Special iApps: exceptional apps for children with special needs including autism

special iapps

Special iApps is a variety of exceptional apps aimed to teach a range of concepts to learners with special needs, including autism.

The apps are clutter free and minimalistic, great for an easily distracted learner! There are no annoying in-app purchases or adverts that could be pressed at any time and take the learner away from the app. This enables the learner to use the app as independently as possible. Having a minimalistic design also ensures the learner is only focused on the task rather than any background images, menu bars of other distractions.

The Special iApps range was developed by the parents of a son with Down syndrome alongside parents, teachers, speech and language therapists, and other professionals.

 

The range of apps include:

Special Stories
Touch Apps
Special Words
Special Numbers
My 1st Signs
Match and Find

Special Stories

My favourite app in the range is ‘Special Stories’ which allows you to easily put together a customised story featuring photos or pictures and recordable sounds. I especially like using this app to make stories that feature the child and aims to teach something such as a step-by-step task or appropriate social behaviour, like a Social Story.

asd teacher special stories

 

The above photo is taken from a Social Story I put together for a child, although I’ve changed the child’s photo to my photo for the blog! It can be much more interesting for the learner if the story features photos of themselves or familiar people and objects.

The audio feature is great as well because it means you can record yourself reading the sentence, enabling the child to listen to the story independently. Or it may be that you record the child reading the story or saying a word. The choice is limitless!

This is a great and easy way to create motivating stories that aid the learning of reading skills, language skills and social skills.

Touch Apps

The Touch app range feature different early learning themes with each app focuses on one of the following themes:

  • colours
  • numbers
  • words
  • shapes
  • emotions
  • animals

special iapps wordsThe app shows a clear photo or picture. When the user touches the picture, the word is revealed and read aloud. When the screen is tapped again, the next picture appears. I like the pictures and the font used in the apps as they are very clear.

special iapps colours

For children who are at the early stages of learning language, whether they are verbal or non-verbal, these apps enable the user to hear the language and pair it with the image by just tapping. I love hearing one of my pupils repeat the words after tapping the picture!

 

Special Numbers

The Special Numbers app is a great maths teaching resource which covers themes including:

  • counting
  • matching numbers
  • ordering numbers
  • same or different?
  • how many?
  • matching numeral to quantity

The app allows you to edit the level for different abilities which has been really helpful in extending pupils learning and for also seeing progress! For example, on the ordering numbers activity, you can set the amount of numbers from 5 all the way up to 20.  This is definitely a brilliant app for teaching different early maths concepts with the ability to control the level of which the child is working on.

special numbers

Special Words

Special Words is a great app for teaching key vocabulary and early reading skills. The themes covered in the app include:

  • matching photo to photo
  • matching word to word
  • matching word to photo
  • matching photo to word

This is a motivating way for children to take part in activities involving these early reading skills. There is audio on all of the activities and therefore, the word is read aloud when the child successfully matches the photo or word. This enables the child to hear and learn the key words and also encourages the child to say the word aloud.

special words                                           special words 2

 

I highly recommend these apps for teaching children early reading and math skills, and not just for children with special needs, these apps are great for teaching all children with their clear images, audio and distraction free interface.

I am yet to try ‘My 1st Signs’ and ‘Match and Find’ but I look forward to using them!

Download the apps here:

app store            play store

Intensive Interaction

I really love and appreciate the Intensive Interaction approach to learning early communication. I have had many positive and rewarding experiences with my pupils through the approach.

“Intensive Interaction is an approach to teaching the pre-speech fundamentals of communication to children and adults who have severe learning difficulties and/or autism and who are still at an early stage of communication development.” (Intensive Interaction)

Here is a video of what Intensive Interaction looks like, with commentary from Dave Hewett who is one of the founders of the approach.

 

 

Whilst taking part in Intensive Interaction, the child will lead and you will join in with the behaviour of the child. This could include copying movements and vocalisations whilst giving the child time to respond. These interactions could be close in proximity, or with a lot of space in between They could be active and noisy, or calm and quiet. It all really depends on the child. These interactions should always be fun and enjoyable!

