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A speech therapist’s view on children’s apps: interview with Angela Desideri

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Over the past year, we’ve been talking to teachers, educators and speech specialists about how they use apps in their work with young students. Recently, we spoke to Angela Desideri, a speech language pathologist in the United States who specializes in working with children with autism spectrum disorders. Here’s what she had to say:

What is your background and what type of work do you do now?

I’m a Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) who specializes in working with children with autism spectrum disorders and others who experience communication challenges.

My company, GACI, Global Augmentative Communication Innovators, develops educational apps and provides American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) certified trainings. In March 2012 we will be launching an app called SpeechTree which is an evidence based Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) learning app.

How are you using apps with children?

I use apps every day as part of my therapy sessions. I’ve found that apps add a critical dimension to my sessions and are an effective and successful way to keep my students engaged, motivated, learning, and most importantly, communicating!

What effect can apps have on children who may have learning challenges or are experiencing communication difficulties?

Apps have an enormous positive effect on children’s learning and communication development process. The best apps allow therapists to better focus on children’s strengths and interests. These well constructed apps have been particularly beneficial to my special needs students by sustaining their attention and motivation as compared to traditional therapy activities.

Do book apps offer special benefits for speech skills?

Yes, I use books all the time in speech and language therapy. Book apps provide a dynamic layer to my therapy sessions. Many of my students have language comprehension, sequencing, story retell and expressive language goals; so books are an essential component in speech and language therapy. With the advancement of book apps this really brings stories to life. Many of my students are visual learners, so the book apps are ideal for them. I find my students really become active participants in the learning process.

What do you like about the Nosy Crow apps?

I love Nosy Crow apps! They are highly interactive and allow me to work on a wide variety of speech and language skills. The Cinderella app is one of my favorite apps and I use it in the following ways:

  • Comprehension and Vocabulary Development – The invitation page is a fantastic place to work on vocabulary and comprehension skills. An excellent extension activity is to have students create their own invitations and plan a party. The children can create specific details and work on developing answers to questions such as “who”, “what”, “where”, “when” and “how” when creating their invitations.
  • Answering “who” questions and peer identification – The pages on which the reader appears in the mirror are so exciting! The children absolutely love this feature. They feel so special to be “in” the story. We focus in on identifying and answering “Who is in the story?”, then take turns appearing in the story. The personalized aspect on these pages is truly exciting for the students.
  • Following Multi-Step Directions – The garden scene – talk about language concepts galore; this is a Speech Therapist’s dream! This is where my students work on following directions ​by finding all the items. We work together as a team to locate items and expand on their utterances.
  • Choice Making / Stating Preferences / Requesting – Choosing the color of Cinderella’s gown is a wonderful creative language activity. My students really enjoy picking the colors and watching them appear. This is another effective tool to expand language skills and generate complex sentences.
  • Social Skills – One of my favorite aspects of the Nosy Crow apps is how truly interactive the characters are by the comments they make. I use these features with my students who are developing conversation skills like commenting, asking questions and using compliments. These are all vital skills which need to be developed in order to engage in effective conversations.
  • Narrative Development – My students retell the story using the story grammar elements such as characters, setting, sequencing of events, and eventually stating the problem and describing the resolution at the end.
  • Emotions – The characters express a wide range of emotions throughout the story. I use these to help my students learn to identify and effectively express feelings.

What are some of your favorite apps and why?

I have so many favorite apps, but here are my top four:

1) Cinderella by Nosy Crow – a wide variety of speech and language goals can be addressed in this app.

2) Go Away Big Green Monster! by Day and Night Studios – I like this app because it is exactly the same as the book and there are endless fun extension activities.

3) My PlayHome by Shimon Young – This is a virtual interactive play house. Great app for cause and effect, expanding language and play skills and various linguistic concepts.

4) The Social Express by The Language Express- This is a comprehensive app that works on all areas of social skills development. I appreciate that it contains teacher tips throughout the app.

If you could design your ideal app, what features would it include?

I truly believe the iPad has opened up an entire new world of learning possibilities and we need to embrace and utilize this technology for the benefit of our students. This is particularly true for those children with learning challenges. That said, here are some of the features I believe are particularly important to have in an effective app:

  • Advertisement and in app purchase free.
  • Interactive and colorful
  • Motivating animations
  • Avoid using the word “no”. Instead, use language that helps students arrive at the correct answer.
  • The ability to personalize with photos and names.

What advice would you give to developers making children’s story apps? What should we know about how SLPs might incorporate story apps in therapy?

The ability to interact more with the storyline and allowing the users to personalize the story would help to maximize the learning process. Allowing them to choose or create the characters, settings, and events helps them learn these concepts and be truly interactive. I’m extremely excited to see all the latest and greatest story apps that are released in the future!

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