The iPad is proving to have unforeseen benefits for children with special needs. Unknowingly, Apple may have stumbled upon a revolutionary framework to change the future of special education technology. A plethora of applications can be downloaded to the iPad to maintain schedules, tell stories, learn lessons, and reinforce behavioral expectations for children. For example, children on the Autism spectrum can communicate desires and feelings in a way that would not be possible otherwise. The iPad is also a fraction of the cost of other communication devices which charge upwards of $10,000 and is more affordable than conventional materials purchased from educational catalogues.
The iPad’s larger screen plus a number of existing applications means that special education teachers and Speech Pathologists can use them to target specific student learning needs. It can be loaded with apps designed to help students with speech delays communicate, or those with fine-motor difficulties write and draw or solve puzzles that would otherwise prove too challenging. There are apps for augmentative and alternative communication, articulation /phonology, language skills, fluency/stuttering, voice and general utility apps for speech therapists, social skills, math, behavioral skills, and language arts.
One of the most popular applications is used as a communication device for children who are non-verbal. This application provides natural sounding text-to-speech voices. Some of the apps offer images that users can press to make the sound of a word; others lead students through stories to teach them basic speech patterns. An advanced screen-reading technology is also available that goes beyond text to speech. Children can hear a spoken description of what’s onscreen and can control their computer using the keyboard. Students can also use this voice over technology to browse the web, and edit text documents. Many of the speech apps have been available on traditional computers and smaller touch-screen devices, but parents and therapists said the tablet style of the iPad offers more options for children.
For children with cognitive limitations, the iPad can read aloud a selection of text or an entire document. This includes various male and female voices, and natural-sounding voices that even pause to breath when speaking long passages.
Children who used to have difficulty using a mouse on a computer can use their fingers to touch and drag things. The technology's touch screen can be used by students with fine-motor delays who find it difficult to use a standard computer mouse.
A sampling of some apps is listed below:
- List of sounds for developmental ages 3 to 7+, and explanations for forming and teaching the sounds.
- Delayed auditory feedback and frequency shifting to help improve stuttering
- Over 600 words (organized by sound) to practice articulation in flashcards with user and data features.
- 400 images that practice phonemes (sounds) in various positions of words or sentences.
- Access Google Apps and search using your voice
- Apps for a calculator, timer, tally counter, schedules and storybooks
- Interactive animal flashcards with audio that provide the letter name, associated animal name, and the phonetics.
- 220 High frequency words spoken at the push of a button, and the individual progress is tracked.
- Interactive books narrated with words that highlight as they’re read
- Voice recognition to speak, see and edit text, then search on Google and Wikipedia.
- Trace numbers, lowercase and uppercase letters using numbered prompts
- Activities for counting, adding, and subtracting with manipulatives, solution choices, and verbal praise.
- Adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing with visual supports, solution choices, reinforcers and rewards.