We're still big fans of our new iPad, the biggest drawback being the sheer volume of apps out there that we have yet to try, a lot of them completely FREE. I thought that as Billy finds his favorites, I'd spotlight them, in case you're looking for a great distraction, reward or skill-builder.
A simple program that animates faces with different emotions. Choose “Happy” and a goofy cartoon laughs. Choose “Angry” and a red-faced blob bares his teeth, frowns and growls. I'm not sure how educational “Gassy” and “Burpy” are but Billy loves them.
Dr. Seuss books
We have Oh the Places You Will Go, Green Eggs and Ham, and Dr. Seuss' ABCs, and each one has been played over and over by both kids. The great thing about these books is the interactivity. When you touch a picture anywhere on the page, you see and hear the word associated with it. You can choose “Read it myself” or “Read to me” options.
From the geniuses who brought us Pull-ups. Billy LOVES LOVES LOVES this app. We have absolutely no problem about going to the potty now. When I click a button it sings, “I'm a big kid now!” and he stops whatever he's doing and starts dancing along to the music towards the potty. If he goes, he gets to click “I used the potty!” and gets an animated “sticker.” After nine stickers, the app reveals a new game, such as a drawing program or a matching game.
ABA-based flashcard game designed to help kids categorize objects and people and develop more functional language skills. We've noticed a bit of echolalia/scripting after use of one set a few times, but luckily, there are more sets out there. I would recommend using this one as a jumping-off point for conversations, even if they get the answer “wrong.” For instance, if Billy is asked to “Choose the one you sit on,” and he points to the baby, we talk about what would happen if we sat on a baby.
Look In My Eyes
Interesting practice for making eye contact; suggested for kids with high-functioning autism or Asperger's. Close-up photos of smiling kids appear and within a second or two, a number flashes in the center of the child's eyes. Billy's job is then to click the right number on a keypad. If he gets the number right, he earns “money,” which he can then spend to buy food in a cartoon fast-food restaurant or buy furniture – either way, he doesn't care anything about that part. I haven't noticed any definite increase in eye contact in the real world but stay tuned ...
Beautiful tour of the solar system with a 3-D option and groovy space music in the background. You can highlight each planet and its moons, drill into its core, read about its stats, check out pictures of the satellites that have orbited it, etc. You can drag the planets around and rotate them, so that you can look at their dark sides, light sides, orbits and relation to the rest of the solar system. Can't recommend this one highly enough! We use it as a post-bedtime story, lights out activity, and as a reward for successfully completing his nighttime routine.
First Words / First Words Christmas
FREE / $1.99 – 4.99
Drag and drop letters into the right position to form words. As soon as the words are in the right order, the picture of the object animates. There's a “lite” version that's free with a variety of words like “cat,” “train” and “cake.” You can also get sets of words with themes like “animals” or “around the house.” Billy liked the free version so much that we bought the deluxe set for $4.99 and then because we're all about Christmas in this house, the Christmas First Words for $1.99.
A beautiful virtual ocean aquarium but not really worth the $10 price tag – unless you have an autistic child obsessed with fish who finds staring at it soothing. There are two different environments you can choose from for your fish and eight different animals, including a variety of fish, a shark and a sea turtle, that you can add to the environment. I'm a bit concerned at how much time he spends electrocuting the fish. But then again, WHY is electrocution of the fish an option? You can also feed the fish, take pictures of them or flush them. Yay. But it IS beautiful; the graphics are second-to-none.
Mr. Potato Head in Snowman form. This cool little app lets you roll up three snowballs with your finger, stack them up, then choose from a variety of eyes, noses, hats, mouths, and bits of flair to add to your virtual Frosty. You can make a snowman that looks like a pirate or one that looks like a clown – or Billy's favorite, the pirate clown. This is a fun way to discuss body parts. And pirates.
This is the kind of app that just blows my feeble mind. How does the same screen become a field of snow you can roll into snowballs in one application and in the next, it's a dueling piano? So so cool. I taught Billy to play “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” on this piano, which keeps him busy long enough for us to manage to eat a meal in a restaurant. You can apparently upgrade to a “pro” version of this piano for $0.99 but I don't know how much more you'd want out of an iPad piano or how many pros are going to be bringing this along to gigs, but if you've upgraded, let us know if it's worth the 99 cents.
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“I love the iPad,” my sister told me after we've spent half and hour playing with our new toy.
