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.

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