Working with Proloquo2Go was the first experience I had that showed me the power of using apps. Although there weren’t any other special needs apps on the market for iOS devices, there were reading, music, writing and math apps that my students with special needs could use. I was amazed to see how engaged my students were by the apps. They learned much more because the fun involved with these apps encouraged more learning. I could see that that the apps were going to completely change the way that education was delivered to students with special needs. The iOS touchscreen had incredible sensitivity in such a low cost device. It was head and shoulders above anything else available on the market for special needs. I could see that the field of special education was going to change forever.
One of the first apps I used with my students (other than Proloquo2Go) was Wheels on the Bus. The app is a musical book which involves the bus in fun, interactive pages as the classic song is played. Just like a traditional book, I realized that I could use the app for language therapy. The first time I used Wheels on the Bus with my preschool and kindergarten groups, they were immediately engaged and more interested in the speech therapy I was delivering. Using the app, I could target the expansion of sentences, grammatical structures, social language, and more. For an example of social language, there is an instance in the app when a frog swipes a cupcake from the chef without asking. I used this as an opportunity to model social language by demonstrating how to ask politely when you want something: “When we ask for something, we say ‘please’.” I would follow up by asking my students, “What do we say when we want something?” in order to elicit the response “please.” Since many of the skills contained in my students’ IEP goals could be addressed in a fun, effective way with the use of apps, I saw great value in using them. It was amazing to see the difference this cutting edge technology was making for my students.
I began wondering if the delivery of intervention could entirely involve apps. I started using other apps for reading and writing and then Proloquo2Go was released in the spring of 2009. After that, many types of special needs apps followed. There were apps for organization including reward charts; apps for dictating speech to text; and several augmentative communication apps to follow Proloquo2Go. I learned about as many apps as I could and I used them with as many students that I could to meet their IEP goals.
One of the first special needs apps I used was iReward. iReward is a visual chart that reinforces positive behaviors using rewards. For example, a star chart could be configured in the app so the child receives a toy after performing a set of positive behaviors. One of the charts I created for a student with autism was a star chart for remaining seated. He took to the app immediately and it definitely motivated him to successfully remain seated without much prompting from me. Although he couldn’t use too many words to express himself, his fingers on the iPod touch and his eye gaze told me what I needed to know: he wanted to use the device to achieve his goal. I hadn’t seen that level of interest from him previously with a standard paper chart.
After trying different apps with my students, I noticed they were increasingly more attentive. As a result, they would practice more and I was able to see progress a lot faster. Taking into account their tremendous interest and progress, I began gravitating away from all of the traditional therapy materials including traditional flashcards, paperback books, games, etc. and really focused on exploring the possibility of app-based therapy.
As my knowledge base of apps grew, I began to seek out ways to share my experience and tips with other speech-language pathologists and professionals. It seemed people were interested in using apps, but didn’t quite know how to approach them. So, I started speaking about apps and my experiences using them in therapy, and this led me in an unexpected direction.
Click here to view part 1 of “My path to working from home”