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Apps that Inspire Creativity

November 8, 2012 posted by rsimon

Inspiring creativity in all children, and especially those with disabilities, is a wonderful goal for all providers and teachers. However, time demands often make this is lofty goal to achieve in the classroom. So I would like to mention several wonderful Apps that anyone can use at home or in school to help children play, think and work more creatively.

Faces iMake - Right Brain Creativity by iMagine Machine is an App for creating collages from pictures of every-day objects. It teaches kids to look at the world around them in a new way, and to find and use playful visual metaphors as they create playful faces. Imagine using a banana as a nose or a potato as an ear when creating the image of a face. The capacity to understand and apply metaphors to shapes while ignoring their predesigned name and function is a great 'right brain' activity and one that can bolster creativity skills in all children.


A recent addition to Faces iMake is FACEWORLD - a virtual space where users create together, modify and improve each other’s artwork in a game-like environment. For example, a user can create a face, upload it to FaceWorld and within minutes someone on the other side of the county, can download it to their own iPad, modify it and upload a new version to appear next to the original. While still playful, the App encourages creative collaboration between kids.

Felt Board by Software Smoothie App has been carefully designed to encourage open-ended creative play. While it's impossible to include every imaginable prop or costume a child might imagine in one place, the developers of this App tried to include a wide variety of character combinations, facial expressions, settings and props to cover themes that will inspire children to build original or modified creations.

As kids often do in their play, one object can be used to represent another. For instance, the wooden sword in a Felt Board can be used as flagpoles on the pirate ship, or arms for snowmen in a winter scene. The developer’s kept the interface as simple as possible, with limited sound effects and other distractions, so that all of the creative work is done in the mind of the child. This can be ideal for children with autism who often work best in visual environments with fewer distractions and noises.

The backgrounds, costumes, accessories and characters in Felt Board are kept in separate categories, not only as a way to organize the App, but also to encourage children to explore the different themes by mixing and matching references. What happens when a pirate character and a pig land on the moon together? How different is the princess's story if she is placed in the dark woods as opposed to a sunny meadow? Imaginative play in childhood is a key building block for future innovation and creative problem solving as an adult. A child who can transform a wooden sword into a flagpole might become an adult who can think outside of the box.

Toca Boca, the leading digital toy developer, recently released Toca Tailor, a mobile App that sparks creativity and imagination in children ages four years and older through the design of outfits. The App offers a seemingly limitless palette of colors, fabrics and patterns with which to work. Wardrobes come together through mixing and matching 24 different fabrics and patterns, playing with color combinations, adjusting hemlines and sleeve lengths and adding personal, signature touches along the way. The App also includes a camera feature that allows users to bring real-world surroundings into the design studio.

Whether you are a teacher, provider, parent or caregiver of a young child, you will find that all of these Apps can help unlock a child’s creativity and desire to play. They might unlock yours as well!

WordFlex Touch Dictionary App

August 26, 2012 posted by rsimon

Often children on the Autism Spectrum have language delays. As parents and educators, we know that language delays negatively impact skills in the area of reading, specifically in vocabulary and comprehension. As these children grow, reading becomes increasingly difficult for them. And if they do not understand what they are reading, then they might wonder, why bother reading at all? This was my son’s attitude. For over ten years, he has received therapy for language skills, yet he still lags behind in his vocabulary and comprehension skills. Until a few years ago, my son had no interest in reading. I am indebted to J.K. Rowling for “Harry Potter”. It inspired my son to read, as well as the millions of other children across the globe. When reading “Harry Potter,” I noticed that there were many words that were difficult for him - words such as indignant, pernicious, and fraught. One can usually decipher the message of the text by using context clues, but if there is an abundance of difficult words, then what? For my son to keep a pocket dictionary with him was unrealistic.

Then I discovered the highly rated app Wordflex Touch Dictionary. Developed by Schematix in association with Oxford University Press, this app is beneficial for all students – and even more so for those with language delays. WordFlex Touch Dictionary enables anyone to explore language deeply – but it’s remarkably easy and intuitive to use. Searching a standard dictionary for a word results in the word, its meaning, and part of speech. However, using the WordFlex Touch Dictionary app, the possibilities are endless as the app has an abundance of amazing features. The app uses intuitive “mind-mapping” technology to turn word entries into dynamic trees that can be moved, shaped, rearranged, saved and shared with touch gestures. After a child enters a word to explore, the app opens into a word tree that shows parts of speech (noun, verb, etc.), high-level senses (meanings), and related phrases. Simultaneously, a speaker appears below the main word box and pronounces the word in U.K./U.S. English. In addition, various badges appear providing extra information about the word such as the primary meaning of the word, the word’s origin, example sentences, illustrations, and usage notes. Where available, synonyms and antonyms will be visible. Informal, slang and other equivalents of the word may also appear. These features can benefit a child with delayed language skills as they often have difficulty with slang, sarcasm, and colloquialisms.

My son had a very easy time using this app. In fact, it was a pleasure for him to use it, as he was fascinated by the truly tactile, interactive references. If you are looking for a great “Back to School” app to help your child with reading and language skills, then I would urge you to look at WordFlex Touch Dictionary.

If you have other ideas for great Back to School apps, please join our discussion forum or post a comment here.

Apps for Social Success

June 19, 2012 posted by rsimon

Social Skills, such as eye contact, communication, interactive attention span, and flexibility are important skills for all children. For children with special needs, these subtle skills are crucial for their social success. Most parents of typically developing children take their child’s social skills development for granted. However, that ability to socialize and to create and sustain substantial interactive relationships with parents, siblings, peers, etc., can be a fundamental challenge for children on the autistic spectrum. While it is important to focus on all areas of a child’s development, I feel the first and most important skills to focus on is social development, the ability to socially interact. For oftentimes it is in this area that we are able to create the greatest possibility for change.

