The World of Apps- They keep on coming!

November 18, 2011

My thoughts on some of the challenges of using apps to help individuals with communication and learning impairments

It’s astounding how much this new world of apps is changing the way I do therapy and run my practice. iPad apps. Droid apps. Google apps. Android apps. Mac apps. They just keep on coming!

I recently gave up my Blackberry for my first iPhone- the iphone 4s just began to explore my KindleFire which arrived a few days ago, ordered a Velocity Micro Cruz Android 7 inch Tablet on Woot two days ago for a deep discount of $70.00, and am about to get a hand-me-down Mac from one of my kids that I will upgrade to run the Lion operating system so I can start to learn about Mac apps rather than just read about them. I strive to use all apps prior to suggesting them to clients or speaking about them in my presentations. In my spare time while I take my son to swimming practice or my daughter to piano lessons, I find myself bringing along my iPad 1 or iPad 2 with headphones to review apps.

My private practice has constantly evolved over the past 19 years, but lately there has been so much to learn I find myself spending more and more time keeping up with the cutting-edge technologies. I feel like I have become an “app consultant.” Calls keep coming in. Everyone wants to know which apps are right for their situations. It’s overwhelming to start from scratch in the iTunes store, Mac Apps store, Amazon store for Kindle Fire apps or Android Marketplace. An increasing number of bloggers feature their favorite apps and offer reviews, but there again, the lists now are quite long. Apps are usually not very expensive except for some of the AAC apps or very robust professionally developed apps, but the cost adds up quickly and it takes time to download and give them a try.

Yesterday I talked to families about apps to help: a woman who had a brain tumor removed, another woman who has memory loss, a man with aphasia and apraxia after a stroke, a 5 year old boy with severe autism, a 3 year old boy with Down syndrome, a 12 year old boy with executive functioning challenges and an 8 year old girl with severe apraxia of speech. I can’t offer concrete guidance on the phone. I have to see each person, learn about their individual strengths and weaknesses as well as goals and interests, explore their environments, speak to others who help them in daily activities and try out what I think may work with the person before sending them on their way with apps that are customized as needed to practice. With each new client I find myself doing research to make sure they have the latest information. I am also preparing for a few presentations and it is incredible how much has changed since the last full day presentation I gave just this past summer. No two presentations are ever alike. Too much changes.

Although I truly believe that the new tablets have quite a bit to offer and may be the most appropriate tool to use in a variety of activities- they aren’t always the most appropriate solution and there are still plenty of challenges to be faced. Some recent publicity has made them appear to be the perfect solution when, in reality, many hurdles still have to be jumped. We can’t forget about the often more robust computer programs which may be more effective for cognitive retraining, reading and studying, communicating or writing essays.

Here are a few of my concerns and thoughts regarding app use and the reasons why I don’t have generic lists of apps to recommend for different diagnoses:

  • It is challenging to select the most appropriate apps as well as online programs and other technology tools to make sure that they are a good fit for the client and their needs and interests.
  • There are some apps that the user is meant to practice with alone, apps that are more appropriate to be used by an education or rehabilitation professional, apps which need to be customized to be effective, and apps which don’t work directly on the skills to be developed but which are great to use for joint attention or to encourage interaction while working on skills in person.
  • Many individuals need to be behaviorally managed while using the apps. These individuals may try to exit the apps, mistakenly touch the wrong locations and need skilled human intervention (with good training from a clinician such as a speech-language pathologist) to maximize the benefit from them.
  • Not everyone has the motor control to interact with apps and may need special accommodations such as switches for input or a different type of device.
  • Insurance companies and schools are now starting to suggest iPads be used as primary dedicated communication devices when children or adults can’t speak, when a more robust dedicated communication device (which is typically much more expensive and takes longer to acquire) with integrated environmental controls, and features to accommodate for poor motor control or learning abilities may be more appropriate. Finding the most effective communication tool is a process and setting it up, teaching the client how to use it and integrating it into daily routines to promote communication skills takes time and expertise. In most cases purchasing an iPad and an app to use is just the beginning and may not always be most appropriate but is often the least expensive and easiest way to provide fast access to a communication tool. In some cases using it as an intermediate step or backup system is more appropriate.
  • Individuals who are “let loose” with a tablet computer to entertain themselves are often difficult to pull back and structure in therapy tasks using apps on the device.
  • If the iPad is going to be an individual’s primary means of communication, these individuals need another device with a different color cover to use as a learning tool or for entertainment. There are now less expensive devices such as the Kindle Fire which makes having two a more affordable option.
  • It is important to keep in mind that if an individual does have a tablet such as an iPad, we should take advantage of the many wonderful integrated tools it has to enhance learning, executive functioning and communication. There is a calendar, address book, still camera, video camera, email, Internet access and many accessibility options such as enlarging print and reading aloud. When used creatively these are also really wonderful supports for individuals with communication, cognitive, learning and literacy challenges.

