I am frequently asked what apps I would recommend for families whose young children are struggling with transitions, social and behavioral challenges, and communication. I was grateful for the opportunity to contribute some of my top choices to this article on the Parenting website this month! Come on over and take a look!
With Autism Awareness Month coming in April, I will highlight several activities and strategies that I find very effective for this population in my practice. As a speech-language pathologist specializing in working on improving communication skills, social pragmatics, and play with children ages 1-14 who have autism spectrum diagnoses, I frequently recommend Toca Boca apps to my younger clients and their families. Tamara Kaldor, DT, and I also regularly demonstrate several Toca Boca apps in our iPad workshops for parents and therapists.
I consistently find that the young children I work with are drawn to Toca Boca apps. This is because they are colorful, cool, intuitive for kids to navigate independently, and incorporate a wide variety of kids' favorite play themes. The apps are visually appealing without being overstimulating for most kids, and the sound effects are simple and captivating. I also appreciate the developmentally appropriate pacing of Toca Boca apps: they hold a child's attention without overwhelming him with fast-paced action. These qualities are a magical combination for my clients with autism and allow me to use them as fun, effective teaching tools, both in individual sessions and with small groups.
Clinically, many young children benefit from opportunities to formulate novel language around familiar themes. While playing with the Toca Tea Party app, for example, we engage in a fun pretend game talking about what we want to eat and drink, and can target verbal description, simple sentence building, pronoun use, negative forms, e.g., "I want a donut" or "She wants juice in her green cup" or "He doesn't want a donut or cake...give him something different to eat." We love doing similar work with Toca House, where we can learn many early action words that are useful in daily life (e.g., sweeping, washing, mopping, mowing, etc.). These apps also give us terrific opportunities to practice turn-taking with peers because they are motivating - everyone wants a turn!
I also use Toca Boca apps to improve language comprehension, such as practicing how to answer wh- questions during the game: "Where is the train going now?", "Whose hair will you cut?", "What is the monster eating?", "Where should I put this cookie?" and encouraging kids to follow a variety of directions: "Give the chocolate donut to Mommy", "Find the milk and put it on the train". When we incorporate verbal instructions into games like these, my clients are focused and motivated to process more complex information because they're so engaged and relaxed.
In my work with kids with language challenges, I always incorporate sequencing and narrative skills because they are fundamental to conversation and academic development. It can be really fun to take screenshots of great moments we experience (the more exciting or funny the better!) with these apps and print them out so that a child can create her own written story about what she did in the app. For example, we love stories that tell the adventures of the Toca Train or the sequence of events in Toca Birthday Party. This is a great way to create a bridge between a child's favorite app and a more structured paper and pencil language task, and it can be done one-on-one or in a small group.
Finally, the potential use of Toca Boca apps to improve a child's imaginative play with peers cannot be overstated. These are apps that young children consistently crowd around to play together. For kids with language challenges this automatically brings in peers for reciprocal play and social communication practice. It also provides ways for the child with motor impairments such as dyspraxia (motor planning challenges) incredible opportunities to act out typical activities like birthday party, tea party, trains, and house scenarios for the first time. This is hugely empowering for a child who has historically been left out of pretend play activities with peers. I find that my clients frequently surprise the adults in their lives with the play routines and sequences they know when they have a chance to show us with a touch screen rather than 3-D object manipulation.
I recommend you create a Toca Boca app folder on your iPad today, because if your children and students are anything like the ones I know, you'll find yourself with a terrific collection of fun, beneficial apps that you'll go back to again and again!
I want to share my review of a fantastic app that I've been successfully experimenting with in my social cognition work with kids. Popplet was designed to create visual maps, presentations, and brainstorms across environments such as work and school. It would make a great visual mapping tool for kids who are gathering information for a class research project, for example. I recommend you take a look at the examples provided by the developer, because the sky is the limit as far as ways to use this app.
So far, I have used the Popplet app in a couple of really fun ways. First, I found it to be a simple means to create what Michelle Garcia Winner, SLP, refers to as "Friend Files" or a way to store information about other people that we can open up and refer to when we want to make conversation with them on topics they are interested in. For many kids with social language challenges, this is an effective strategy.