Children who have high functioning autism, Asperger’s and/or ADHD face many challenges socially. Although these children are likely mainstreamed with their typical peers, they often have a very difficult time creating and sustaining meaningful relationships with others around them. These children are often challenged by tasks such as recognizing others’ facial expressions, social cues, and most importantly, subtleties in body language that convey emotions and feelings.

The Social Express ™ was developed to address some of these developmental concerns. Created by a team at Social Express, this animated interactive software teaches children and young adults social and life skills. The app uses engaging scenarios to teach users how to think about and manage social situations so that they are better prepared to develop meaningful social relationships and succeed in life.

Many children on the autism spectrum tend to be visual learners, so The Social Express utilizes Hollywood-quality animation to present content to the users. These animations include a social story in which the user is asked to observe the characters in a specific situation as a problem arises. The user must then evaluate how one of the characters is feeling and decide upon a proper course of action to take to resolve the situation. Since not every situation has a black and white outcome, this app helps users to learn subtle nuances that are often hard for them to detect. The Social Express challenges the user to look at the entire social story and make the best choice.

The Social Express is one of the few social skills apps that my son enjoys using – so much so that he actually asks to use it. This app is a bit pricey but for good reason as there is no other social skills app like it. And a child being able to exhibit proper social skills and create meaningful relationships is priceless.

Two Apps Among Many

April 20, 2012 posted by rsimon

 In the Apple App Store, over 25 billion apps have been downloaded, and the number increases daily. There are many apps in the education market – so many that it has become an overwhelming amount. Prices range from free to over $100 an app. Unlike products bought in a store, apps do not have a return policy. Parents must spend time sorting through apps that will suit their children’s needs from ones that will not. Below I listed and described various apps that I found to be helpful to my son in different ways.

Learning basic multiplication facts is just one of those things that we all have to do in elementary school – no ifs, ands, or buts about it. For some children this is an easy task while it is more difficult for others. My son in particular has a great memory, yet he thoroughly enjoys using this app as he finds it highly entertaining. Multiplying Acorns HD – Tasty Math Facts, developed by Operatio Apps, is a fun, hands-on learning, math experience. The superb HD graphics create an engrossing, manipulative-based environment for a thorough conceptual understanding of the times tables. The game is set up with a token economy system and rewards the user throughout the game as he or she earns coins and acorns for solving problems correctly. The settings are user friendly and can be adjusted the specific needs of the user. I myself have played the game many times and have found it to be addictive. You might want to check this out as it is definitely worth the money.

There are those days where our children are bored and want to watch a video – yet they want to watch something different that is not part of their current selection. Although YouTube features many videos, parents may find navigating YouTube a chore as they try to find videos that are appropriate for their child. It was for this reason that Gube: Kid Safe Videos was developed. Gube provides parents with a catalog of pre-screened, moderated, and safe yet fun YouTube videos. Gube was designed and developed by parents of toddlers for parents with infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and gradeschoolers. Thousands of videos are categorized by age group and are completely searchable. You can safely allow your child to easily browse on their own through age-appropriate videos while having the peace of mind knowing they are protected from unsuitable content. Parents are able to save their children’s favorite videos to a list in order to enable easy playback at a later time. When the videos are played, there are no advertisements on the page. You might want to check out Gube as videos are being added on a regular basis. Parents can submit video recommendations to be included in Gube as well.

These are just two apps that I found to be highly beneficial for my son. I would suggest that you look into these apps as they could help your children too. I would be happy to receive your feedback about these apps in particular.

Opening Worlds with Technology

February 9, 2012 posted by rsimon


My name is Rebecca Simon and I am a mother of a 12 year old boy with high functioning autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Since birth, my son has been developmentally delayed in all areas of functioning. His normal behaviors included frequent meltdowns, echolalia, flapping hands, and “stimming,” or fixation of certain objects. Various therapies soon became the norm yet despite all of these my son always gravitated most towards playing educational games on our computer. Until recently, I could not comprehend why. To understand this, one has to consider the behaviors of a child with autism.

Children with ASD experience anxiety which can cause them to act out and misbehave. Children with ASD thrive on predictability -- routine is their best friend. In fact, going through simple motions, such as lining up a series of toy cars, again and again is a part of their daily lives. To peers and adults, these repetitive behaviors appear bizarre. For children with ASD, the ability to predict what comes next in a sequence of events affords them a sense of security and confidence. When playing an educational game on the computer, the structure and sequence of the game are always the same, thereby enabling kids like my son to be more confident in what they are doing.

Children with ASD tend to be visual learners too and they can benefit substantially from visual supports. Assistive Technology of AT devices afford them the chance to learn in a visual way. Through technology, I use many visual supports when trying to teach my son language and comprehension included using the computer to design cue cards with pictures . In addition, children with ASD often have challenges with sensory integration and they often find sudden loud noises and lights unpleasant. When using an AT or technology device, it is important to control the level of noise and brightness to meet the needs of the child.

Children with ASD often have obsessive or narrow minded interests. As parents, we can use these interests as motivators for our children. For example, my son enjoys reading comics. One of our goals for him is fostering age appropriate social skills. So, I have found a digital comic book that enables me to spend quality time with my son and, at the same time, to strengthen his social skills through our discussions about the book’s characters. I find that we can accomplish so much more when we utilize tools and resources that appeal naturally to our children.

Technology, such as digital books, opens worlds for our children. The predictability, visual cues and feedback, and access to information that appeals to children with ASD are easily accessible through today’s technology. Parents should be open to all the ways it can be used to open new worlds.