I’m hoping there are a few last minute shoppers out there because here, at last, is my promised blog post on the best apps to buy for your wee ones this Christmas. This is broken down into two age-groups – a Christmas stocking for pre-school children and a Christmas stocking for primary-aged kids. I’ve also done a luxury list where money is no object. The lists recommend hardware ideas and I have created my very own App Wheel (inspired by these excellent examples from CALL Scotland and by Mark Coppin) which provides a summary of the best apps I’ve reviewed so far.
For younger children, touchscreen is the way to go for maximum accessibility, and a bigger screen is probably better so I wouldn’t recommend a phone. Android tablets are usually a lot cheaper than the iPad but. despite efforts to be balanced, I have found a far higher proportion of quality apps for pre-schoolers (both autism specific and minatsream) available on iTunes. A quick search on eBay reveals a number of 1st generation iPads going for between £100 an £150 – not cheap but less than almost any new tablet. Second hand iPad minis seem to be selling for about £200. Alternatively, more and more families seem to be securing funding to purchase an iPad for their autistic child. This probably won’t happen before Christmas, but check out organisations such as Cerebra, Hearts and Minds or your local education authority.
To go with your new iPad you’ll be wanting a case, to keep it safe! I really like the iGuy by Speck, though it is fairly easy to remove, so if your child likes taking things apart… then you can’t beat an OtterBox.
And now for some apps. The wheel below is not a comprehensive list but does pick out my favourites from the ones I’ve reviewed so far. Of these, for kids I would highly recommend any of the fun apps by Toca Boca and Duck Duck Moose. Toca Tea Party is particularly good as a platform to inspire pretend play, and Duck Duck Moose have a whole range of apps based on familiar nursery rhymes such as Wheels on the Bus, Itsy Bitsy Spider and Old MacDonald. For early language learning, My A-Z has some great personalisation features. If your child is into sensory exploration they will love ReacTickles or Sensory Lightbox – also good for learning the vary basics of touchscreen use. Injini is probably my favourite all-round educational app with twelve games all with multiple difficulty levels. To support communication I’d recommend Choiceworks for scheduling, routines, emotional regulation and waiting. Grace is basically PECS on a phone and is hard to beat. Our Story was designed for inspiring kids ot read and understand narrative but this free app could also double as an excellent social story platform. Finally, if you want to try to use the iPad to target some of the social difficulties associated with autism, try ABA Emotions and why not give my app, FindMe, a go. I am reluctant to push it too much, but there is a free version so it might be worth a try!
Primary School Stocking
For an older child, their fine motor control is obviously going to be better, but I’d still recommend a touchscreen as the variety of games and apps is so fantastic. iPhones on eBay are now being sold as ‘vintage collector’s items‘ but you can still pick up a first generation iPhone for about £20 and an iPod touch for about the same. You obviously don’t need to pay for a sim card or contract if it is being used for entertainment and education. Bear in mind however, as your child gets older, that the option to call friends, FaceTime, text, use Facebook and so on will be an important way for them to engage socially with their peers.
In terms of apps, there are huge numbers of options out there to allow children to develop general knowledge or indulge interests and hobbies. Two I have recently picked out for review are One Globe Kids as an introduction to other cultures, and Chirp which is an encyclopaedia of birds and their songs. Money Counting is a great example of an app which can help develop a really practical, real world skill. For fun, try MeBooks or Tube Box. The former is like an interactive library of loads of favourite stories, the latter allows you to curate a safe YouTube browsing environment for your child. For social skills, have a look at EmotionX and Between the Lines – both great ways to rehearse simple interpersonal skills in a safe and motivating environment. Grace is still my faovurite PECS app if your child needs support to communicate, and Choiceworks is also relevant for older children as a way to encourage independence with things like getting dressed, cleaning teeth or tidying their room. Finally, I haven’t reviewed Minecraft myself but I feel I hardly need to – this is a huge hit among autistic kids and a great way to make friends and socialise online, as well as providing a hot topic for the playground.
If money is no object I’d think about a new iPad for your child, with two different colour coded cases. This is a clever strategy to help your child understand when the focus is on learning and when the focus is on having fun – assuming you want to use the iPad for both. A third role is as a communication aid, where a new app, aacorn, has been hailed as revolutionary in the way it structures language. However, of the ones I’ve tried personally, I still like Avaz the best and it happens to come with the lowest price tag as well. One final higher-priced option is the StoryMaker app – but I do think it is worth it. Excellent way to create and share social stories, including tutorials from the originator of the approach, Carol Gray.
This will be my last blog in 2014 I think. I hope you find it useful. If you want to recommend apps to other parents, or for older users then please do. I will be reviewing new apps again in the New Year and would love to hear your suggestions.