I particularly enjoy using Intensive Interaction with my non-verbal students and have had a lot of positive feedback from them, by laughing and giggling and showing me they are enjoying it. It is also very noticeable that enabling a child to be the leader in an interaction can be so empowering to them and it’s always very interesting to see which direction they take the interaction. For some children with autism, interactions where they lead can be few and far between and so Intensive Interaction can be interaction that they can enjoy.

I had a really lovely interaction with a non-verbal pupil the other day in the park where I was mirroring his movements and vocalisations and he started jumping on to the floor and back up on to a bench and each time he did, he looked up to my face and smiled (this is quite rare!). We continued doing this for a few minutes before leaning over the back of the bench where again he looked at my face giggling and laughing. He was clearly enjoying the interaction and so was I!

If you are a parent or carer of a child with autism or you know or work with a child with autism, I would highly recommend learning more about the Intensive Interaction approach or watch some of Dave Hewetts videos on YouTube and find out more about this very empowering and rewarding approach to teaching the pre-speech fundamentals of communication.

3 great symbol resource websites that are totally free!

Many children with autism are visual learners. Showing a child a picture can be much more meaningful than telling a child what to do. Pictures can aid a child’s learning and support them to be independent.

An example of using pictures or symbols to aid learning and independence: dressing and undressing

Dressing and undressing can often be a challenge for a child with ASD as it can be unclear to them which item of clothing they need to put on first. A visual picture aid sequence can show the order of clothes the child needs to put on. Once a child understands the routine of using the picture aid, the child can follow it and get dressed without having someone telling them what to put on or by physically giving them the next piece of clothing. The child is therefore able to dress them self.

 

www.visualaidsforlearning.com

visualaidsforlearning.com

A brilliant website offering free, great quality, colourful visual picture resources is Visual Aids for Learning. There are many great picture sequences to download including morning routines, toilet training, getting a haircut and appropriate behaviour. I would highly recommend looking at their range of free visual pictures for use at home and school. I have used many, especially the toilet training ones! (See my post on toilet training)

 

www.do2learn.com

Do2Learn

 

Do2Learn is another great website offering free quality picture resources. These picture resources are clear black and white line drawings. As well as great picture resources, this website is very informative and details how to use picture cards for communication, schedules, behaviour and living skills. There is also a great teacher toolbox on the website with information about adapting a classroom for children with autism.

 

ARASAAC http://www.catedu.es/arasaac/index.php

asd teacher

ARASAAC is the Aragonese Portal of Augmentative and Alternative Communication. This website hosts a vast range of colour and black and white pictograms, photos and the site also includes a spanish sign language video catalogue and audio files of over 17 different languages. You can search the range of pictograms and pictures easily and download single files. I also really like that you can add a spoken phrase to a photo or pictogram and insert them into a symbol creator. This is a great resource for making symbols and pictures for using at home or for preparing a child for change.

 

Do you know any other great free picture or symbol resources? Let me know in the comments below!

Review: ChoiceBoard Creator, a free app I use regularly in the classroom

choiceboard creator

ChoiceBoard Creator is a great resource for creating your own customisable choice boards. This could be a choice board for giving a child a choice such as what they want to eat for lunch or to use as part of a comprehension activity such as answering “which is?” or “where is the?” questions (e.g. “where is the dog?”). The choice boards can be made of  photos or text, based on your child’s needs and ability. It is very easy to make the choice boards as the app brings up the iPad’s camera roll so you can instantly use photos. The app allows you to make a choice board of up to 6 choices with the ability to put a sound affect such as a reward of applause! You are also able to record your voice. This is how I am using the app in the classroom at the moment:

One of my pupil’s current IEP targets is to show understanding of “where?” questions. I made the following choice boards:

choiceboard creator

 

choiceboard creator

 

When doing this activity with the pupil, I will read the question to him and he then has to press the correct answer. I recorded my voice saying the object for when the correct object is pressed. If he presses on the wrong object, nothing happens. The pupil is highly motivated by the iPad and when doing this activity, I can see if he is understanding the question and the name of object. I will increase the number of choices as he gains more confidence in correctly answering from a choice of 2 with a few different objects.

This app also enables you to make great choice board for activities or food for your child to show you what they want to play with or what they want to eat.

