Discovering apps with a child with special needs - a guest post by Cas Pearson, mother of a daughter with Down's syndrome - Nosy Crow Skip to content
Posted by Kate, August 3, 2012

Discovering apps with a child with special needs – a guest post by Cas Pearson, mother of a daughter with Down’s syndrome

I’m a sucker for books: all my kids have their own bookshelves in their rooms and we’re members of three council libraries. I’m also a sucker for “educational resources” (I homeschooled for a couple of years). I love walking into a classroom that’s jam packed with books, language games, maths games, science resources, musical instruments (I’m not talking just bells and triangles), art resources etc. I see the iPad a little the same way.

We have just entered the world of apps and, although it’s sometimes overwhelming, it’s also exciting being a part of a new generation of learning. My daughter, Jyrah (above, with an iPad) has Down’s syndrome and so she requires a lot more repetition of new knowledge/skills for her to be able to remember them: she needs more repetition to introduce something new, and she needs more opportunity to practice to consolidate what’s been introduced. Apps give her both.

I’m thrilled to see the resources available now that may give my daughter better access to the curriculum, and even better support for her learning.

At first I thought I’d just keep a page or two of apps for my daughter to use, but then I saw the benefit of having a variety of apps for each purpose. So for learning the alphabet, for example, we have about 15 apps, some better than others, and for learning to count, we have another 12 apps. I have most apps in folders, and drag out ones I want my daughter to take notice of… but she also goes straight to her favourite ones in folders too!

Originally, I was advised by therapists against apps in favour of computer software because of the customisability of the software for computers. But I’ve since discovered there are some really fabulous customisable apps that allow me to tailor them to her learning. She loves hearing her own voice praising her own efforts, and she loves hearing my voice reading stories. I love that I can give her Australian vocabulary and phonics. It’s fabulous being able to use our own photos of objects she’s in contact with daily. In effect, we’re labelling items just like my mum did for me when she put the words “cupboard”, “sink” and “door” on the relevant objects. I love being able to turn music on or off, narration on or off, sound effects on or off.

I’m passionate about children’s learning, and it seems obvious to me which developers are too. Some apps seem to be developed as part of the “apps band wagon” and they don’t seem to take children’s learning into account. I love apps that go the extra mile, explore the boundaries and then beyond – that think outside the box. I love apps that move through higher levels of thinking, that don’t take things at face value, that give my child/ren opportunities to create. I love apps that question the world around us and come up with new ways of looking at things, doing things, solving problems.

When I’m looking for apps, I’m not just looking for “educational” apps that will teach her basic ABC or 123, but apps that will provide her with a whole range of learning opportunities, covering all of the learning areas in the curriculum and more.

But my daughter learning to read and write is a big priority of mine as having that skill will give her greater opportunities for employment, leisure and even independent living.

When it comes to book apps, we have some book apps that are, essentially, ebooks, by which I mean well-known stories that have been been digitised, with some “interactive” animation added for extra interest. In some ways I prefer traditional print media for these kind of stories.

I also look for story apps that give my daughter the extra support she needs when looking at the written word. Research has shown that while reading a printed book, children learn to read better if (a) they have it read with them (b) their parent follows the words with their finger. Apps that read the words as my daughter touches them are fabulous for this! In the same way, apps that label objects in the story (so that when she touches the object, the labels appear) are great for learning new words.

But as I said before, I want my daughter to have as much opportunity for output as input. That’s where the last lot of story apps fit in. They really involve my daughter in the story, giving her control over the characters, the animation, even the storyline! Story telling is not just about books, it’s about passing on knowledge and learning, culture, family history, entertaining, creating. Apps can give my daughter the opportunity to share her stories a lot earlier than she may have been able to if she were limited to her ability to read and write.

Kate asked me to recommend apps, based on our experience. We’ve looked at 700 apps in the 13 weeks since we’ve had an iPad, but it is still really difficult to come up with a list. Writing a list of favourite apps is like writing a wedding invitation list: where do you stop? So this is simply a list of the apps (not by any means all story apps) that come to mind when other people ask me for recommendations:

Any Grasshopper Apps

FizzBrain: Touch and Write

Boreaal: LetterSchool

Lazoo: Squiggles!
Lazoo: Let’s Color!

CJ Education: Play Lab
CJ Education: Play 123

Smule: Magic Piano
Smule: Ocarina 2

Play School: Art Maker

Polished Play: Puppet Pals

Oceanhouse Media: Dr Seuss apps

… and of course Nosy Crow: Bizzy Bear Builds a House

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