She and her husband had come over for dinner, after which I brought out our new prized possession, the extremely generous gift Dave got from his boss. Mark, Dave's boss, knew we'd been saving to buy an iPad for Billy, after hearing about the miraculous affinity some autistic kids have for the device, and he surprised Dave with one for the recent 5th anniversary of Dave's employment with the company. What a mensch.
Since then, we've downloaded all kinds of apps: games that teach spelling and numbers, automated social stories, interactive Dr. Seuss books. It's incredible the wealth of programs that are out there for such a new device.
Anyway, Sami was staring down at the screen. “This is so much fun! I'm buying one tomorrow!”
“You do realize,” I asked her, “That you don't need an iPad to play Hangman? We could have had this exact same evening in 1980."
Yep, with the wealth of amazing apps literally at our fingertips, we had loaded up the basic DRAW program and commenced a (truly embarrassingly bad) game of Hangman.
Despite our sorry use of this most marvelous machine, Billy took to it like a duck on a junebug. Like a lot of other parents, I've read all the stuff about autistic kids' natural affinity for the iPad. Nonetheless, I tried to reign in my expectations before presenting it to Billy, because the second I try to force him to use something, he gets turned off forever (yes, tricycle, I'm talking to you).
I showed him this game First Words, which allows you to drag and drop letters into position to spell out short words. His fine motor skills are still a little behind the curve, so I wasn't sure if this would be too much for him. I started to show him how to point to a letter, drag it across the screen and --
He shoved my hand out of the way, finished off that word and advanced to the next screen on his own. And that was it: Billy's love of “'Puter,” as he's decided to call it, was sealed.
Favorite appls include Virtuoso, which turns the iPad into a “dueling” piano, AutismXpress, in which animated faces demonstrate emotions from Happy to Gassy, Parents Magazine Flashcards, and the animated Dr. Seuss ABCs.
But by far his favorite app is Solar Walk, which I have to say is pretty friggin' cool. He's known all the planets for a while, but now he also knows the names of various moons, which planets are ice giants, and the names of about half a dozen satellites, which “take pictures of the planets!” he announces. There's a 3D setting and groovy, soothing space music plays while you play with the program, making it the perfect activity after our bedtime story and lights out.
Some of the apps have been a dubious success. There's an app from Kindergarten.com called (I think; it's hard to tell what the actual title is) Receptive by Function. It's designed to encourage development of functional language and the kind of thinking skills used when grouping things into categories.
The program shows pictures of three different things side-by-side. For instance, one set is a raccoon, a set of ping-pong-paddles and a stalk of broccoli. Then it asks you to “Touch the one that you play with.” If you don't touch the right one, it flashes the correct answer until you touch the right one, making it very easy for a child to succeed.
Well, you can probably see where this is going. After a couple of rounds in which he memorized all the right answers, Billy started getting creative with his answers. “Billy plays with the raccoon!” he informed me.
No amount of arguing that that was a very bad idea would convince him that ping-pong was more fun than a raccoon. So we talked a little bit about what we might do if we had a raccoon to play with, and Billy seems to think that the raccoon might quite like to play football. If my child gets mauled in the face one day after trying to get a raccoon to play quarterback, I'm coming for you, Kindergarten.com.
We soon realized that Billy had developed his own game. It's called, “Touch the one that Billy likes the best.” When shown pictures of a chef, a doctor and a clown and asked to “Touch the one that takes care of your body,” Billy goes for the clown every time. It did, once again, spark an interesting conversation about how much more fun it would be to visit a clown than a doctor. “A clown takes care of your body,” Billy insists.
Also, now he goes around the house, pointing to things and saying, “Touch the one that's a table.” And touching the table. “Touch the one that's a fridge.” And touches the fridge. And on and on. Of course, the echolalia danger is there with any talking toy. (Don't get me started on the maniacal laughter he developed after exposure to the hysterically giggling Fischer-Price Workbench.)
Billy finds it difficult, like most autistic kids, to just sit and listen and learn. But he is learning new skills every day and absorbing information like a sponge, thanks to the iPad. Even better, I can bribe him to do anything from eat his dinner, which used to be a drama every single day, to go to bed (ditto), with the promise of 'Puter time. And because the apps are so cool, he's just as happy with an educational game as he is with Angry Birds.
He crawled up in my lap yesterday to play with the new Aquarium app I downloaded. He LOVES fish, and this one teaches the names of fish, how big they are, where they're from. And they swim around like in a real tank. He was completely amazed and looked up at me with a big smile on his face. He pressed his nose against mine and murmured, “Touch the one that's I love you.”
I love you too.
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