For more information on choice boards, read my recent post on how to make a choice board here

Signing for children with autism

Steph ASD Teacher
Signing is not just used for and by children who have hearing difficulties or who are deaf. Signing is used in many schools teaching autistic children as a way of reinforcing speech along with symbol use. Sign can help children learn key language. For some non verbal children, single signs can be taught as a primary form of communication by repeatedly modeling the sign in the correct context in order for the children to learn to use the sign spontaneously to request an item or need.

As a teacher, I use sign in the classroom by:

  • Signing key words whenever I say them. Pairing spoken language with sign and symbol can help a child learn the key language.
  • Teaching children signs in the correct context in order for the child to learn the sign. For example when teaching the sign for ‘more’ (often the first sign taught) when in the correct context for a child wanting more, maybe the child is reaching for a biscuit or putting up their hands in order you to continue jumping with them; I would say “more” at the same time as modelling the sign for ‘more’ in order for the child to imitate. If the child will not imitate the sign then I would start by physically modelling the sign by taking the child’s hands and moving them into the ‘more’ sign at the same time as saying the word “more”. This paired action is repeated over different motivating contexts in order for the child to learn how to spontaneously sign ‘more’.

BSL and Makaton

British Sign Language is taught to and used by children who are deaf or who have hearing difficulties. BSL is an official language of the deaf community where every word has a sign. BSL has it’s own grammar as well as word order and there are different regional dialects. For children with ASD, not every word is signed, it is only the key words as well as spoken language. This is often referred to as Makaton. Makaton is a language programme using speech as well as key signs and symbols to reinforce key words. Makaton uses signs from the sign language of the particular country it’s being used in so therefore most of the signs used in Makaton in Great Britain are taken from British Sign Language. Find out more about Makaton here.

Last year I had a non verbal child in the class who went from imitating single signs to putting 2 and 3 signs together spontaneously! Both I and his family were very pleased with his progress but I was very aware that once this child went home, he was unable to use his knowledge of signs and communicate this way with his family as his family did not know the signs. I therefore created short video clips of the signs he was using so the family could learn the signs at home.

Find a motivator…

Food can often be a great motivator for children and is therefore a good starting point for teaching children some signs. The following videos feature signs that are commonly used in schools across Great Britain although some signs may differ depending on the school or child. In order to have consistency with school and home, I recommend checking with your child’s teacher whether in class they are using Makaton or different signs.

Banana

Carrot

 

Please let me know if you would like to learn any other signs or post a comment below.

Setting up a choice board at home to aid communication and implement structure

ASDTeacher choice board

The School Setting:

A school setting for an autistic child should be highly structured and have familiar routines that the child can anticipate. Communication is encouraged through speech as well as sign, symbols, photos and objects, depending on the ability of the child. A classroom set up specifically for autistic children would tend to be low arousing (plain walls so it is not too distracting) with objects and toys organised neatly and clearly labelled.

To encourage communication for children able to understand symbols or photos, the child would have to ask for an object of choice through speech, sign or through giving a picture or a symbol sentence to an adult of the desired object in exchange for the object. You will be aware if  your child uses pictures or symbols at school.

The Home Setting:

The home setting tends to be less structured and toys and objects tend to be freely available and open to the child. This can be great for some children and families as it promotes independence and enables children to do things for themselves. In some circumstances, having every object freely available to a child can lead to a child having free rein of the house and taking whatever they want as and when they want it, which for some families can cause many difficulties.

If a child is using pictures or symbols to enhance communication at school, there is no reason why you can not use them at home. Encouraging a child to ask for an object whether its is a favourite toy or a drink can promote good communication between the child and family members. Apart from aiding communication, having a picture choice board can also enable the child to use 1 object at a time and if managed consistently and encouraging a child to tidy a toy away if asking for a different one, could also help to reduce the amount of mess!

