By Casey Daniel
Having trouble deciding which apps are worth purchasing for your child? While it’s fantastic that so many special needs apps are available, it can be tough to decide which ones are the most beneficial. We’ve compiled a list of some of the best special needs apps out there – and written a quick synopsis of how each one works! Read on to learn about some of the best assistive communication and educational apps available.
Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) apps are useful for children who are nonverbal or who have speech impairments. They assist communication and language comprehension with a variety of tools, including text-to-speech voices.
Speech Hero AAC – “The Ultimate Speech Board and Communication Tool” ($99.99)
This iPad app is designed for untrained AAC users, so its use is largely self-explanatory. Speech Hero uses a system of “tiles” to help users construct sentences. Each tile has an illustrated word or concept on it – everything from articles of speech (like “the”) to complex ideas (like “fold a piece of paper”). You can import images to create your own tiles; for instance, a photo of the child’s mother can be labeled “Mom.” Drag and drop tiles around the interface to assemble sentences, which are then read aloud by text-to-speech voices. This app is great for aiding independent communication, language comprehension, and purposeful touch. Read a review and see screenshots of Speech Hero.
If you need a little inspiration, take a look at the winning entries from previous World CP Day competitions.
Scene Speak by Good Karma Applications ($9.99)
This app runs on the iPad and is ideal for preschool-aged children, or kids whose cognitive faculties are around a preschool level. Scene Speak is a customizable platform for creating “visual scene displays and social stories.” This means you can upload images from a computer – such as a picture of your child’s classroom – and personalize the image with “hotspots.” (A hotspot is a section of the screen to which you can add audio samples, text labels, or links to different visual scenes. Scenes can also be grouped thematically into “books.”) Scene Speak helps children connect related ideas, enhance receptive language skills, expand vocabulary, and communicate needs. Get more information, including video tutorials.
SonoFlex Lite by Tobii Technology (free trial version of full SonoFlex app)
SonoFlex Lite is available on multiple platforms, including IOS (iPhone and iPad), Android, Kindle Fire, PCs and SGDs. This app is appropriate for both children and teenagers, but is geared towards individuals with higher-level cognition and language skills. SonoFlex Lite displays a grid of buttons and symbols used to assemble sentences, which are then read aloud by text-to-speech voices. Users also have the option of typing on a keyboard or selecting phrases from a “quick phrases” menu. This app can increase social engagement, fine motor skills, and language abilities. If you find this app useful, consider purchasing the full-version SonoFlex app; it costs $99.99, offers a wider array of features, and is more customizable.
iCommunicate by Grembe, Inc. ($49.99)
According to Grembe Inc., iCommunicate is a customizable iPad app used to “design visual schedules, storyboards, communication boards, routines, flash cards, choice boards, speech cards, and more.” Ideal for speech pathologists, this app uses an image library to assemble visual representations of schedules (like “Go to the park at noon”). Audio messages can be attached to any image within the image library. iCommunicate helps regulate routines and enable nonverbal users to indicate their wants and needs. This app is appropriate for both children and adults. Read more information and reviews.
I Can Speak by Lazy River Software ($29.99)
This iPad app is designed to be simple and intuitive. A nonverbal user can install it and be communicating in sentences moments later. When using I Can Speak, there are two primary areas of the screen – a “static area” and a “dynamic area.” The static area contains phrases with which sentences commonly begin (like “I am”), as well as common words like “and” or “with.” The dynamic area is divided into two lists – Words and Activities. The Words list can contain up to 5,000 different words, while the Activities list holds collections of words needed for different activities (like “using the bathroom”). Once a user has assembled a sentence, an automated voice reads it aloud.
The following education apps are designed to help children learn and practice speech, reading, and even math. Our top picks for educational apps:
ArtikPix by Expressive Solutions LLC ($29.99)
ArtikPix grants kids the opportunity to practice speech articulation using flashcard and matching activities. Some perks of this app include a built-in scoring system and the ability to create and share your own cards, as well as audio and visual options to customize the app to your child’s specific needs.
Bob Books #1 – Reading Magic by Learning Touch ($3.99)
This interactive reading app “introduces and reinforces beginning reading concepts.” Recommended by reading specialists, Bob Books #1 uses phonics-based vocabulary and drag-and-drop tiles to teach phonemes and word recognition. Difficulty levels are easily adjustable, and this app may be used in conjunction with standard, paper-based books from Bob Books.
First Words Deluxe by Learning Touch ($4.99)
First Words Deluxe teaches letter and word recognition to toddlers. This app combines all words from earlier FirstWords apps – Sampler, Animals, At Home, and Vehicles. There are over 100 words for toddlers to learn, as well as two new categories, Colors and Shapes.
TeachMe – Kindergarten by 24x7digital ($1.99)
This versatile app has won awards from About.com, SmartAppsForKids.com, and the Best App Ever Awards. Like a portable kindergarten classroom, it teaches sight words, spelling, basic math, and more! Parents can choose subject matter and adjust difficulty levels. Versions of TeachMe are also available for toddlers and children in the first through third grades.
Montessori Crosswords ($2.99)
This is a word-building game that uses a phonics-enabled alphabet to develop spelling, reading, and writing skills. Montessori Crosswords contains 300+ word-image-audio combinations and interactive visual effects to teach children about language. It is available on both iPad and Android. Check out a review.
Share Your Thoughts
We love feedback, so please let us know how you like any of the apps listed above. Sharing your experiences can help other families make constructive decisions about their own app purchases. We’d also love to know about any special needs apps you would personally recommend, so don’t hesitate to drop us a line – your recommendations might be featured in a future blog!
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