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We’re winding down in my Best Apps for ….series. I’ll be honest, selecting apps for my 10 Best Apps for Special Needs Learners list was hands-down the hardest app selection process of this entire series. There are a number of apps on the market developed specifically for special needs learners. They range in price point from free to hundreds of dollars. A couple included on this list are pricey. Some were inexpensive, but when I tested them and read reviews I felt they were a waste of money. Some apps are incredibly beneficial for some special needs learners because they address an essential skill even if the app isn’t labeled “special needs.” So, I looked in-depth at a number of apps. Instead of simply looking for a “special needs” label, I checked to see what skills users would learn from the app. I also considered the overall layout and design of the app.
I’m a believer in apps for all devices. I love nothing more than to see a developer make their app available for as many platforms as possible. But, when it comes to apps for special needs learners, iOS has the upper hand. I say this as an avid Android girl. If you have a child with special needs, or are an adult with special needs, get an iPad. Really. There is a huge difference in the apps for special needs available for iOS and Android. I wish this wasn’t the case, but it is. So, you’ll see many iOS only apps in my list below. It’s certainly not because I have a change of heart. It’s because I truly want to offer the best advice. And, my advice is, if you are looking for a device to use with a special needs learner, go iOS.
So enough of my babbling and on with my
10 Best Apps for Special Needs Learners
#1 Letter Cross Tracking
Recommended Ages: 6-8
Letter Cross Tracking was developed by an occupational therapist. But don’t be fooled. The adorable monster animation and sound effects make this game so addictive kids will just think it’s plain fun. All the while they’re developing visual tracking, visual discrimination, and spatial skills as they search for the same ‘letter cross pattern’ by scanning the rows from top to bottom and left to right. There are 3 “cross” options with 4 levels of difficulty in each section.
Letter Cross Tracking encourages the student to search for the given letter cross pattern just as if reading a book. Kids start at the top and work towards the bottom, looking from left to right along each row. This practice strengthens the ability for children to control fine eye movements and helps strengthen their Visual Tracking Skills.
There is a free and a paid version. Start with the free version as this version gives access to Level 1 and a total of 150 puzzles! An in-app purchase unlocks Level 2, 3, and 4 giving access to an additional 450 puzzles.
There are no ads in the free or paid version.
#2 Montessori Crosswords
Recommended Ages: 3-5
Montessori Crosswords helps kids develop reading, writing, and spelling skills by dragging and dropping letters into a crossword grid to form words that correspond to the given pictures. Young children can drag letters around in the movable alphabet and practice linking phonetic sounds to letters. They are introduced to simple words with one-sound. Kids can go on to expand their vocabularies in the levels 2-4. These levels offer words that contain more complex phonics. Here kids learn long vowel sounds or blends. These levels also offer the option to automatically create multi-word crosswords in tens of thousands of different combinations. The app contains a database of over 300 words and their corresponding pictures. There are tens of thousands of possible crosswords. Montessori Crosswords includes sounds, animations, and interactive visual effects that are displayed after a word is completed. The movable alphabet engages kids. It’s learning that feels like play!
- Top 50 Android Apps for Kids 2013
- Children Technology Review Editor’s Choice Award for Excellence in Design
#3 Matrix Game 1
Recommended Ages: 4-8
Matrix Game 1 is for beginners. Each card is a combination of shapes from the horizontal row above and the vertical column on the side. The goal of the game is to arrange the matrix by dragging each card into the meeting point of the horizontal row and the vertical column. If your child struggles with planning, organization, memory, and time management, as well as tracking words on a page, this app is a great start. All levels are great for helping children with Executive Functioning Disorders, Dyslexia, and Visual Processing Disorders. This app will help organize your child’s brain for higher functioning concepts such as reading (tracking words), organization, and retention. Although Matrix Game 1 is on my list of best apps for special needs, I don’t want to neglect to share that Matrix Game 2 & Matrix Game 3 are also available. Look at those if your child could benefit from a higher level.
