Using iPads in Speech Therapy and at Home

by Moms With Apps on September 14, 2011

This guest post is written by Poorani Doonan, a practicing Speech-Language Pathologist working in the East Bay area in California. She is also a “Moms With App”, having created the successful series of Speech with Milo apps with her husband. Poorani shares her techniques for how to actively use apps while working on speech, language and learning skills. What’s pertinent to note is that apps may be released with a certain intention from the developer, but how they are used in real life can be applied in all sorts of ways, as the SLPs are discovering in their interactions with children. 

It has been about a year since I started using the iPad in therapy and I’m amazed at how quickly everything has changed.  I am a speech-language pathologist, working with kids in their homes.  I used to carry around bags filled with tons of entertaining and educational materials for kids.  Sometimes I would carry around three different bags, depending on how many different goals I was working on that day.  Then came the iPad. I immediately jumped on the bandwagon and started using it in therapy.  Not only did it reduce the amount of materials I carried around, but it had great potential for kids who were hard to engage and for teaching concepts that were difficult to illustrate. Many think of the iPad itself as the key to helping our children learn or acquire skills. The truth is that you have to sit down with the kids and work together as a team to get the most of the iPad.

Below are some ideas for therapy that go beyond the original purpose of the app.  My intent is not to highlight these particular apps, but to show a few examples of creative use.  Most of the apps I listed are the ‘big names’.  What I love about MWA is the incredible variety of creative apps, so I encourage you all to post your ideas in the comments section.  I am sure we can collect some amazing suggestions for all parents.

Doodle Buddy -  I was struggling last week with teaching the concept of plurals to one of my kids in therapy.  Inspiration hit me and I opened up the Doodle Buddy app.  Kids can scribble on it with her fingers, change colors, the type of scribble, etc.  But this app has “stamps” that you can use by choosing from a variety of pictures (cat, spider, car, etc.) and tapping the iPad screen to create a “stamp.”  Together we made two columns, one for singular and one for plurals, and tapped.  So for example, we tapped one car in the singular column and 4 cars in the plural column.  We expanded from there, but you get the idea.  Doodle Buddy wasn’t made for teaching plurals, but the child I was working with was very interested and willing to work on it on the iPad.

Cupcake Maker -   This app allows your child to “make” a cupcake by adding ingredients, stirring the batter, adding frosting, etc.  I use it to work on following directions.  You can make the directions simple or complex.  In therapy, I often use it to add a location concept (“Put a green cup in the bottom row”).  There are a lot of Maker apps, but Cupcake maker is a big hit with the kids because they can “eat” it after they are done.

Songify -  Have you Songified yet?  Get your child to say something and the Songify app will turn the word, phrase, or sentence into a happy song.  Very cool and very motivating to work on for speech and language skills.

You Tube and Google Images – Great tools for teaching concepts that are difficult to convey.  Volcanoes erupting, a hummingbird’s long beak, waves crashing, how to ride a bike- these are all so easy to find online and much easier for kids to grasp the concept.  Once they know what I am talking about, it’s much easier for me to expand on it and keep their attention.  It helps me build the dynamic aspects of language into therapy.  The possibilities here are almost limitless.

Obligitory Angry Bird mention -  I would add Fruit Ninja, Paper Toss, and Touch Hockey to this list of apps that act as great for rewards and breaks.  I use these very sparingly, and only with kids that need the motivation.

iPhone -  Sometimes I don’t want to turn an app off to use a different feature on the iPad. This is where I pull out my iPhone. I can use the camera feature on it to use as an alternative to a mirror for articulation therapy, while keeping the articulation app cards open on the iPad.  Kids love seeing themselves on camera!  They also love hearing themselves, so I use the voice memo feature on the iPhone so kids can learn to give themselves auditory feedback for articulation and fluency therapy.

These are just a few ideas for a device that offers endless possibilities. The critical point with all of them is that parents are involved in the experience.  In my practice as a Speech-Language Pathologist, I still need to be there to teach and make language and educational concepts relevant and fun.  It’s really not too much different from traditional therapy. It’s just a different way – one with way more access to information and entertainment.  With the iPad, it just happens to be in one convenient and compact place to put everything.  I still carry around bags, but now it’s usually just one and definitely not as heavy.

The Speech with Milo series includes: Verbs, Prepositions, Sequencing, Interactive Storybook, Spanish Verbs, and Spanish Preposition.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Shimon Young September 14, 2011 at 12:31 pm

Thanks for this.

One of the biggest surprises for me as a developer was finding out just how popular “My PlayHome” had become with speech therapists.

