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?  

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