#4 Autism Therapy with MITA
Recommended Ages: 2-8
MITA (Mental Imagery Therapy for Autism) is a unique, early-intervention application for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The app includes nine adaptive games that develop a child’s mental-integration ability as well as train their language functions. Bright, interactive puzzles help children learn how to mentally integrate multiple features of an object, an ability that has proven to lead to vast improvements in general learning. MITA starts with simple exercises that teach a child to attend to only one feature, like size or color. Once a child has begun to master that exercises, increase in difficulty.
The verbal exercises in MITA train your child’s mental integration ability. However, the puzzles offer a more conventional, verbal approach by starting with simple vocabulary. Then it moves towards more complex language like adjectives, prepositions, and syntax.
MITA is designed for early childhood and intended for long-term, daily use. It is designed to be engaging and educational, as well as adaptive and responsive to the individual abilities of each child. And, it’s best played on a larger device, not a smartphone. You can read answers to other questions you might have about this app at Imagiration.
There are no ads and no in-app-purchases.
Recommended Ages: 4 and up
Choiceworks is a great app for helping kids manage daily routines and also understand and control their feelings while moving through the flow of the day. This app is especially useful in situations when kids must wait for something by giving them options to fill in wait time.
Choiceworks was created with the support of leading hospitals and child development specialists. It’s designed for caregivers, so they can provide clear and consistent support to foster a child’s independence, positive behavior, and emotional regulation at home and in the community. It can also be customized for teachers for use in a school setting.
There are 3 boards within the app. One for your child’s schedule, one for waiting, and one for feelings. The app comes preloaded with over 180 images and audio. Or, you can add your own images and record your own audio. You can attach a video to any board image making it easy to show clear instructions. One nice feature is you can print boards, or save them as a PDF file.
- 2012 Wynsum Arts Apps of Distinction Award Recipient
- 2012 About.com Readers Choice Winner – Best Special Needs App
- 2012 Gold Stevie Award Winner – Best Mobile App
Recommended Ages: 5 and up
News-2-You is the weekly newspaper for beginning readers and special needs students. The news stories provide information on reader-friendly topics that connect students to the world. The newsletter is full of concise symbol-supported news articles, puzzles, games, and recipes to keep kids engaged and learning about people, places, and sports. There are 4 reading levels so kids can begin with the simplified level and move along to the advanced level as they grow. Struggling learners will benefit from the Text to Speech option which is available in over 38 adult and children’s voices. Track reading progress with the exercises included.
Purchase single editions or an annual subscription. In-app single editions are priced at $1.99, or at an equivalent price in your local currency. The in-app annual subscription (News-2-You) offers 42 editions. It is priced at $54.99.
#7 Emergency Chat
Recommended Ages: 5-7
Emergency Chat is an essential app created for emergency situations where communication is essential, but speech isn’t an option. This is a situation many special needs children and adults have happen and I’m thrilled to see an app has been created to meet this need. The creators of the app say it was developed especially for users who are experiencing an “autistic meltdown, where their speech centers stay non-functional for a while even after they’ve recovered.”
The main screen of Emergency Chat comes with preset splash text that explains the user cannot use speech at this moment, but instead wants to use the app to communicate. Both the title and text can be adjusted in the settings screen to be whatever you want the person you give your phone to know. The following screen has a simple chat function that then allows two people to communicate back and forth.
This app gives control back to those who need an option for communication when communicating verbally isn’t possible.
Recommended Ages: 9-11
Proloquo2Go has a hefty price point on it, but this app really delivers. It is one of the few AAC apps that covers all users. It’s great for beginning to advanced communicators and caters to a wide range of fine-motor, visual, and cognitive skills. This means you purchase this one AAC app and you’re set for life. This app is amazing and, although the price point is a bit hefty, I did feel my 10 best apps for special needs learners list wouldn’t be complete without it.