It’s incredible what can happen when we release our apps in to the wild…

Sue Drouin M.S., CCC-SLP September 14, 2011 at 2:09 pm

Great suggestions. Below are a few my my favorites that I use every week in my therapy:
Sound Level and Megaphone for voice therapy; Voila Friends, ABA Emotions, Touch Emotion for teaching feelings; Biggest Sounds HD, Noise Room, Things you can hear and What was that noise? for sound discrimination; Pet Me, Furry Friend, Toca Hair Salon for descriptions and talking about action, recent past tense. I also love AlphaTots and Tally Tots as well as Game Factory HD and there are so many more.

Cindy Downes September 15, 2011 at 4:19 am

Thank you for the article about using the iPad in special education. I shared it with my homeschool friends.

jacey shumaker September 16, 2011 at 5:42 am

Thanks so much for the article and for your great apps. I too am a Speech-Language Pathologist providing services in clients home. I have been teaching others to implement IPAD and Itouch in therapy and just want to reiterate the importance of using the app with a person. Emphasizing the social interaction and need for adult direction to gain the most out of the many apps I use during treatment sessions. There are so many goals that can be reached with great apps, but all of them need to be provided with a real live person to be most effective. Giving the IPAD as a reward is something I never do, and really never have to do because we are working on the IPAD to address the language goal and the IPAD in the activity is motivating in itself. No check out reward time needed. (by the way, I don’t think that children with social pragmatic disorders should be “rewarded” with an isolating activity such as computer that they play independently or YouTube, angry birds etc. EVER!!! End of story) That is reinforcing isolation in my view. Reward with a game on the computer or IPAD between two people and now you have something! I use your apps and many others, and have found them to be wonderful from a language building standpoint as well as social interaction. Thanks again.

jacey shumaker September 16, 2011 at 5:52 am

I meant to add my suggestions for super language based apps to be played with other adult or kids:

Clear Up Things (sorting – say what you are getting and where it goes before you select it . Take turns)
My Play Home (give directions, 1 step 2 step, 3 step. take turns – household vocabulary)
Wimmel Berufe (silly scenes with lots of errors. I think 5.99 but totally worth it. You tell what you notice that is wrong before you select it, and take turns)
Wimmel Ferien(silly scenes with lots of errors. I think 5.99 but totally worth it. You tell what you notice that is wrong before you select it, and take turns)
Wimmelbuch(silly scenes with lots of errors. I think 5.99 but totally worth it. You tell what you notice that is wrong before you select it, and take turns)
ABA cards (all vocab sets – play “Tell me about it” – Each person tells 2 things about the card they receive on their swipe. Work on descriptors)
Language Builder (motivating. Tell a story about a picture. Plan it, at least 4 sentences, then you get to record and listen to your story. Very motivating for students)
Story Buddy (organize, plan a story and create it. You draw your own pictures or can import for social story building 9.99 but totally worth it! I print them out and have them bound at staples for 2.00. kids love it!)
Highlights (find it game… tell what you found and where it is hidden in the picture before you look for it)
Spark (conversation starters
Mad Libs (vocabulary builder and silly stories are motivating
Hangman (great for teaching reading / spelling strategies. Breaking down word families, etc.)

Hope this is helpful to others.

Claudia September 16, 2011 at 1:46 pm

I love Sequencing with Milo. I am a SP working with prescoolers and they love this app as do I was wodering if you have plans to do higher sequences. Is there a way to keep the shuffle feature on so it doesn’t have to be changed every time? Also it would be great to be able to have the option to turn off the text for those kids who already read or figure out the a, b, c. Loved the comments/suggestions by Poorani Doonan.

Brennan September 16, 2011 at 3:56 pm

I love this line:

“The truth is that you have to sit down with the kids and work together as a team to get the most of the iPad.”

It epitomizes the perfect attitude towards using technology in education – it’s a facilitator, not a substitute.

Nancy Barth September 26, 2011 at 12:38 pm

Great article!! I recently reviewed the new Cinderella app by Nosy Crow, and found numerous Language Arts Standards that it addresses.

Jennifer September 29, 2011 at 7:31 am

I like using Doodle and Clicky Sticky for basic concept practice. Clicky Sticky is a paid up but there are several free “sticker” apps that work just as well!

Poorani Doonan October 7, 2011 at 11:48 pm

Thank you everybody for the great comments. It is wonderful to see such great ideas.
Just a point of clarification about Angry Birds- I did not mean to imply that Angry Birds be a reward for a child to run off an play with if they do well. The main point of my article is to discourage that type of behavior in parents, so I apologize if I stated it incorrectly. Be very involved regardless of the app (or game or activity), and both parent and child benefit.

Thanks so much,
Poorani

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