Our first feature this week is written by Dad developer Kyle Tomson of Mobile Education Store. By sharing his story about how he started developing apps for the iPhone and iPad, we see how much is possible when specific family needs are addressed with mobile technology, innovation, and dedication.
How I got started
My name is Kyle Tomson, and I got into the iPhone developing about 18 months ago to help my daughter Caitlyn. She is on the autism spectrum, but is very high functioning. Almost 100% of her deficits are centered around language. She is about 3.5 years behind her peers in expressive language. When I started, the primary deficit we wanted to address was her inability to put together a grammatically correct sentence. She could get the ideas out, but all the words were mixed up and she did not use any of the connector words. Her teacher and her aide were making little progress helping her in this regard, and the language education CD’s we were buying were very expensive and didn’t offer a lot of content for your money. We knew from her time at a private preschool that employed Smart Boards in the classroom that she was very intelligent, and she could learn very quickly, but only if the material was presented in a visual format.
When the iPhone and its app store became available, we knew it presented a perfect medium for us to supplement her education. However, after searching iTunes for applications for her, we found that all of the autism related programs were for either much younger kids or for much more severe cases of autism. We couldn’t find anything that was geared for language on high functioning spectrum kids. Thus the mobile education store was born.
An Application Designed For One Person
Sentence Builder was designed specifically for Caitlyn to teach her how to put together a grammatically correct sentence. I spent a tremendous amount of time on encouragement animations (jumping dogs/dancing cows – that sort of thing). They are what make the program fun for her to play, and what keep her engaged. Once she started playing, she made such dramatic improvement in her sentence formation that I decided to “throw it up” on iTunes. I have been shocked at the number of SLP’s, teachers and parents from around the world who have contacted me telling me how much they like the program and how much it has helped their students/children. It has been a truly humbling and unexpected experience.
Applications As Her Needs Change
My next two applications were inspired by Caitlyn’s needs as she grew. I made Question Builder because as she started to use language more, she would more often than not echo questions back to her teachers rather than answering the questions. As with Sentence Builder, within months of using Question Builder, this problem was completely arrested in the the classroom. Now in the 2nd grade, Caitlyn is expected to do more creative writing, which she really struggles with. My featured application this month, Story Builder, was designed to help her come up with her own creative ideas, rather than letting her pick the answer from a list. Story Builder was made to address the core of her language deficits. Already she has made great strides in her ability to build a creative narrative.
As her needs change, I will be developing more applications to bridge the gap between the verbal education she receives in the public education system, and the visual one that she needs.
As I have gone through this journey, developing these applications has become a passion for me. Seeing how much these applications have helped my own daughter and hearing stories from parents and teachers has really opened my eyes as to how much I can offer this community. This has been the most gratifying thing I have ever done in my life, and I look forward to continuing my work for the foreseeable future.