LIFE IS A SPECTRUM

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.

AutismXpress
FREE
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
$3.99 each
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.

iGoPotty
FREE

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.

Kindergarten.com Apps
$0.99 each
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
$2.99
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 ...

Solar Walk
$2.99
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.

Ocean Blue
$9.99
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.

Snowman 3D
$0.99
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.

Virtuoso
FREE
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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Apps for Autism

Thanks for sharing these apps! My 2 older boys are in an autistic support program at school and their teacher got a grant to get an iPad and some iTouches to work with the kids. If I hear about any interesting apps when they start using them, I will let you know. They are going to work on using them for schedules and things in the beginning but she is still in the planning stages. Very exciting that there is such great technology out there for our kids!

Dr. Seuss

There's a Dr. Seuss app? I wonder if they make one for iPhone.

These are all great tips. Solar Walk and Virtuoso sound right up Henry's alley. I'm glad to hear Billy continues to get so much out of this too. I told a friend that you've been having great success with your iPad, and she's thinking about buying one for her boy, Ben. Good info, as always, Amanda!

Eye contact

Sorry, yeah, I didn't make that very clear: The number shows up in the iris of each eye. So if he's staring at a close-up picture of a smiling child, he'll see two #7s, one in each eye.

I agree with you, though, it does seem a little odd. I read the extended description of the app, and they are careful not to make ANY claims that it is proven to increase eye contact -- only that it "could." A lot of things COULD, I suppose: staring at mug shots, looking at yourself in the mirror, wearing Groucho Marx glasses/nose ... actually, if those last two worked, Billy would be aces at eye contact by now. But I'm going to keep an "eye" on it, so I'll let you know if we see any progress.

Speaking of mirrors, though, have any of you out there experienced a greater increase in eye contact if you and your child are both looking into the same mirror. I would swear -- well, maybe not under oath but I have a strong inkling -- that Billy is better at eye contact when he's looking at my eyes in a mirror, rather than in the real world. I don't know what, if anything, that means ...

Look into my eyes

The number flashes like in the iris of the child's eye, or in the space between the eyes? The concept admittedly is a little "off" to me - but I can't think of a better alternative! Definitely interested to hear if you see progress down the road. Caring for an autistic child, and making eye contact has been something we've been encouraging and reinforcing, but seeing little progress.

iReward!

Have you tried iReward? It's available for iPhone and iPad, costs $2.99 and let's you set up a reward system where you can track the number of times they perform a particular behavior before they get a reward. I haven't used it a lot, but setting up the first one was really easy. You can have pictures of rewards that they can choose from and you can set the number of times they have to successfully complete the behavior or activity before being rewarded.

That's great info. For those of us losers who just have the iPhone, some of these apps are available for it as well. I know that Solar Walk is, but maybe the graphics are less impressive on the iPhone. I like the sound of the potty one...I wish there was just a generic one (maybe there is) that tracked how many times some customizable behavior is performed before they earn a reinforcer....like staying in her own damn bed at night.

So Informative!

I don't have an Ipad, but if I ever get one, I know who to turn to for advice!

Total 7 comments

“I love the iPad,” my sister told me after we've spent half and hour playing with our new toy.

hangmangame

World's sorriest game of hangman.

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.

BillyiPad

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.

Reader Comments

LOVE this post!

I want one!

Sounds awesome! Audrey would go nuts. And when you start that ABA program, this would be called a reinforcer. Ha! We already use the iPhone as one for Audrey.....

Love this post. I'm also recently the owner of an iPad and I must say that little box of tricks is amazing I'll be adding my own list of top 25 apps we're using - that's if I'm able to narrow it down! Really thrilled how this is working out for you guys - iPad naysayers... yah boo sucks! ;-)

Thsi is the best use of an iPad I've read to date. You express yourself so well, I'm going to go back read more. I came over here after seeing your shout out on Twitter. The fun world of social media!

Aquarium

Amanda can you tell me what is the exact name of the Aquarium app you use? I have been searching on our ipad and there are quite a lot!!

Cheers

This is beautiful

What a beautiful post, and such a positive and exciting step into technology for Billy and for you all. Without losing the human touch which is so present, especially in the noses! Very special indeed.
Sunshine x

Loved This Post...

Anything that will get kids to do what you want them to do when you want them to do it is great in my book! Glad Billy is liking his new toy!

Wendy

Love it

Oh I love this post so much!
And now.... I truly am in love with the iPad- regardless of the name. :)

Total 14 comments

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