Why Educational Apps are Perfect for Kids with Special Needs

by Deanne Shoyer from www.smallbutkindamighty.com

Both my children are autistic, and like a previous blogger in this series, Rebecca, I’ve been amazed at how many therapeutic applications there are for my children on the iPad. You may have seen the 60 Minutes piece which featured the research currently being conducted at the Beverley School in Toronto. This research seeks to quantify exactly how iOS devices can help children with special needs and preliminary results are showing an increase in communication of 20%.

But can general educational apps also be helpful for children with special needs? My answer to that question is a resounding, yes! I find them particularly useful for my children and I’ve outlined below some of the reasons why. High quality, educational apps do the following:

• They engage. Another previous blogger, Julia, wrote about how much fun kids have playing apps. My son Owen has very narrow interests and so teaching him play skills has always been a challenge, but he loves his iPad. He would play apps like Zoo Train for hours if I let him.

• They teach diverse skills. Unlike television, which also engages my children, when my kids play with apps on their iPad they learn a variety of skills. Take an app like i Learn With Boing: Ice Land Adventures for example – the primary benefit for me in playing with apps like these is that they improve my children’s motor skills and hand-eye co-ordination. If they also pick up information on letters, sounds and words along the way, well that’s a bonus.

• Generalize skills. For my children, the iPad has been a gateway to more experiences, a safe place where they can play, try new things and gain confidence. For example, Owen loves Eric Carle and so I downloaded My Very First App for him. He quickly became a maestro at the matching pairs game and with that new-found confidence he developed using the iPad, I was able to get him to play ‘real-life’ matching games.

• They make abstract concepts concrete. It’s tough for all children to learn abstract concepts like sharing but when the penguin game in i Learn With Boing: Ice Land Adventures requires them to literally share the iPad in 2-player mode, they not only understand the concept more readily but they learn a valuable life lesson too – that sharing doesn’t necessarily lessen their experience, sometimes it means double the fun!

120 thoughts on “Why Educational Apps are Perfect for Kids with Special Needs

  1. I agree with you Deanne we reciently got an Ipad for our 5 year old HFA son and we have seen so much growth! His confidence has improved to the point that he doesn’t mind telling people about his games. Before he didn’t talk much because he was afraid someone would make fun of him because of his problems with pragmatics/symantics aka answering questions and word choices. He loves playing games and we have found out so much that he knows from the Ipad things that he couldn’t show us before because paper pencil tasks were just to hard. He is learning how to read now and actually understanding what is going on. The Ipad is non-threatening. It is also encouraging him to write. Pre-Ipad my son hated to write… I used to tell everyone what happened in preschool when my son’s teacher asked him to draw a picture of a sail boat using common shapes. My son barely wrote three lines on the paper… and when the teacher asked where the boat was he said very clearly…it sank. In those times my son could hardly hold a pencil or pen so it wasn’t a big surprise. Now he is drawing me pictures. Thanks to his Ipad.

    • Great blog post, Deanne. Chana, I’m impressed with the critical thinking skills your son showed, and the imagination! The boat sank! That is something else in e thinking realm!

      My nephew, who is 22 and autistic, hated math until I got Operation Math by Spinlight Studios. Now he’s mastered + – x and is working on division, which he wouldn’t try at all before. He also dictated a whole book, The Magic Quest. You can read various posts about the process for that on my blog.

  2. Great piece about the overall positive educational effect the iPad has on kids with special needs. Our entire family has benefited from the apps that we use everyday; apps for play time, letter recognition, social skills and music have all helped our family.

  3. Deanne,
    I completely agree with you. General education apps can be used in classrooms for children with special needs. Generalization is the most important thing – being able to so the same skill across a variety of apps, real world experiences, books, worksheets, etc.

  4. Could not agree more. As soon as we found out about my grandson’s ASD diagnosis at the age of three, I knew only full well of the many benefits the iPad learning apps would provide him. We were fortunate enough to have been gifted his iPad by my wonderfully supportive online nursing community. Since that time, I have done my very best to return the favor by giving back.

    The iPad benefits are simply too numerous to mention. Its value is now recognized in the classroom setting and is being widely used in special needs classrooms across the country.

