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Introducing Touchscreen Apps for Special Needs

While new technology is constantly enhancing and changing how we learn and communicate, we should keep in mind that these skills do not come as…

While new technology is constantly enhancing and changing how we learn and communicate, we should keep in mind that these skills do not come as readily to some who are born with disabilities. However, thanks to a number of recently developed iPad apps, people with disabilities and their families have access to a few more resources than they have had in the past.

As Zoe Fox for Mashable reports, “Touch devices — most notably the iPad — are revolutionizing the lives of children, adults and seniors with special needs.” The article feature SNApps4Kids, a Houston-based organization that provides support for this community by “using the iPad, iPod touch, iPhone and Android to help children with special needs.” The group’s co-founder, Sami Rahman, has seen the success of these methods on his own son Noah who suffers from moderate cerebral palsy.

How they Help

Fox breaks down the 4 ways these apps can help: as communicators, therapeutic devices, educational tools, and behavior monitors.

1. Communicators

Some of the apps mentioned include: Proloquo2Go, a touch-to-speak app with a large variety of functions, and Yes|No, a more simple app that allows users to answer questions in the Yes/No format.Sign language dictionaries and hearing amplifiers are also available for both the hearing impaired and their loved ones. According to Fox,

"Before the iPad and other similar devices, using touch-to-speak technology was incredibly expensive, costing around $8,000. Now, it only costs $499 for an iPad and $189.99 for a thorough touch-to-speak app..."

2. Therapeutic Devices

The devices themselves with their interactive functions and touchscreen capabilities motivate the kids to become active, especially when their disability makes them less inclined. For example, children who have down syndrome usually have a lower muscle mass and therefore prefer to sit still than move around. Cristen Reats, co-founder of SNApps4Kids, says the iPad helped her son Vincent, who suffers from down syndrome, to become more active. Fox writes, "Throughout his life, Vincent’s therapists and parents have tried to help him be more active. It was not until his physical therapist placed an iPad on a treadmill that Vincent was motivated to walk." In addition to improving these basic motor functions, touchscreen apps help to tune fine motor skills such as writing.

3. Educational Tools

From social skills, math & language, and even emotional development (for autistic children), there are a variety of tools for teachers as well as learning-impaired students. To serve this market, Apple has even created a Special Needs Apps section in the iTunes store. Jeremy Brown, a teacher for autistic elementary school students, predicts that "80% to 90% of his students with autism see great results when using iOS devices," saying that the interaction between these students and the technology is "like a fish to water."

4. Behavior Monitors

An app called Behavior Tracker is geared to both parents and teachers who need to "quantify the behavioral progress of children with special needs" in order to reinforce the good behaviors and discourage the bad ones. Video and audio recording is also possible for teachers who want to review incidents with a parent later or parents who want to review them with a therapist. In addition to documenting built-in behaviors, users can add their own behaviors, specific to their child. Those who are looking for some quick fix to learning disabilities should be cautious because technology does not have one. However, Fox writes, "That doesn’t mean it can’t help. Apps like Medication Reminder tell users when it’s time to take medication. Memory Practice, a memory strengthening app, was created for the developer’s mother shortly after she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s."

Pictures via iTunes

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