In a recent social group, four school aged boys were having difficulty finding common ground in their interests as they were negotiating what to play. My colleague and I were hearing seemingly endless discussion that sounded like this: "Let's be Angry Birds!" "No! I want to do Superheroes!" "No...I'm not really into Superheroes..." "Well I don't even know what Angry Birds IS!" "I don't watch TV at all but I play games on my computer..." I realized that they needed to find common ground, and so I pulled up Popplet on my iPad and we sat together and had a very effective and focused conversation about what each of them likes. Using the lines connecting pictures, I was able to show them visually where their mutual interests or connections were. In the actual Popplet we used, I included a photo of each boy but for the sake of privacy I have taken out their photos and titled them "Boy 1" and so on. We discovered that Phineas and Ferb was the one thing they all seemed to share as a common interest, and so I outlined that picture in a different color border and made it slightly larger to highlight it for them. We were able to print the Popplet and also email it home for the boys to think about during the week; it's a great visual to pull out in group now when they are struggling to figure out what kind of games they want to play.
This week I came up with another fun use. My OT colleague and I were running a social group with three preschool aged girls who wanted to draw. They began to ask us to draw different faces for them, showing various emotions, and because we are therapists who focus on social emotional learning, we spent time talking about how all the parts of our faces change as our feelings change. It is critical for children to learn to interpret facial expressions as a window into someone's emotional state and to learn to show others how they feel by changing their own faces. Therefore we talked about things such as, "If this is an angry face, it will have an angry mouth and even angry eyebrows!" They were fascinated with this. We then decided to let them see these expressions on their own faces. Each girl had a wonderful time recording a range of her own early emotional expressions using the camera on my iPad Mini (perfect for small hands!). With the camera lens reversed, the girls could keep adjusting their expressions as if they were looking into the mirror until it matched the feeling they wanted to portray, and then we'd take the picture. We flipped through the pictures and had the rest of the group guess each of our emotions based on a study of the expressions. This was fun for all of us, and we observed an immediate improvement in social cognition when one girl cried about leaving and one four-year old peer said, "She's sad...I see her sad mouth and her sad eyebrows."
I opened up the Popplet app and very quickly made each girl a Popplet such as my example below. I emailed them to their parents to look at and play with at home for generalization.
Popplet is very simple to learn and use quickly, making it a terrific app to use when working with children. The user can print the Popplet and save it to the camera roll of an iPad or iPhone as a .jpeg. It is also easy to email as a PDF or a .jpeg. You can try it out for free by downloading Popplet Lite from the App Store, but the lite version only allows you to make a single Popplet. I bought the $4.99 version within about ten minutes.
I'd love to hear how you use Popplet with your students and clients!
Yesterday, Tamara Kaldor, DT, and I had the opportunity to present our "I Have an iPad...Now What?" workshop as a half-day professional development session at Erikson Institute here in Chicago. We enjoyed the group of participants, most of whom were parents, teachers, and therapists working with children with special needs. Our audience had a wide range of experience using the iPad - from those who didn't yet own the device to those who have already been using it with children for some time. (Although those who didn't yet have one told us enthusiastically that they would be going right out to get an iPad after hearing us speak!)
Through the course of our workshop, Tamara and I covered some of the "basics", such as how to choose a child-safe case for the iPad, the benefits of a good stylus, and special tools for help kids to create art on the device. We walked participants through the process of enabling the new accessibility feature Guided Access on their iPads and explained how to use it to help kids focus on one particular app. Participants loved seeing a wide range of apps that we recommend for working on communication, interaction, play, transitions and social emotional development, and were treated to some video clips showing us using the iPad in our own therapy sessions with children.
Erikson Institute's TEC Center Program Coordinator Amanda Armstrong live-tweeted the event. You can find her feed at @AArmstrong_CD.
It doesn't seem to matter how long our workshops are, participants' only complaint is, "We want more time!"
For more information on attending or hosting one of our workshops, please visit the iPad Workshops page on my website.
Parents frequently ask how to choose the right type of professional for extra academic assistance. I thought this article on the Child Mind Institute website was really helpful. It advises parents on how to differentiate between a tutor, homework helper, and Educational Therapist, to find the right match for their child.
We are proud and excited to announce the launch of the brand-new Flummox and Friends pilot episode this week! Our show was created, written, and produced by Christa Dahlstrom, parent of an 8-year old son with Asperger’s, and co-created by Communication Therapy speech-language pathologists Liesl Wenzke-Hartmann and Jordan Sadler. It was designed to be a clever, live-action TV show for kids who could use some help learning about social rules and emotional regulation.
“What we love about Flummox and Friends is that it teaches kids WHY we care about social competence. Our message is not, ‘Look at others and listen to them just because we say so’, but rather, ‘When we listen to others and connect with their ideas as well as ours, other people feel good and understand that we are thinking about them and like them – that’s the basis of friendship,’” explains Sadler, MS, CCC-SLP from the Chicago office.