  5. Thank you Deanne ( http://www.smallbutkindamighty.com ) For Having a wonderful Blog and always giving the Special needs community the Best information and support for our families and educators. i can tell you the Technology and the educational Apps not only change Lifes but make life much more easier for Children and adults with special Needs to Communicate ,Learn and Educate not only the person using the Apps but the people in the places and surroundings they live. My Oldest is one of those kids the school keep saying Only (Picture Exchange symbols This was cut out cartoon items ) and saying he cant do technology and after my sons evaluation back over a year or so ago I seen That he was miss evaluated and I searched and researched until I found Tap to Tal and had a DSI I saved up for to get it for my son and the first day he used it he loved it and i was suprised all they things he was able to do and then as a parent seeing your Child Talk through a device when he wasnt able to was a a dream come true .He was able to show everyone he can communicate.. Then The Ipad technology is a Huge step Up For Our Kids because It is much More then a Ipad It is a Communication Device and Gives Our kids a education When The schools Gave up and Dxed or kids with the lowest abilities The Ipad Gives Our Kids a Voice but Also Helps them to Show they can Learn so much .My oldest can go from spanish to english and pic the right items and exact items he wanted in eash language and voice what he wants not only in english but in Spanish…In a spanish starter in a old app we had. So As A Parent who has seen What technology Can Do And How Tech and Amazing Developers Making Wonderful Apps For Our Kids for Kids To Communicate for the first time and also Learn so much Technology is a Vital Part in the Special Needs Community. Thank you Deanne for your Amazing Blogg and Helping All our Kids and Families with All you Do.You have helped our Family Not only with your wonderful wisdom but Awesome iformation that helped our family dearly

  6. It’s so very interesting how technologies such as this are coming into play more and more at being able to help teach our special needs children. Great article!

  7. Great article. My son Matthew is a young adult who loves the ipad. It has opened the doors to learning in a brand new way.. (his way).. Through the use of the ipad we have been able to see what he is capable of doing and what he really does know and understand. I wish the ipad would of existed when he was younger… :-)

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  9. Educational apps are a great way to learn new things and practice, reinforce and consolidate work being done in school and at home. They make learning fun.

  10. This is a great post! It’s more obvious how apps geared towards special needs help our kids. These are terrific suggestions for incorporating regular apps into our as well!

  11. I totally agree that the educational apps for the Ipad really help our kids make progress. My little bugs ipad helps her with communicating with others. She has also surprised me with her ability with memory games and puzzles too! Thanks for the great article.

  12. The ipad was undoubtedly one of the best therapy investments we have made for our son. He absolutely loves it and there is always a new educational app coming out. The saying there is an app for everything is pretty close to being true as we just purchased an app to help him learn to tie his own shoes. Truly a wonderful investment!

  13. Marvelous post. Of course general educational apps can be great for children with special needs and typical children can sometimes get a lot out of apps for special needs kids. Thanks for a great piece. Deanne’s advice on apps spares me so much time and plenty of money!

  14. Great post Deanne! I agree with you. My son loves lots of general apps on the iPad and it has helped him a lot. I always enjoy reading your stuff! :0)

  15. I can’t say enough about how wonderful a tool an iPad can be for any child, but especially in the special needs community. My 7 yr old son was gifted one around this time last year and cannot convay in words what a difference it has made in all of our lives.

    This is for Daniel. Hope you guys win. Hugs to you my friend.

  16. I agree with your “resounding yes” answer to the question “But can general educational apps also be helpful for children with special needs?”

    I believe all apps have the potential to help children with special needs. An example in my son’s situation, a child with multiple disabilities; using a writing app that is designed to help children with fine motors skills, however for my son it could be used to help with attention and staying on task, due to his like of auditory feedback used in a particular app. Keeping an open mind while viewing a child using an app or a video review has been my way of not overlooking an app.

    Thank you for the this wonderful post, and I hope all educators and parents have the opportunity to read it and glean some information from it.

  17. I can’t convey the things my daughter has learned since she received her iPad over a yr ago. The general education apps she uses have been a huge asset in her education. As far as play goes, she actually uses a child filtered YouTube app as a enhancement of sorts for whatever toy she is playing with. i.e. Barbies, Polly Pockets, Lalaloopsys….She searches for whichever she is playing with and learns how other kids are playing with the same items and expands her play to include some of those ideas as well.

  18. I’ve been working in a classroom with kids who are on the spectrum as well as kids who are severely mentally and physically disabled for the past 4 years. Last year, we got our classroom an iPad and are so glad we did! Not only are there awesome apps that the students can use, but there are also helpful apps for the support staff.

    We have one student who has her own iPad which she uses to check her schedule, as well as many other things, and without it, she’d be having to depend on multiple schedule systems (home, school, etc) rather than just one.

    I’m on board with you! The iPad is a wonderful tool for kids who have special needs :)

  19. Couldn’t agree more Deanne! And will be heading to iTunes tonight to check out i Learn With Boing: Ice Land Adventures for my 4 year-old autistic son. Thanks again!

  20. Great article Deanne! I totally agree. The amount of improvement I’ve seen in my Autistic son since using an iPad is incredible. And that his younger brother and sister get to benefit from all his educational apps makes my life that much simpler.

  21. I am amazed just how much the iPad has changed my son’s life in less than a year. He is two years old, non-verbal, hearing and vision impaired and has all sort of other medical issues. Prior to his speech and occupational therapist introducing the iPad in a session last year, Matt’s hands were tightly closed, he would not cooperate in any form of therapy and he would not focus on ANYTHING. Fast forward almost a year later, he is opening his hands to activate apps and grab toys, he actively participates in his speech and occupational therapy sessions and he is able to entertain himself for stretches of time with educational videos and games. I am so thankful for the iPad because it gave me a whole new kid!

