This page is designed to give you practical tips on using all your new "free and discounted apps" in unique ways with your kiddos!!!  

Been getting all the free apps from Technology in Education, Momswithapps, or Babies with iPads?  Well, check here regularly for practical tips and clever ways to utilize these apps with your kids.  
AAC's - Why discrimination is NOT a dirty word in this field!

The most common questions we are asked at iTaalk, center around AAC apps and devices. A recent question:

How do I teach an autistic, nonverbal child to use an AAC? How do I get him to understand what it is for?

Well, thanks to Facebook, this mom/teacher was able to get a significant amount of very useful information. But, for those who missed it, or for those who aren't FB users, here's my version or recap!

DISCRIMINATION - Before you introduce any AAC, be sure your child can discriminate between the actual item and the icon the AAC uses.  Consider using Little Matchups - The Matching Game for Toddlers - to test and teach your child to discriminate between the icon and a photo of the item. What is so nice about this app (besides it being FREE) is you can add/edit your own photos. This makes for a perfect teaching tool. Take screen shots (hold the home button and the on/off button at the same time for one second and you take a photo of what is on your screen) and crop to just the icon, then import it into Little Matchups with a real photograph of the icon for perfect discrimination teaching and it feels like a game!  

If your child already has great matching and discrimination, it can still be a great tool for some of the harder concepts (emotions).  Try taking a photo of yourself or your child laughing and happy, (use yourself or family member, don't use the child for aversive emotions as they may bring on that emotion!!!) sad, angry, etc, and then match the icon from the AAC for that emotion.  There are MANY ways to utilize this great tool if you think outside the box a little (another "off-label" use!!!)

AAC - Teaching it to have meaning...
Begin with two preferred or motivating items, I will use jelly beans and Cheetos for this example (food is usually the best, as the items are typically easy to identify and are pretty vary day to day, you want something that you know your child loves EVERY DAY!) The question was brought up about starting with 1 vs 2 items.  It is important to always have a choice, being careful not to teach a child that touching one button gets them what they want...again DISCRIMINATION is Good (in this case)! However, starting with one preferred and one non-preferred might be necessary for some kiddos who struggle to make a choice.  (E.g. jelly bean and broccoli)

In 5 minute sessions (with larger breaks in between 1 hr or so) sit at a table or join your child where they feel comfortable but you can still keep distractions to a minimum. Place the iPad with your chosen AAC open in front of the child and open the screen to the page where you have put these two food (or other consistent motivators) choices. Proceed to tempt your child with the cheeto or jelly bean. As they take the jb or cheeto, hand over hand, prompt the child to touch the appropriate picture, then quickly deliver the requested food. The more trials the better, so smaller pieces of food (I cut the jb in half, cheetos into 1/4-1/8th). Stick with the same two choices for several days or until the child grasps the concept that touching the picture/choice, gets them their preferred motivator/food. (If food is not a motivator, then obviously use a toy, or tickles or something that you are quite confident will be their Motivator (MO) consistently until the idea is grasped!!!) 

Disclaimer: The decision to implement an AAC device for a child with autism is not one to be entered in lightly. There are many factors that should be evaluated before the choice is made to introduce such a device. We highly recommend that a licensed SLP and AAC/AT specialist be involved in your decision-making wherever possible. This post is just a VERY simplified version, and should not be done without the advice and support of your child's school, clinic or therapists.  The reason I even post is the number of teachers and parents that are begging for help and training on this topic is overwhelming. I know many SLP's read this and cringe, but in a perfect world, each SLP would not have to see 90-150 kids a week for only 15-30 minutes each, so they would have the time to do this on a much more complex and thorough level for each child. However, this is NOT a perfect world, and parents, teachers and paraprofessionals are left to implement the strategies.  Please feel free to offer your thoughts and strategies as well in the comments!  

"Off-label" Uses for Apps!

In the world of autism and special needs, I just can't get away from the term "off-label" use!  We treat my son with "Off-label" meds, and NOW..."off-label" apps.

Here's a great use for a real "grown-up" app in the special needs world!!!

Many parents like myself are concerned about the quality of life our children will have as they age and potentially move into group homes. I wanted something that would allow an individual with trouble recalling events to be able to communicate with home. In my search to find an "app for that", I came across Chapters. This app allows an individual the opportunity to add photos in a journal like format. When you open chapters, it opens to todays journal entry, easily insert photos from your photo library, enlarge, rotate, shrink, etc. THEN...simply click on the envelope to email to an email from your address book. Simple steps that could be taught or even scheduled into the daily activities. Chapters does allow for text as well...which allows for more function with a reader/typer!

Here's a link to Chapters App:

"Getting rid of the Guilty" using MY CHOICE BOARDS by Good Karma Apps

Struggle, seems to be the word of the decade in “our” (Special Needs) world.  We struggle to get places on time, we struggle to keep our kids happy (content), struggle to understand them and ourselves, struggle to pay for therapies, struggle to struggle!!!  But the biggest…keeping our children engaged in those unstructured times at home (after school and on weekends).  I feel at constant battle with myself, guilty about not getting things done around the house in exchange for playing/keeping my son busy and engaged, or vice versa. 

