How I became the speech guy with an iPad

Image by Eric Sailers

As a kindergartner in the mid 1980’s, I saw a speech-language pathologist (SLP) for speech delays. I don’t recall the experience with much detail, but I have been reminded by those closest to me. Once I became an SLP, my mom informed me that I said “Dada Da” for “Santa Claus,” and my SLP (who continues to work in the same district that I attended as a student and now work in) told me that I called myself “airwit.” Evidently I had errors of stopping, cluster reduction, vocalic r, and t/k substitution. I was also told that I did drill work with traditional flashcards to practice sounds. Although I graduated from speech-language therapy, I wonder how my experience would have been different with the wonderful technologies available today.

Back in the winter of 2008, I purchased my first iPhone and started beta testing for Proloquo2Go, an augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) app. I was so impressed with how a cool, mobile technology could be very sophisticated at a reasonable cost. I started looking at other applications that could be used in speech-language therapy. One of the first apps I discovered was Wheels on the Bus, an interactive music book that plays the song. My students loved the interactions like moving the bus and popping bubbles with the touch of their finger. I loved how my students were so engaged by the interactions that didn’t require a computer mouse (which is challenging for many of my students); plus, they sang to repetitive lyrics and heard their voice recording in the app.

In 2009, I thought about developing an app. I didn’t have a background in software engineering, so I began a conversation with my friend Jason Rinn who did. After several discussions and time spent learning the iPhone programming language, Jason was on board. Jason and I decided to create solutions that involved a strong component of tracking progress. We created a data collection app (Percentally) and an articulation app (ArtikPix) with integrated data collection. ArtikPix is an app that allowed me to include modern technology in a tool for speech articulation difficulties that I personally experienced some 25 years ago. It means a lot to me that I can share such a personalized solution with children who I now serve.

I currently use iOS devices (iPod touch and iPad) in speech-language therapy sessions. I have five iPods that are primarily for individual use, and one iPad I incorporate in group activities. There are apps my students use individually such as iColoringBook and Sentence Builder. For both apps, my students show their screen to the group as they produce sentences. Optimized iPad apps for my groups include a book app called Zoo You Later – Monkey Business and BrainPop Featured Movie. During Monkey Business and BrainPop, the students take turns listening, touching, and talking about the content. A book app like Monkey Business is very enjoyable and beneficial for children because of the features including interactive text and illustrations, painting, recorded audio, voice recording, and highlighted text. I imagine I would have enjoyed using apps like interactive books and games to practice my sounds.

My students are drawn to the iOS devices, and general education peers are interested in how they use the technologies for communication. My students favorite part about iOS devices is the touching aspect. Even if they are not skilled with a computer mouse, most of my students can tap, flick, and drag elements on the screen. I see this as a great source of initiating and maintaining their engagement during activities.

I think that apps offer great features for visual cues and auditory feedback that aid children with special needs in the learning process. I also am very pleased to have my students using mobile technologies that they might not otherwise use because of various factors. Finally, it brings me great joy to hear students asking, “Hey speech guy, can we use the iPad today?”


10 thoughts on “How I became the speech guy with an iPad

  1. Hi Eric,

    I am an SLP in Toronto, Canada. I work with adults with ABI. I am so inspired by your post and look forward to learning more about the technology that can help my clients.

    Thanks for sharing!


  2. Hi Eric,
    I’m a teacher in a Primary school and just recently I was able to convince the school to give me a grant to buy 20 iTouch devices. My focus has been on mainstream students and trying to show the other teachers how educational and fun the devices can be. You have opened my mind a bit further! I found your Blog while trying to look for Apps for my 6yr old niece who suffers from autism. Now I’m going to show our Student Services teachers and the psychologists the possibilities with Apps for their clientèle. Thank you for your suggestions.

    • Fiona….
      Many of the students at our school (Ahuroa School, NZ) use ipod touches. After recently returning from the states with an ipad, I managed to convince the parents of a student with Autism to purchase one, rather that a touch. After much deliberation they finally bought 1. I can’t rave enough about the impact this is having on ALL aspects of his development – absolutely stunning resource.

  3. Loved reading this! I am a new SLP in the schools and recently purchased an iPad for myself in hopes of incorporating it into therapy! Looking forward to reading more!

  4. I am trying to write a grant to purchase an IPAD for therapy and for managing a caseload more efficiently. I am overwhelmed with the number of apps out there. When breaking down the price of the IPAD, do you have any advice on the amount of money I should list for additional apps, or more specifically any particular apps that should be included?

  5. Pingback: How I became the speech guy with an iPad

  6. Pingback: iPad For Users With Disabilities | ATMac

  7. Hi Eric

    I’m excited to hear such positive things about the iPad from an SLP! I have a 3 year old son with CP, and I am also a former special educator in a self-contained classroom. (Just resigned this school year.) My question is in regards to the negativity I’ve heard from other SLPs about the iPad being used as an AAC device. The SLP at my former school was not really willing to try proloquo2go. She said that another device could do so much more and was more appropriate for teaching language. In my opinion, I think you should explore all options and use what is best for the particular child! She is not the only person I’ve come across that has expressed negativity. Do you know what the hang up might be from others in your field?

  8. Yes, I am an SLP in a large school district. I was told the Dynavox M3 would do so much for for communication. THis may have been true (I only spent a few months with it) but it was so tedious to program and I had to be trained for several hours on how to program it! And the Dynavox cost around $3,000! So I think more districts should be exploring this cheaper and easier platform! I do know that the M3 was a lot sturdier than an iPad, but also a lot heavier. Maybe school found kids breaking the iPads–something to consider

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