“There are products targeting social emotional teaching on the market,” explains Wenzke-Hartmann, MA, CCC-SLP, from the San Francisco office. “But it’s hard to find something that adults and children can really enjoy together. This show gives families kid-friendly language to demystify and normalize social challenges, showing that everyone is ‘flummoxed’ by social rules at one time or another.”
Funds to produce a pilot episode were raised ten months ago through a successful grassroots Kickstarter campaign. Now, just five days after launching online, Flummox and Friends has been viewed more than 2,000 times by extraordinarily enthusiastic parents, kids, adults with autism, teachers, and therapists who are hoping we will receive funding to create the entire series.
Please help ensure future episodes by following us on Facebook and Twitter and sharing the link to the show with your friends, colleagues, and families. Spreading the word is the best way to show potential investors that there is a strong desire and need for a teaching tool like this!
Here are just a few of the messages we’ve received from viewers this week:
I run a charity in Scotland supporting children with Autism and Aspergers Syndrome as well as being the mum of a 9 year with Aspergers, he absolutely loved the show and I am delighted to share this with the families we support! Well done!
My 9yo son just watched this and he LOVED it. He asked to watch the next one, which you have not made yet. So, he asked to watch the pilot again, but that will have to wait until after school today. He is still humming the tune from the show.
Great show! Very engaging and upbeat messages. Please continue to present more episodes, I am going to share your information with some of the school staff I work with at my son’s school. He is in the Autism program at his elementary school.
This is long overdue! Finally, someone is tapping into the fact that learning starts with empathy and self-awareness, not with the content. I really loved the pilot. I am already imagining ways of integrating this show in my classes, both as a teacher and a teacher trainer. I just wish there was a subtitles option! (Not all of my students speak English that well.) – Anjie Price, English teacher (Nicaragua) [Note: we will release a version with captioning in a few weeks! Watch our Facebook page for the announcement.]
To watch our acclaimed pilot episode, please visit our website. We would appreciate it if you would complete the brief survey on the website as well, and please download a Family Guide or Professional Guide pdf while you’re there, they are full of great activity suggestions and visuals for you!
Links to early reviews:
New TV Project Uses Comedy to Help Kids on – or Near – the Autism Spectrum by Laura Shumaker, SFGate blog
Flummox and Friends Premieres its Smart Social Competence Programming by Jean Winegardner, The Washington Times Communities
Flummox and Friends by Sean Sweeney, CCC/SLP, SpeechTechie blog
Flummox and Friends Video: Our New Favorite Thing by Amanda Backof, MS, CCC/SLP, Speech Language Neighborhood blog
Stay tuned here for future developments!
It is fair to say that, on occasion, the tech-savvy speech-language pathologists at Communication Therapy in Chicago become obsessed with an iPad app. This summer, that app is PaperDesk*. We love this app because it is a fantastic tool for us to use clinically in our pediatric practice and in our “behind-the-scenes” work as therapists. We want to share with you why we love this app and to let you know that it is currently only $3.99 in the iTunes App Store, a 75% savings. (There is a Lite version of this app, but at this price, it’s worth buying, so you’ll have the extra space and features.) Read more about it, be sure to look at the images the developer has shared, and link to purchase the app here.
First, a quick description of Paper Desk. While we have tried various note-taking apps, this is our favorite, hands-down. The developers have created an interface that closely resembles a pad of paper and allows us to type, write, draw, and even record our voices as we are creating a document. The app has 58 fonts to choose from, and it is very easy to change font, color, and style, while typing. What is also impressive is the way PaperDesk allows us to quickly switch to the drawing feature. Insert a photo into the document easily by taking a new one from the camera within the app or choosing an existing picture from the iPad’s photo library. When we are finished with a notebook we have many sharing options (email, Twitter, Google, Dropbox, iTunes, print). We especially love that we can set our iPads to autosync between PaperDesk and Dropbox – this means that all of our work is also accessible on our laptops and even our iPhones at any time.
Clinical Uses: We are only just beginning to explore the clinical uses of PaperDesk with our clients. Certainly, it is an easy way to write and save a play plan or visual schedule for a child in a session. It’s an easy way to add visual aids for a child who benefits from them to aid language comprehension. But we are also loving it for writing quick social stories with our kids. Children love to write stories about themselves and their experiences, and they adore shifting back and forth between typing and drawing – not to mention inserting photos into a notebook! When a child was processing his family’s move to a new house last week, SLP Adria Leno sat down with him and wrote a terrific story with him about what he was experiencing. They drew pictures, typed text, and inserted pictures showing how he felt about the changes. Adria printed the story for the boy wirelessly from the iPad, and he took it home to read again and again and share his experience and feelings with others. Further, she was able to use the email feature to send a PDF copy to his parents in case it gets lost. Next we will try using the recording feature to have a child tell the story for each page of his notebook.
