There’s an app for that
One of the advantages of the iPad over
dedicated communication-aiding technologies is that you can run a variety of
different apps on it, and there are plenty to choose from. The website Apps for
AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication, appsforaac.net) lists more
than 200 tools for helping improve people’s communication in various ways, and
there are more on the iTunes App Store.
iPad 2's wealth of new features is a boon for tech-hungry classrooms.
Apps that help develop speech often use
picture-based systems, games and sounds to help children practive forming
particular sounds or combinations of sounds.
Meanwhile, with dedicated communication
apps, the user can feed in or point to what they want to say, and the iPad will
actually speak the words or phrases.
These text-to-speech technologies have been
around for a long time – think of Stephen Hawking and his speech-generating
computer – but such dedicated tools can be fearsomely expensive, and they don’t
work for anyone. With the iPad, you have a flexible platform where if one solution
turns out not to work too well, you can move on and try another.
‘there are several ways these
text-to-speech systems can work,’ says Rachel Moore. ‘with apps like
Predictable (itun.es/ibf4LQ), if someone’s literate and can spell out a message
they can type it on the keyboard, and to speed things up there’s predictive
element. You can also store whole phrases or sentences.’
Such apps can make life significantly
easier for people with serious communication difficulties, and can help them
gain some independence. Fletcher-Watson explains: “You can get these flash
cards, but they can be hard to understand for people who aren’t used to them,
so you might have a picture of a crisp and people can’t really make out what
it’s meant to be. But with these apps, you press the symbol for crisp and it
apps can make life significantly easier for people with serious communication
difficulties, and can help them gain some independence
Rachel Moore points out that one of the
biggest advantages of the iPad is that you can have several apps loaded, each
fulfilling a different role.
‘So for someone with an autistic-spectrum
condition you might have a communication app to help them say what they want to
say, and a schedule to help them get through the day in a structured way, and
then a social stories app,’ she explains.
Social stories app allow people to take a
photo and write a brief text for each stage of an activity, such as going to
the shops or visiting a respite centre. This gives the user a record of what
they’ve done, and can be used to help them prepare for the next time they do
Recently Fletcher-Watson has been
developing a free app, FindMe(Autism), aimed at autistic children – it’s
available at itun.es/ibf4YX. ‘Our app doesn’t teach language explicitly: it
supports children’s learning of social skills, such as paying attention and
following a finger when someone’s pointing.’
FindMe(Autism) works as a two-stage game.
‘In the first part there’s a character, a little human being, and there are
other things on the screen that we call distractors: so if he’s in a jungle,
there will be a lion, or a hippo. You can get a verbal trigger, and the right
answer is to touch the person. If you do, you get a little reward – it’s a
token, and if you get five, you get an animated sequence.
‘In the second part, the character is
shopping. They point at things around the shop they want and you have to touch
the things they are pointing at.’
Fletcher-Watson points out the app can help
children with autism learn how to follow social cues. The response has been
pleasing. ‘There’s a reduced-scale version on iTunes and we had about 4,000
downloads in the first month,’ she says.