The Aims of the Picture Choice Board

– Encourage communication by giving the child a means to request a particular object.
– Promote a communication exchange with a family member- the child requests by giving a picture card to a family member who then responds by giving the desired object.
– If a child can talk, it gives a child a visual prompt to use the correct language.
– Narrow the selection of choice down- there could be a selection of as little as 2 choices or 8 plus!
– Implement structure, routine and familiarity which could help to reduce anxiety

 

Making a Picture Choice Board:

Minimum requirements:

Pencil and paper

Maximum requirements:

Computer picture editing programme (e.g Microsoft Word)
Access to the internet/ digital camera
Laminator
Scissors
Velcro

Here is one way of making a picture choice board. Say your child’s favourite objects to use at home are;
Tangle toy
Lego
Thomas the Tank Engine Puzzle
Gym ball
Computer
Spin top

You can find pictures of all of these easily by searching on Google Images. Here are the pictures I found:

 

gym ball                       tangle                      spin top

 

 

Windows-PC                         Thomas-the-Train-jigsaw-puzzle                       lego


The picture needs to look the same as the actual object in order for the child to make the connection between the picture and the object. Alternatively, if you have a digital camera or phone with a camera, you can take a photo of the exact object. You may also be able to find symbols that your child can understand and generalise to different types of one object (e.g puzzle for multiple types of puzzle). One good free symbol website is Do2Learn and there are many others (I will write a post on this at a later date!). Schools are lucky to have funding for symbol computer programmes to make numerous good quality symbols, but they can be very expensive.

communication photo choice board

Once you have found appropriate pictures, they can be printed on one page for the child to point at or they can be cut into individual pictures. I would recommend buying a laminator and laminating sheets to make durable individual pictures. Laminators start from around £10 for the cheapest  and go up in price for better quality. Believe me, I would not be able to run my classroom without a laminator!

If you do not have access to a computer then it may be worth trying a drawing of the object, it may make just as much sense to a child as a photo depending on the child’s ability. Here is 2 examples of drawings I have done!

 

asdteacher spin top picture card

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So it is easy enough to make individual drawing picture cards or below is 1 way I have created individual picture cards on the computer programme Microsoft Word (you can use any editing programme):

ASDTeacher choice board

I have created these pictures into individual picture cards ready to be cut and laminated. I positioned the pictures, wrote the corresponding text below (for the child to pair the text with the picture to develop their reading skills) and then I put a box around them to separate individual pictures.  I used Microsoft Word however, you can use any computer programme that edit’s pictures.

Download picture cards example PDF

Once you have made some picture cards, you may want to use velcro to attach them to a board (perhaps a laminated piece of A4 paper). Velcro is another essential for ASD Teacher’s!

Using the Picture Choice Board

Ensure all of the items on the choice board are definitely available to use. Place the choice board somewhere within the child’s reach and view such as on a table or on the side of a unit. Make sure that the child does not get the item they want until they give you the picture card (or point to it depending on what your child is used to doing). This will be very hard at first as your child may be used to taking the objects whenever they want by themselves. If necessary, place your hand over their hand and physically prompt them to give you the picture card and then give them their desired object straight away. After doing this enough times, a child can learn that when they give you a picture card, they get the corresponding item and will request by themselves. Make sure these physical prompts are gradually reduced as the child learns what they need to do. Be consistent with using the choice board and make sure whenever an item is requested, the child gets it.

Remember, not all children can recognise pictures, photos or symbols. Ensure you know your child can before trying to introduce a system like this.

Please ask any questions in the comments and I will reply as soon as I can!

Strategies for toilet training a child with autism

I currently have an 8 year old child with autism in my class who has not peed or poohed in the toilet before. He is a bright, non verbal child who definitely has an understanding of when we is doing a pee or poo and so, this made me eager to help him get him out of nappies as soon as possible. To start with, I made him the following visual schedule, which I made using free symbols from the website Visual Aids for Learning (see my post on free symbol resource websites here).

toilet visual schedule

When we take him to the toilet, we refer him to the visual schedule, so he must look at the symbol and then follow through that action. To begin with, this was with a physical prompt from the supporting adult. The physical prompts were then gradually reduced to verbal and gestural prompts as the child began doing more himself. We are 4 weeks in and he is doing these steps with mostly no physical prompts and just a simple verbal or gestural prompt for each step. We have been taking him to the toilet at very regular intervals throughout the day (on his visual timetable) and he has access at all times to a toilet symbol to request to use the toilet. This same routine is happening at home and he has the exact same visual schedule which is being used at home. Good communication and consistency between home and school is very important for toilet training.