Recently I was given an idea that can help, and I decided to take it to the next…more tech-y level!  As the President of The iTaalk Autism Foundation, I’m always looking for new practical uses for the iPad and iPod and this is AWESOME.

NOTE: I am VERY picky about what Apps I recommend. Nothing pains me more than to see families of children with special needs wasting money on Apps that aren’t right for their kiddo, so when I recommend this one, it is because I REALLY think it is special.

With that said, My Choice Board by Good Karma Applications, is FANTASTIC!  At $9.99 it is on the pricier side of the Apps I recommend, but it is invaluable for its functional uses (AND…you may have gotten it half price this week…lucky!!!)

Getting rid of the guilty:

As I said before, that time after school and on weekends is SOOO hard for our family and so many others I know. So here’s the solution using My Choice Board and an iPad:

1)   Create a “Board”.  This entails choosing pictures from the library of images and adding the voice/sound you want associated with that picture.  These will be the available choices for your child.  For my son, it includes: Trains, Computer, iPad, Puzzle, Marble Run, Coloring, Snack, Trampoline, Piano

2)   Using the timer on your “Clock” App (Or the ASD timer which I like), I set the timer for every 30 minutes.  I use this really loud annoying Alarm sound so I will not miss the noise.  Not because I want to scare my kiddo into an activity, but because I have my own little problem with hyper-focusing, and I need to have a really awful sound or I will just ignore the noise!

3)      As soon as you hear the alarm, accompany your child to the set location for the iPad, and together open My Choice Board.  Let your child choose his/her activity, and then set up the activity together. Your child should complete or play with the activity for a set period of time, for my son it is 5 minutes.  For some children two minutes is a stretch, but rejoice…two minutes of an appropriate activity is better than ZERO, and that is what we are striving for… appropriate, engaging activities.

4)   After the activity is complete, reset the alarm and edit the choice board.  My Choice Board allows you to edit the Board and put an X through the item already chosen.

5)   Now…GO ENJOY YOUR Guilt-free 30 MINUTES!  Then repeat.  (Disclaimer: By all means enjoy your 30 minutes, just don’t ignore the kiddo so much they get into trouble ;-)

(As you get your system set up, start incorporating other family members.  Maybe every third turn, a sibling can step in and help with a choice and activity.)

Tips for choosing the right device for your child...

How do I choose the right device for my child? 
There are several things that we at iTaalk believe go into deciding which product is right for your child.  But, the most important piece to this decision is that you consider all who work with your child. Involving a full team (SPED Teacher, Parents, Aide, ST, OT, Psychologist, etc) in your decision-making process is ALWAYS the BEST way!

Here are some important things to consider:

Fine Motor Skills - This has to be the most important factor to consider.  While the iPad is beautiful and shiny and really grabs our kids' attention (which is sometimes required for our very early learners), the iPod Touch and iPhone are so portable. They can be carried in a pocket, small handbag, etc, and when it does become an augmentative device, this can be a HUGE benefit.  I always look for ways to save families money, and $300+ is a lot of extra money to spend when your child may be motivated by the less expensive device just as much.  If you have a friend or family member with either device, ask if you can come over and have a demo session with your child or contact your local Apple Store or Best Buy and ask for a special viewing opportunity for your child.  Test both devices, but ALWAYS try the iPod first.  If your child takes to the smaller device, don't bother with the iPad.  You have your answer...they can use and LIKE the less expensive version, more portable version.

Age of Child - As a child gets older we hope to instill independence...for those children who are approximately 12 or older and have already demonstrated some ability to have independence, an iPhone can have tremendous benefits.  In a recent workshop, I witnessed a non-verbal, illiterate, 16 year old young man text back and forth with his father, and proceed to introduce himself to the room of 100 people using proloquo2go.  His father went on to explain that they use the triple-click text-to-speak mode on the iPhone to allow him to "read" texts.  Now, he can play video games in the arcade at Wal-mart while his parents grocery shop, and when it is time to go, dad texts his son a quick "We are leaving in 5 minutes, xoDad".  This is a beautiful use of 3G technology with a non-verbal but cognitively advanced young man.  Not only does he have a means of communications, but it is a socially acceptable and VERY COOL device to carry around. The same technology could be applied to a iPad w/3G if a child/young adult had/has poor fine motor control.

School Needs - We suggest that you speak with your child's teacher and/or therapists before making a decision.  Some schools/clinics are using Droid based technology, while others use Apple.  If your child's teacher is trained on Droids and their software applications, then it would be to your child's best interest to work with the device their teacher knows and understands.  This works both ways!  Also, if your child's school is using an AAC application that is only available for an iPad, and there is significant reasons as to the effectiveness of this application, then an iPad might be of warrant.  I suggest you speak with your child's primary therapist/teacher to discuss the product that together you can implement in the most effective manner for your child.