Apps aid people with learning disabilities

Asia-Pacific, July 8 2012

John is still nonverbal at six years old. He sometimes babbles, but is incapable of making plain, intelligible words. He makes simple gestures, or throws tantrums every now and then to get attention and express his wants.

John was diagnosed with autism at age two, and he was unable to attend a regular school since. Instead, he goes to a therapy center at least thrice a week to work on his early childhood intervention program. His very limited communication skills somehow made him withdrawn, too.

Yet today is different. John does cooperate and is actually having fun. His attention is usually fleeting, but now he is hooked to his therapist’s iPad. He is able to do a number of tasks through an application (app), and begins to imitate a character acting out verbs in a nursery song.

John’s story adds to numerous anecdotes online and news reports noting the remarkable impact of tablets (iPad, Samsung Galaxy et al.) and certain apps in the learning process of kids with special needs.

In fact, more and more educators, therapists and parents are using the tablet as a learning tool.

“It greatly helped especially when therapy materials are limited. Apps were good alternatives to toys and worksheets,” said Rochette Mabansag, speech pathologist from University of the Philippines.

Apps appeal to kids since they are colorful, interactive and fun, according to Mabansag.

“Some kids quit crying and listen when music starts playing in the iPad. Others learn to articulate speech sounds as they trace letters on the screen. Others develop strategies to problems in simulation games,” she said.

Mabansag stressed that kids should be guided accordingly, though.

“Supervision is strongly advised especially with children of limited verbalizations. Some of my students tend to interact with the app, yet they don’t spontaneously repeat the words they hear, for example. Parents and caregivers should provide language stimulation through labeling and asking questions,” she added.

Thanks to the tablet’s growing popularity and relative ease of use, more and more apps for the learning disabled are available, either for free or for a minimal amount. If you browse through Google Play (for Android devices) or Apple’s App Store, you will find thousands of relevant apps that could suit your need.

You may search by subject or relevant skill set: such as for speech, language, reading, writing and spelling, visual processing, communication and listening skills, behavioral, cognitive thinking, fine motor skills, social and life skills, among others.

There are hundreds of disability specific apps (and more are added each day) for autism, ADHD, dyslexia, learning disability, sensory disability and more.

These apps help kids learn to speak and practice making correct sound, string words into phrases, formulate ideas, express their emotions, manage their behavior, encourage fine motor skills, and even navigate places with corresponding appropriate behavior.

Kids can use these at their own pace and convenience, a valuable tool for family members and support groups in reinforcing procedures and lessons at home. Since most of these programs are developed in partnership with experts or specialized learning institutions, design and methodologies are usually research-based. No wonder many of these apps produce wonderful results and a lot of positive feedback from their users.

“It’s definitely a great tool. It is portable and very easy to use, that is why kids love it,” said Janice, mom to a 4-year-old boy with autism.

She said she was never interested in fancy gadgets, but decided to buy an iPad recently when she learned that it is being used in his son’s therapy sessions.

“We used to research a lot for activities that we can do with our kid. He is “wired quite differently,” and it’s both challenging and frustrating making countless attempts to engage him in play or structured tasks. The iPad provided many new opportunities for interaction and bonding with my kid,” she said.

“He is very interested in a lot of apps which is excellent because once he is “engaged,” he learns fast and exhibits new levels of intellect.”

While many consider iPad or Galaxy as another fancy new toy, many people would also attest to its potential as a functional tool. For Janice and family members of kids with learning disabilities, it means more.

“Getting my kid’s attention is one thing, but to make him accept, process and respond to inputs is itself a milestone. A tablet loaded with learning apps does that. It helps us drag him back to our midst, and slowly opens up our kid’s “own little world” to us. To know that finally, we are getting results, is overwhelming. It’s worth every centavo and more,” she said.


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