Further, at the recent 2-day Profectum Academy conference she attended in the Chicago area, Jordan used PaperDesk to collect all information that pertained to the event. First, she created a folder titled “Profectum”, then set up a notebook for each of the two days’ notes and filed them in that folder. Rather than handwriting her notes while listening to the speakers, she used a stylus to jot down notes quickly in that day’s notebook. At this conference, all handouts were provided to participants via email in PDF form. When Jordan opened that email on the iPad, these PDF documents had the option to be “saved in PaperDesk” and then filed in the Profectum folder as well. In this way, all presentation documents and participant notes were filed in the same folder in PaperDesk. And remember, Jordan can now access those from her laptop and even her iPhone via Dropbox at any time – extremely handy!
We hope this review will be useful to many parents, clinicians, and teachers – we think this app is well worth adding to your iPads. If you have it, please leave us a comment about how you’re using it!
*Although we frequently receive free apps from developers, we have no relationship with WebSpinner, LLC, the creator of PaperDesk.
Here in the Chicago office that houses Communication Therapyand Chicago P.L.A.Y. Project we are very excited about our work using iPad apps with children with special needs! We have plenty of information to share with you, no matter where you are.
In the Chicago area?
Consultations: Not certain if the iPad is the perfect tool for your child or student? Considering purchasing one as an augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) device but unsure if your child will “take to it” – and which voice output app to purchase? Set up an appointment at the clinic by calling 773-988-0820 to schedule a visit! We’ll show you the best of what’s out there and try apps with your child – and you’ll get our recommendations in writing.
Workshops: Bring us to your school, clinic, or organization for one of our popular “I Have an iPad…Now What?” workshops where we share everything from our favorite tried and true apps to tips on using them with kids – plus peripherals like styluses, paintbrushes, and the best cases for kids! For information on where we will be presenting to the general public next, watch this board. And if you’d like to have us come to you, call us at 773-988-0820 to schedule.
In addition to using these terrific apps with our own clients, we are committed to sharing current information about technology with interested families, clinicians, and teachers around the world.
Readers can find our useful, up-to-the-minute information in many online locations today!
Here’s where to go:
1. Facebook Pages – Be part of the fun! “Like” the Communication Therapy andChicago PLAY Project pages, where we share relevant information on a regular basis.
2. Facebook Group – Join our Facebook group! iPad Apps and Info for Kids with Special Needs. With over 200 members in just a week, this group is bustling!
3. Pinterest – Sometimes words aren’t enough – we like pictures, too! Follow theCommunication Therapy PInterest boards, where you’ll get visuals of our favorite peripherals, apps, and even upcoming iPad App workshops!
4. Twitter – Communication Therapy has nearly 900 Twitter followers at this time –follow us and you’ll see why! We share great articles and other important information related to AAC, iPads, Autism, and Speech Language Therapy.
5. iPad Apps for Autism: A Spreadsheet of Reviews and Recommendations – Created by Shannon Des Roches Rosa with review contributions by Corina Becker and Communication Therapy’s Jordan Sadler, the Spreadsheet was noted in the New York Times Gadgetwise blog as one of the best sources of excellent apps online!
These last few weeks have been very exciting ones for Communication Therapy!
First, on November 28, 2011, our Flummox & Friends Kickstarter project was fully funded! (For more information on this project, read all about it here.) The project met its funding goal 10 days before its deadline; by the end, $33,761 was raised. Amazing! We are grateful to all of our generous supporters, and we will be sure to post an update when the pilot episode is being filmed – we can hardly wait!
The next day, on November 29, Jordan Sadler was mentioned in a New York Times article which provided information for parents on resources for finding the best apps for children with autism. The article, which provides a few excellent links to resources for families, can be found here.
Next up – also very exciting!! – on Monday, December 19th, a fantastic new book called Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism went on sale. The book contains an essay by Jordan Sadler called, “What a Great Speech-Language Pathologist Can Do for Your Child with Autism”, which can also be found here, on the Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism blog.
And, last but certainly not least, the Chicago office has two new therapists on staff! We are thrilled to welcome Adria Leno, MS, CCC-SLP and Erin Vollmer, MS, CCC-SLP. Both are excellent, experienced clinicians and we are so pleased to have them on our team. You can read more about them here.
We hope everyone has had a holiday filled with joy and laughter, and we wish each of you a very Happy New Year!