tooth Switch for the iPad.

Games by Inclusive Technology
Inclusive Smarty Pants
Inclusive Smarty Pants - Inclusive Technology Ltd

Peeping Musicians
Peeping Musicians - Inclusive Technology Ltd

Five Sharks Swimming
Five Sharks Swimming - Inclusive Technology Ltd

Auntie Maggie's Recipe
Aunty Maggie's Recipe - Inclusive Technology Ltd

Rad Sounds
RadSounds - RJ Cooper & Associates, Inc.

A Few Great Apps for Pragmatic Language/Social SKills

With these apps, you can integrate video, pictures, and speech to create your own social stories and video modeling tools to teach children about social situations.

Model Me Going Places by Model Me Kids, LLC

Video social story library

Video Scheduler by MDR

Stories2Learn, by MDR

Video/Photo social stories and you can create your own.

My Pictures Talk by Gremble Apps

Put It Away, by Leesueh

This app helps children learn how to clean up after themselves! I think it is a really great concept and the fact that it is customizable and FREE makes it even better! I wish it had sound or music :(

Conversation Builder by Mobile Education Store

This app uses pictures and conversational scripts to help kids learn turn-taking and topic maintenance for conversations. One limitation is that the "correct answers" are somewhat limited and there isn't a text to speech option for the written prompts. I think it is a great start!

What Apps do you recommend?