I’d really like to hear from those of you who are reading this to let me know which apps or computer software/ websites you use and find helpful and whether or not you agree with my concerns. It’s one of my favorite parts about speaking to large groups of people and interacting with you all online. I am always learning from everyone else.

I can be reached at Joan@innovativespeech.com if you would like to discuss the possibility of setting up an individual consultation or  webinar/presentation for your group or organization.

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Now Available!! The Ultimate Guide to Assistive Technology in Special Education

March 26, 2011

My new book is now available which highlights effective resources for education, intervention and rehabilitation. It can be ordered from www.prufrock.com or www.amazon.com.

In this easy to read 250 page paperback book which sells for $39.95, I highlight interactive multi-sensory software, Apps, and cool new cutting edge devices that can be used to help improve speaking, understanding, reading, writing, executive functioning skills, learning and memory. All the info was updated just  before it went to press.  Technology changes fast, but this guide is a great way to get started learning more about the many ways powerful affordable technologies can maximize progress.  It’s great for individuals who are struggling as well as those who just want to benefit from all technology has to offer!

I wrote this book for families as well as professionals to help everyone zero in quickly on the tools and resources which can be used to improve communication, cognition and literacy.  I  provide a brief description and information about where to learn more about many wonderful products, strategies and websites for people of all ages who have speech and language related issues, are “twice exceptional”, “on the spectrum”, who have ” learning disabilities”,  who have been classified as “gifted” and who have had strokes,  head injuries or other illness  which may have caused a delay or disorder relating to speech, language or learning. Everyone has “special needs.” Differentiated instruction is the way to go in terms of maximizing the potential of each individual. Everyone has different learning styles, interests, strengths and weaknesses. Many parents, caregivers, therapists and educators realize that the use of technology is very motivating for young children, older students and adults, but they don’t know where to start in the search for the most appropriate technology tools for their situation.

This book features:

  • My favorite 45 Apple apps out of over 350,000 which are currently available from iTunes.com
  • Over 125 carefully selected software programs
  • More than 40 free online interactive websites

In addition to specific chapters focusing on technology and strategies to improve verbal expression, auditory comprehension, reading, writing, cognition, learning and memory, this guide includes information and resources about:

  • switch software
  • dedicated communication devices
  • voice amplifiers and a clarifier
  • accessible cell and landline phones
  • videoconferencing
  • captioning
  • assistive listening devices
  • text readers
  • word based talking word processors with assistive reading, writing and studying tools
  • picture based talking word processors
  • alternative book formats
  • adapted online newspapers
  • portable eBook readers
  • reading aloud handheld devices
  • word prediction programs
  • online dictionaries
  • graphic organizers
  • typing programs
  • voice recognition software
  • recording pen
  • digital calendars
  • time management tools
  • online document sharing
  • online flashcards
  • social bookmarking and annotation
  • online collaboration
  • adapted email
  • specialized search engines and web browsers
This book highlights a wide range of resources that are appropriate for children as well as adults who have a wide range of communication, cognitive and literacy challenges including aphasia and deteriorating illnesses even though the cover makes it appear that it is most appropriate for students.

To continue to be informed of new helpful affordable technologies as they become available free free to sign up for my free e-newsletter at www.innovativespeech.com. I am proud to say that there are approximately 7,000 other subscribers:)



Literactive.com – Free online site for early readers

December 14, 2010

I’d like to share with you information about this free online website I have been using with early readers. It’s a great way for parents to help their young children at home!

Literactive is a comprehensive phonics based reading program for early readers that provides a library of carefully graded interactive storybooks. To use the site it is necessary to register, then log in- but there is no fee. Parents, therapists and teachers can then decide to work online with guided reading or download activities and worksheets. Many of the activities are available in Spanish.

Guided reading activities start with nursery rhymes, proceed with levels 1-5 and then offer a spelling bee, poetry and traditional tales. I love the bright, colorful graphics and children respond favorably to the cartoon characters in the stories. The stories are entertaining as well as repetitive to facilitate learning. I have seen the successful quick learning create incredible enthusiasm for kids who had not before shown an interest in reading. Children can try to read the text on their own or listen to the story first. If the child needs help on a work, they click on it and the computer then highlights the word and says it then breaks it down into the phonemes visually and auditorally.

The worksheets can be downloaded in a PDF format and contain activities for working on ABCs and pre-writing skills. The Activities section includes ideas for engaging in a number of interactive games.