Proloquo2Go has Crescendo™ core word vocabulary built-in. This research-based vocabulary program offers three vocabulary levels in 23 different grid sizes. Users can easily transition through the grids as their language skills expand while keeping customizations they’ve previously made. There is a huge library of words. The app gives access to 4,750 unique words out of the box. Another 7,250 pre-categorized words are available in storage.
Proloquo2Go and the Crescendo™ vocabulary are available in English and Spanish. With support for bilingual use, you can instantly switch between languages at any time. One really neat feature is the ability to use Apple Watch as a single switch for Proloquo2Go on the iPhone. Users can also use their Apple Watch as a communication tool with customizable phrases and a sentence builder.
There’s so much more with the Proloquo2Go app. I’d encourage you to connect with their support team. They are available 24/7 and even have private Facebook groups so you can connect with your peers using this app.
#9 Touch Trainer
Recommended Ages: 9 & up
There are so many apps for people with special needs. While it’s great to see how technology is helping, we may overlook that using devices like iPads and tablets might not come naturally to everyone. The device itself might present a challenge that some must first master. Touch Trainer is designed to do just that. It was designed by a BCBA (Board Certified Behavior Analyst). Touch Trainer helps users become familiar with touch screens and the gesture of buttons pressed. This truly is a great, easy to use “first app” that teaches single finger fine motor skills as well as cause and effect.
On the main screen you select a level between 1 and 7 to determine how many correct button taps are needed to move on to the next level. Here you’ll also select how many seconds of a visual, audio, and vibrating feedback will be given for a correct button press. Once these parameters are defined, you simply have to touch the “Start” button. Level 1 is the basic level. Here the button occupies virtually the whole screen. A simple touch and Touch Trainer will display a simple animation in which the item appears on the screen, moves while its size and the background color change, and you hear an audio clip associated with the icon (with a snort, in the case of horse, a drum music for the drum, etc.). This lets the player know they’ve successfully touched correctly. The size of the button gets progressively smaller in levels 2-7. At level 5 the button can be found in any location on the screen, not just in the middle. And in levels 6 & 7 multiple buttons are used. Touch Trainer is a great aid for those who need some practice using touch screens.
#10 Lola Slug at the Exhibition
Recommended Ages: 6-8
Lola is a cute book app for beginning readers. The characters are heartwarming, just living life. In the story line, Lola is very happy! She has received the invitation to the first art exhibition of her friend, Cecil Squirrel. She’s off to the museum with a bus ticket, a map, and the invitation in her backpack. It will be a trip full of fun, puzzling paintings, and delicious tarts!
There are 19 fun scenes that are brilliant. Even this part was well thought out. The backgrounds are light gray or colored in order to prevent flashing effects on brilliant screens. Kids definitely won’t get bored. And, best of all, the voices won’t make you want to claw out your ears. Yes, they are kids’ voices, but they are professionally done. They sound natural.
But, why is it on the 10 Best Apps for Special Needs Learners list? Does it have any value for my child other than it’s cute and my kid won’t get bored? Yes! It uses a font carefully designed for young readers. This font works wonderfully for all learners, but is great for learners with special needs like dyslexia and SLD. Choose between the all UPPERCASE text and normal text. Listen to professional narration, or enjoy reading by yourself, supported by special rulers.
Reading rulers expressly designed for beginning readers with or without special needs like dyslexia and SLD are active throughout the story. In fact, the reading ruler option is probably my favorite feature of this app. The reading ruler can be found on the left hand of every page on the “Read Myself” mode. Simply drag it on the text up and down. Users can choose their favorite color by swiping it right. This might look like a simple transparent colored ruler., but reading rulers can improve reading ability for many people. They help readers focus and track one line at a time, and reduce the glare on the page by providing the correct color contrast between letters and background.
There is no in-app purchase, no child-accessible links, and no connections to social media.