Chicago-area Easter Seals gets grant for iPads

Mobile apps educate, entertain children with special needs

<a href="http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/speech-with-milo-verbs/id405441288?mt=8#ls=1">Speech with Milo</a> ($2.99 on iTunes) helps kids with speech problems, and includes resources for parents and therapists.
 
 

By Elizabeth Diffin

Senior Editor
 
Dr. Willkomm’s tips on finding the right app
  • What to look for: Does the app come with instructions? How easy is it to use? Do you have multiple screens you have to go to? What functional abilities are required? What's the font size? Are words highlighted as they're being read? Is there any interactivity?
  • What to avoid: The biggest thing is if apps are too complicated. Ideally, you want one touch and something happens, (otherwise) you'll lose the kid's interest.
  • How to know if an app is right for your child: Read reviews. You have to be careful of those apps where they don't allow reviews. Word-of-mouth is important. At conferences, ask people what they're using, what's cool that's out. Try to stay on top of it.
  • How to tell if an app is working: The first thing we notice with kids is in terms of their focus and concentration. How much time do they spend with it? Are they engaged? If a kid is engaged into something, I view that as very successful.
  • Who to talk to: Speech and language pathologists, occupational therapists, physical therapists-all of these professions are getting up to speed on these apps. They're the ones who are trying to guide families and make good decisions.

"There's an app for that."

Even for the tech-challenged among us, that Apple-trademarked phrase is inescapable. For parents of kids with special needs, there is a growing list of apps ready to help and increased interest from the medical and therapeutic communities in tapping into this technology.

There are apps that let non-verbal people communicate through image, ones that help correct speech problems, and ones to help kids understand their symptoms better.

Easter Seals DuPage and the Fox Valley Region just received a $40,000 grant from the Tellabs Foundation to buy 12 iPads, eight iPod Touches and apps specifically for use with children with autism.

"Children with autism face varying degrees of challenges and every child is different," says Kathleen Post, Easter Seals assistive technology therapist. "Assistive technology devices can enable these children to have a simple way to communicate by using relevant images to build sentences and an audio component to share their message."

Beyond the apps that help children relate to the world, therapists believe the "cool factor" of the technology will encourage typically developing children to interact and form friendships with kids with special needs.

But while mobile apps have become a useful tool, it can be difficult to find the good ones.

"There's no opportunity to really try out any of the apps," says Dr. Therese Willkomm, director of Assistive Technology in New Hampshire. "You can read about it, but unless you have an opportunity to try out an app, you don't know it's going to work."

Later this year, Wynsum Arts, a social enterprise in Georgia, will debut a search utility to sort apps based on an individual's specific criteria.

Gailynn Gluth, founder and CEO of Wynsum Arts, has a son with Asperger's syndrome and knows the difficulty of being bombarded with information.

"When I got the diagnosis, I was just overwhelmed," she says. "I want to take that responsibility off the parent."

The search utility is compatible with iTunes and will use standard ratings, prices and app images from that site. Wynsum Arts will also form a panel of professionals to devise a "seal of review" for apps.

Momswithapps.com also includes a listing of special-needs apps built by their own family-friendly developers.

For her part, Willkomm has identified 189 apps suitable for use by those with special needs, many of which can provide key benefits of more expensive technologies at a fraction of the cost.

"There's a tendency to think, the more money the better. That's not true," Willkomm says. "A lot of these really cool apps are priced reasonably. Some are even free."

Since apps are so cheap - Willkomm considers anything pricier than $4 to be "really expensive" - they are more disposable. If an app doesn't seem to be working, parents can delete it and swap in a new one.

Apps work so well for people with special needs in large part because they are intuitive and don't require extra tools like a pen or computer mouse.

Gluth points out that the ubiquity of these devices means kids with special needs can use their apps much more discreetly than other assistive technologies.

Willkomm says parents can use apps that aren't thought of as educational or therapeutic - like Koi Pond and Uzu - as rewards or "fidget apps."

And though the wide world of apps can be overwhelming, Willkomm has already seen good results within the special-needs community.

"I really think the iPad is something in our lifetime that has changed the way we look at interactive media," she says. "I'm just constantly finding more and more apps."

Easter Seals DuPage and the Fox Valley Region just received a $40,000 grant from the Tellabs Foundation to buy 12 iPads, eight iPod Touches and apps specifically for use with children with autism.

"Children with autism face varying degrees of challenges and every child is different," says Kathleen Post, Easter Seals assistive technology therapist. "Assistive technology devices can enable these children to have a simple way to communicate by using relevant images to build sentences and an audio component to share their message."

Beyond the apps that help children relate to the world, therapists believe the "cool factor" of the technology will encourage typically developing children to interact and form friendships with kids with special needs.

Gluth, whose son has an iTouch as part of his IEP in an inclusive public school, also thinks these apps provide a unique opportunity.

"We're only at the beginning," she says. "As (parents) express their voice, they can influence."

Dr. Willkomm’s tips on finding the right app
  • What to look for: Does the app come with instructions? How easy is it to use? Do you have multiple screens you have to go to? What functional abilities are required? What's the font size? Are words highlighted as they're being read? Is there any interactivity?
  • What to avoid: The biggest thing is if apps are too complicated. Ideally, you want one touch and something happens, (otherwise) you'll lose the kid's interest.
  • How to know if an app is right for your child: Read reviews. You have to be careful of those apps where they don't allow reviews. Word-of-mouth is important. At conferences, ask people what they're using, what's cool that's out. Try to stay on top of it.
  • How to tell if an app is working: The first thing we notice with kids is in terms of their focus and concentration. How much time do they spend with it? Are they engaged? If a kid is engaged into something, I view that as very successful.
  • Who to talk to: Speech and language pathologists, occupational therapists, physical therapists-all of these professions are getting up to speed on these apps. They're the ones who are trying to guide families and make good decisions.
 
 
 







 
 
 
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