  22. iPads are game changers for sure. Can’t wait to see what the researchers find out. Our daughter started using the calculator on the iPad this summer. It was exciting to see her tapping the numbers and getting the right answers. She still won’t use a regular calculator, but because she is so familiar with the iPad, it was an easy next step! Thanks for sharing other ideas,too!

  23. My daughter also uses an Ipad 2 and they are fantastic for helping her engage with the world around her. She has profound learning difficulties and didn’t respond to many things until we tried her with the IPad and we wouldn’t be without one today.

  24. My ASD son has had the iPad for over two years and his language, skill, both fine motor and hand eye coordination is far better than mine!

    This article gave me some good information and new apps to try! Thanks to Deanne – a bright woman with a big heart!

  25. We have always been proud of you but even more so after reading the article. We hope this will change for the better the lives of these special children.

  26. I hope to get an IPad for my grandson. He came to live with me last november and I think it would be such a good thing for him to have. I don’t have the money to buy one or I would because it would be such a great learning tool for him.

    • I forgot to say that my grandson is autistic. He is 10 yr old. I am trying to potty train him, his mother didn’t do much to achieve that. I am aelso getting him to drink from a cup and eat table food. When he came to me he was drinking his milk from a bottle.
      Thanks, Rosali


    Before I had Adien(Who will be 4 in Nov) I would have never gave apps a thought. I love my tech stuff but would have never got so involved with them like I am now. Aiden lost his speech and developed other issues at 18 mons. He is on the Autistic Spectrum. I am getting evaluated further soon.
    I downloaded some apps I found on Moms with Apps and Smart Apps for Kids and tried them out on him. To my surprise he was focused. As we went further each day he began to try to repeat. One of his ABA teachers began to use her iphone with him too. Today Thanks to the help of intervention and now school, and the wonderful world of apps Aiden talks more, can identify and his memory is outstanding. I now promote and admin 2 FB pages because I feel these apps help children and even adults so much. Bless these developers and their admiration. Bless you all. I sure do hope that everyone sees that these children are smart,can learn and do everything -They just need the added help.. The boost that the IPAD and the APPS bring out.

  28. I think iPads are changing the way special needs children learn, enhancing their education thru intuitive apps geared toward special needs with decreased stimulation via loud music and flickering scenes but still entertaining enough to hold their interest, be fun and creative all while teaching fine motor skills, speech cognition, and basics like math, science and language. iPads are just little tablets that can surf the Internet, check email and provide hours of aimless game play for adults, but in the hands of a Special needs child they become so much more, for some they provide a voice where otherwise there wouldn’t be and for that reason alone every special needs child should have one!

  29. I see everyday how educational apps are helping our special needs kids otherwise I would not put in the time and the effort at iHelp sn kids to help kids who otherwise would not be able to afford an ipad.

  30. Thank you so much for writing this. It is not only because you are trying to win an iPad for Daniel but everything you write about iPads and apps helps those of us with autistic kids figure out how to use tablets better. I have seen your sons show great progress with their iPads and know how it has helped their communication skills and behaviour.

  31. Very nice article. My daughter got an ipad just over a month ago. Before that she didn’t know her ABC’s and numbers. She didn’t communicate very well. But since getong the ipad she has blossomed in so many ways and it’s amazing to see…

  32. The Ipad has been wonderful for my daughter, she is Autisic. We are still learning how to use it for speech. :) Thanks for the info!

  33. I am a special education teacher. Thank you for sharing this information. Great post and I regularly read your blog at Small but kinda Mighty.

  34. Educational Apps give special needs kids a wide range of choices to fit whatever cognitive range they happen to be in. They are easy to manipulate and are fun to play with. Often times the child doesn’t even realize they are learning or working on fine motor skills. Love seeing the progress my daughter continues to make on her iPad!

  35. The differences the iPad and the Apps have made in and for my son are astounding and remarkable. I cannot believe that anyone could question the benefits educational apps could have for all persons that utilize them. It saddens me though that these tools are not accessible to children/adults that need them.

  36. Great writeup I just got an IPad for my son with the help of some people and his dad…cant wait to see how he will progress.Good Luck to you!

  37. The technology is amazing. Possibilities endless. My fear is that too many families are relying on the iPad to keep their kids quiet. When used appropriately, with involved parents such as yourself, the effects can be amazing.

  38. The iPad has been such a major part of my sons learning. Our children with autism Benefit in too many ways to count. Learning to count is one of the things they learn. My son is currently learning to say words with a program on his iPad. He is almost 7. Good article!

  39. The iPad is an excellent device for helping children with special needs learn. Thanks for your wonderfully written blog Deanne!

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