Apps for Parents of Special Needs Children

Community Member

This past fall I broke down and finally bought an iPad. I promise that I don't own any stock in Apple products but I fell in love with this device. It is so intuitive that even someone like me - who is best described as technically challenged - can figure it out. Mobile devices are quickly becoming a part of our daily lives as are "apps." If you don't own a mobile device, apps are specialized software programs or applications which run on devices such as mobile phones, iPads, and iPods. There is probably an app for any topic you can imagine or there soon will be.

One of the exciting uses for apps can be found within the realm of special education. There are apps for everything from learning how to use sign language to behavior management systems. Recently there was a news report about how a father created a specialized app which allowed his non-verbal child to communicate. There is a world of possibilities for how we can use this new technology to help our children to communicate, learn, and even manage their behavior. And the great thing is that many of these apps are relatively inexpensive at $20 or less.

In this post I am going to tell you about some apps that may help you to help your child. Please note that I cannot vouch for the quality of any of the apps described. Apps do not take the place of professional advice or support given by doctors, therapists, and teachers. They are simply an extra resource.

Communication and Speech Apps

This is probably the best sign language tool I have seen in the form of an app. It has an extensive data base of words which you can plug into the app and you will see a 3D character show you the sign for your words. You can also rotate the character, zoom in and out, and change the rate of signing shown. You can also type in phrases and whole sentences. I was very excited to find such an app because seeing signs displayed in a book doesn't quite cut it. Finding the time to take a signing class can be difficult. For ten bucks you can learn some basic language to use with your child.

If you have a child who is having difficulties with pronunciation and articulation of certain speech sounds, this may be a very useful app to use with your child. It is also a great app for speech teachers on the go or the speech therapist who is looking for something fun to motivate the kids. This app presents all the speech sounds and blends in the form of flashcards. You can also record your child's voice to hear improvement in speech over time. It is a little on the pricey side at around $30 on sale.

This is the newsworthy app developed by a dad for his son who has Pitt-Hopkins Syndrome. This app is described as an augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) software application for the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad. If you have ever priced AAC devices before, they can cost upwards of thousands of dollars whereas this app costs less than ten bucks. You can customize this app with your own photos and audio recordings. You can plug in phrases such as "I want drink" or "I want to play" and your child can tap the associated picture and this will cause a corresponding audio to play. Reviews seem to be mixed as the app is in its initial stages of development and there may be some bugs to work out in the process.

For more information on speech and communication disorders please read my post, Teaching Your Child to Communicate.

Behavior Management Apps - ** Behavior Journal**

I was personally very excited to find this particular app as I was looking for a tool to help me take data on my son's behaviors with ease. In a previous post, I explained how an Anecdotal-Behavior-Consequence recording system could help you to find triggers and patterns to your child's behavior. Such a data system can also help you to assess the effectiveness of therapeutic or medication treatment for your child's behavior. This is an app which makes completing an ABC record easy and it also graphs your data Although there were some initial bugs to this app, it has proved to be a very useful tool for us. In less than a month, I was able to look at the data to figure out, in a concrete way, that my son's medication treatment was causing more problems than good. We have now since switched medications and everyone in our household is a lot happier.

While the Behavior Journal app is to be used by parents to help track behavior, the iReward Chart app is an app you use with your child. If you have ever used a star chart or a token economy behavior management system, then this app will be intuitive for you. Basically you plug in positive behaviors you want to see such as sharing or completing chores and then devise a system of how many stars are earned for that particular behavior. The stars are visibly shown on a chart along with the associated reward for having so many stars earned. It makes it more easy and fun for your child to see their progress towards earning a reward.

For more information about behavior management as it relates to ADHD please see our Behavior Management Guide.

Homework Apps

If you have a child with ADHD or other special needs, homework may be a point of contention for you and your child. Thankfully, there are now apps to help get our kids organized and ready for school. This particular app is just one of many homework apps out there designed to take on this challenge. iHomework allows you to set alerts and alarms for upcoming assignments and due dates for homework. It also helps your child keep track of courses, grades, assignments, projects, teachers, schedules and anything else which needs organized. This app can replace paper schedulers or messy binders. I think it could help the child who is falling behind in school due to lack of organization.

There are so many homework helper apps out there that it would be impossible to list them all. Here is but one homework tool which gives simple facts such as the periodic table, grammar rules, and geometry formulas. This is a handy reference for a student who needs to have all their facts and formulas readily accessible for all their school subjects. And the price is right at under a buck.

For more information about helping your ADHD child to become more motivated to complete their homework please read Eileen Bailey's informative article, Ten Suggestions for Winning the Homework Wars.

We live in exciting times. It is my personal belief that we are just beginning to see the implications of using such technology to help our children learn and also manage conditions such as ADHD or autism. I predict that we are going to see some amazing advances in a short amount of time as there is such a great demand from parents who have a child with special needs. I will keep you updated as to the newest and latest apps designed to help you and your child.

In the meantime we would like to hear from you. Do you use any special education apps? Tell us all about it! We are always eager to listen to your ideas and experiences.