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The Top 10 iPad Apps for Special Education

Empowering independence in SPED learners: There’s an app for that!

This article, with an exclusive video interview, originally appeared in T.H.E. Journal's June 2013 digital edition.

The iPad takeover of public education isn’t just confined to the mainstream classroom: Special needs educators, too, are finding that  iPads can be a vital tool to support independence. What sets the iPad apart from other devices is the simple and visually robust user interface that can be used by almost everyone. It’s also a highly customizable device that can be set up with applications and assistive features to support a variety of special needs.

With nearly a million apps in the iTunes App Store, identifying effective apps is often an overwhelming task for educators. At The Children’s Institute (TCI) in Verona, NJ—a school devoted to children with autism and related special needs—we have reviewed hundreds of applications to rate their appropriateness for our students. Teachers submit reviews of the apps that they find successful and publish them on the school’s app review blog. They also publish these reviews on the iTunes App Store for the benefit of teachers and parents around the world.

When reviewing applications for special education, there are a number of components we consider, including:

  • Differentiation: How adaptable is the application to the population you are serving?
  • Alignment: How well does the application align with your curriculum and the student’s IEP?
  • Data collection: What kind of feedback does the app provide to document progress?
  • Motivation: How well do students respond to the application?

TCI’s list of SPED-appropriate apps is always growing, but on the following pages we’ve compiled our top 10 iPad apps for special education. And although most of the apps cover a very broad age range, we’ve also added suggested grade levels for each:

1) Sosh: Filled with activities and tools designed to help children and adults who have difficulty with social skills, Sosh (pronounced like the first syllable in “social”) is divided into five sections including Relate (connect with others), Relax (reduce stress), Regulate (manage behaviors), Reason (think it through), and Recognize (understand feelings). Sosh provides many of the tools used in cognitive and behavioral therapy, and provides students with an opportunity to work independently to resolve their challenges. $39.99. Suggested grade level: middle school and up.

2) Clicker Docs: An assistive word processor that can support students with a variety of disabilities, Clicker Docs uses word-prediction technology to offer students spelling and grammatical suggestions to correct their writing. Synthesized speech allows students to review their work by listening for auditory cues. Teachers can set up word banks to provide students with advanced vocabulary. Finally, Clicker Docs integrates with Dropbox to provide secure cloud storage and document-sharing. $28.99. Suggested grade level: elementary school and up.

3) SymbolSupport: This assistive word processor automatically translates words into pictures and symbols, a task that is especially helpful for students with cognitive disabilities. Users can create new documents or copy and paste work from other apps into SymbolSupport, and the program will convert the text into symbols. The developer, Attainment Company, also markets a free SymbolSupport Viewer app that allows users to receive, read, store, and print documents created by the full version of the program. $59.99. Suggested grade level: all ages.

4) Time Timer: Students with special needs often have difficulty with the concept of time. For any particular task, the Time Timer app provides a visual representation of the time remaining that is easily recognizable without the need to understand clocks or numbers. $2.99. Suggested grade level: all ages.

5) iReward: Anyone who has worked in the field of special education has probably seen motivational earning charts (sometimes called point sheets). These teacher-created charts sometimes feature stick-on Velcro pictures or whiteboard checklists. While they can be highly motivating and effective, traditional earning charts are also stigmatizing, especially for mainstreamed students. There is no mistaking that the child carrying the chart to class is “different” from the rest of the students. iReward changes all that. Using an iPod, iPad, or iPhone, teachers can set up a variety of different earning charts for one student or many students—all of which can be kept as private as the student wishes. An extra plus for the teacher: Gone are the days of laminating and cutting out photos to attach to an earning chart. With iReward, educators simply use the internal camera or Google Images search to find an appropriate image. $4.99. Suggested grade level: elementary school.

6) Read2Go: To understand Read2Go, you must first understand what Bookshare is all about. Bookshare.org provides electronic copies of books and periodicals for readers with print disabilities. The books are downloaded in an electronic form that can be easily modified to meet the needs of readers with diverse disabilities. This can mean altering font, size, color, and even using text-to-speech technology to provide read-aloud capability. Bookshare is currently available free of charge for US students with qualifying disabilities, thanks to a grant by the Department of Education. Read2Go is an assistive technology book reader that uses text-to-speech technology to read books aloud. Read2Go’s integration with Bookshare makes locating and downloading electronic textbooks easy, provided you have a qualifying Bookshare account. $19.99. Suggested grade level: elementary school and up.

7) ConversationBuilder: ConversationBuilder is a must-have application for every speech language pathologist. This app prompts students through each stage of an interactive conversation and records their spoken responses. At the end of each session, ConversationBuilder plays back the entire conversation at a natural pace so that students can hear themselves successfully exchanging comments with their virtual peers. Recorded conversations can be stored and even e-mailed to teachers and parents as documentation of student progress. $19.99. Suggested grade level: elementary and middle school.

8) Proloquo2Go: As one of the first augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) applications made for iOS devices, Proloquo2Go has been around long enough that its bugs have been worked out and it has developed a strong user base. It provides an easy-to-use “voice” for individuals who cannot otherwise speak. One very important feature of Proloquo2Go is its ability to work on iPod, iPad, and iPhone platforms. For users with fine motor or visual disabilities, the large screen of an iPad may be the best interface. For other users, the portability of an iPod Touch or iPhone can support independence in the real world. $219.99. Suggested grade level: all ages.

9) Pictello: Stories come to life in this app that allows students and teachers to create multimedia stories and presentations using pictures from the iPad photo library. Audio for Pictello can be produced using a text-to-speech engine, or can be recorded by a teacher or student. For those working with students on the autism spectrum, Pictello is a great tool for creating multimedia social stories. $18.99. Suggested grade level: all ages.

10) Video Scheduler: This app is a cross between an activity schedule and a video model. Like most activity schedule applications, it allows users to create checklists identifying the individual tasks required to accomplish a goal or objective. What sets Video Scheduler apart, however, is the option to include a still photo or video segment that demonstrates how each step in the task is completed. There is a wealth of research supporting the use of both activity schedules and video models with students on the autism spectrum and other students who may struggle with time and task management. Video Scheduler empowers students to work independently with little or no prompting from teachers or job coaches. $12.99. Suggested grade level: elementary school and up.

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