This is all very positive, however the child is yet to wee or a poo in the toilet. In fact, he is holding it in all day and over the last 4 weeks he has urinated in his pants only about 3 times. This is most likely because he has been so used to doing a wee and poo in his nappy and now that the nappy has gone, he is holding it in. My next plan of action is to show him some more visuals of using the toilet and hopefully catching a wee in the toilet soon. An update will shortly follow!!

1 month on update:

It has been 1 month since I wrote this post and 2 months since we started toilet training and I am happy to say that the child is now urinating in the toilet and also requesting to use the toilet through symbol or sign! Yay!

The consistency of undergoing the same process of using the visual symbols and waiting for the child to do each step as well as modelling key signs and language have been a great help. He has yet to poo in the toilet but we will keep working on this.

How has your experience of toilet training been? Please post a comment!

Free iPad apps I am using in the classroom

I currently have 1 iPad for my class of autistic children and I use it for 1 to 1 and group sessions. IPads are extremely motivating and rewarding for any child and the learning opportunities are endless. Here are some of the iPad apps me and my class love to use.

 

POCKET POND

Pocket Pond

by TriggerWave LLC

“Create relaxing ripples while you enjoy the sounds of nature. Interact with the fish – scare them, feed them, and watch their schooling behaviour”.

Pocket pond is a great cause and effect app which is a favourite of most of the children in my class. When the screen is touched the pond ripples and the fish swim away. The lifelike sound effects make it feel like a real pond.

 

GRID PLAYER

Grid Player

by Sensory Software International

Grid player is an augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) app which uses widget symbols and speech. The symbols can be pressed to create a sentence. All of the children in my class are using the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) and I am currently using this app with 1 of my pupils who is at a more advanced stage of PECS and has a large vocabulary. As I have not been using this app for that long, I feel I am yet to use it to its full potential. Grid Player can be used with different grid sets and there are over 12,000 widget symbols. I would definitely recommend parents, teachers and speech and language therapists to download and explore the communication opportunities of this app.

 

ILOVEFIREWORKS LITE 

Screen Shot 2013-02-03 at 18.54.22

by Fireworks Games

Ilovefireworks is another great cause and effect app where you can create fireworks displays by pressing the screen. With 3d graphics and real sounds, this is another favourite of the children in my class!

MYCHOICEPAD MEMORY

photo

By My Insane Logic Ltd.

“A simple, fun and engaging way to aid language development and learn Makaton.”

The MyChociePad Memory game is a simple matching pairs game using Makaton symbols. Once a pair of symbols have been matched, a short video clip of  the Makaton sign is shown for the child to practice. This is great for practicing and learning new signs. There are 3 different game levels so 4, 6 or 8 tiles can be chosen. Core vocabulary symbols and signs come with the free edition of the game and over 100 signs and symbols can be purchased for £4.99 in the full edition. This app will be great for parents and teachers to learn signs as well.

Another favourite iPad app used in our classroom is Cause and Effect Sensory Light Box (£1.49). I wrote a full review here

What are your favourite apps? Let me know in the comments section below.

 

Sand timers for children with autism

I cannot stress enough how valuable sand timers are for children with autism and teachers, parents and any one else working with children with autism. Sand timers clearly provide a visual aid and count down to the end of an activity and can be used in daily routines and during lessons. Sand timers can be used in any setting including at home. They can also help children to develop an understanding of time. I always use a sand timer to show when an activity is coming to an end followed with a verbal countdown from 5.

Poisson Rouge, a great online learning resource

If you’re not aware of Poisson Rouge, I recommend you have a look at it now! Developed by a team of linguists, graphic artists, musicians and educational psychologists, Poisson Rouge is an amazing free interactive children’s website full of activities and games and autistic children will love it!

The great thing is there is no text or instructions and the screen is easy to navigate. There are lots of great activities which can develop hand-eye coordination, mouse skills, number skills, reading skills, music, different languages, colour and so much more! All of the children I have taught across the primary age with or without autism could all learn and play independently on this great online educational resource.

“No text, no instructions, but carefully designed visual environments and soundscapes make
Poisson Rouge Interactica’s productions resemble nothing else in the interactive world.” http://www.poissonrouge.com/

What do you think of Poisson Rouge? Can you recommend any other great online resources?