Saturday, November 24, 2012

REVIEW/ GIVEAWAY: Count to 100! by FuzzyBees


Count to 100! by FuzzyBees (1.99 at time of review, iPad only)

While there are a large number of math apps on the market, only some do it well, and even less have children with special needs in mind- Count to 100! does. And while clearly developed with special needs in mind, Count to 100! would make a great reference tool for any young child learning how to count. As others have pointed out, this is also a very useful app for early addition and multiplication skills. The child can use the visual patterns to help solve simple math problems.

The developer is the parent of a child who has special needs, so it is no surprise that she would build on that knowledge to incorporate features that would be most beneficial. The features that stood out to me were the simple uncluttered visual background, and the use of visual and auditory cues to guide the learner. There is also a mechanism to prevent access to the settings unintentionally- the child needs to touch the house symbol and then touch it quickly again to exit to the settings. In addition, a number of customizable features in the settings allow the parent, educator, or child himself- as you can see in the video- to adjust settings to fit individual needs.


Count To:
You can change the amount of numbers displayed on the screen- you can choose between 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80, 90 or 100.

Count By:
You can practice counting by 1s, 2s, 5s, 10s, or 25s? (Normal Mode only)

Normal- numbers have to be tapped in the right order.
Tap Any- any number can be tapped anywhere on the screen (this is great for learning and exploring, whereas Normal mode is great for practicing).


How do you want the numbers displayed - will they remain on the screen throughout the task (Always Displayed), or should they appear only when touched (Displayed When Tapped)?

Numbers- when turned on numbers will be spoken when tapped.
SFX- if on, a soft buzz will sound when a number button is touched out order; when Number sounds are off, a soft tone will play when each correct number is touched.
Music- turn the music on or off, without changing the sound effects.

These "special" touches did not go unnoticed as I tried it with my own two children. My 8 year old is autistic, and his younger brother who has some delays as well as ADHD and sensory difficulties, is somewhere on the spectrum. Despite being nearly four years apart, both children are able to benefit from Count to 100! My youngest is in kindergarten, is practicing learning his numbers, counting, and making simple number patterns. My oldest is in 3rd grade and is using Count to 100! as a visual and auditory homework tool for simple addition and multiplication.

Using the App:

When the start button is pressed, a tone will sound to signal the beginning of the task. The type of task is displayed on the screen as well- you will see my five-year-old refer to it and correct himself as a result of this visual cue. I prefer to have the numbers displayed for my youngest-he is still getting used to many of his numbers- I hide them for my oldest as an extra challenge. Both respond well to having the number spoken aloud when correct, and an incorrect buzz sounding when an incorrect number is touched. In the video of my 5-year-old, you will see him start to rely on the visual pattern as he works on completing his tens. Once he has this mastered, we can try this with the numbers hidden.

Simple, consistent praise is used when a task is completed. There is verbal praise "Yay", followed by clapping and a quick "Fuzzy Bees" animation to signal completion of the task. The child can press the replay button to do the task again, or return to the settings screen to change the task/ adjust the settings.

See a short video below:

Wish list (I always have one!)
- Perhaps there could be a way to adjust the size of the buttons in the settings so children with motor impairment could benefit from this learning tool?
-Could there be a setting to turn off the highlighting? This would make it closest to a paper and pencil task, which would be the least amount of scaffolding for the child. I would like to see how my child does without the visual cues after he has had plenty of practice with the highlighting on.

I really don't have much to nitpick. Perhaps next "Count to 500" will come out to meet our needs as my children grow older? This developer definitely go inside my head on this one- it's a lovely simple and effective tool for learning. I am glad to have Count to 100! available to my children- especially at homework time. What's 2+2? 10x 3? Go check for yourself!
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Thursday, November 15, 2012

GIVEAWAY: App Maker - Learn How to Make Your Own Apps!

 App Maker by Crazy Dog Apps Pty Ltd

Crazy Dog Apps has offered Special Apps,Special Kids fans 5 codes for their app App Maker- an app to help you figure out how to make your own app!  This especially appeals to me as a special needs parent and someone working with students with special needs- I am often jotting down notes on what I would like to see included in apps for our kids. 

App Maker has tips on the steps you will need to take to make an app, and even has an "ideas" section where you can get started jotting down your app plans right in App Maker!

Perhaps this will give you the jump start and inspiration needed to get that app in the App Store! 

Enter for your chance to get your app ideas ironed out below:
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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

REVIEW: TOBY Playpad by Autism West

TOBY Playpad by Autism West
($94.99 at time of review, iPad only)

What is TOBY Playpad?
FYI this is an Australian app and some vocabulary and pronunciations are different from American English- See Developer's Notes for plans to address this. 

TOBY Playpad, by Autism West, is a comprehensive program SPECIFICALLY developed for children with autism, after years of research.   It is an incredible resource for a parent (or perhaps a new educator) who needs to know how to teach a child with autism - as it literally walks you through what to do and say, step by step, as you and your child progress through the program.  TOBY stands for Therapy Outcomes By You, and this is definitely an accurate acronym- you will become both your child's guide and active partner when using TOBY Playpad. I'll let you read more about the TOBY Playpad program here

Research based
Created by autism specialists and specialists in related fields
Very comprehensive - covers a variety of learning tasks on and off the iPad in four learning domains: (imitation, language, sensory, social )
Helpful in teaching your child to attend
Likely useful for children with other speech and language delays
"Real World" activities in different settings to cement what your child has learned on the iPad
Engaging; fun; no negative reinforcement used
Consistent rewards- always the same length; rewards can be accessed separately in case you need access to them at another time.
Gives you a snapshot of your child's strengths and weaknesses
Allows you to upload progress to a server as a "back up" if your data gets lost
No expertise needed- the app will guide you through each step of learning
Help guide within the app & online help forum

What I love about TOBY Playpad

TOBY was developed specifically for children with autism.

All of the tasks were developed with the input of specialists who work with autistic children, and are based on years of research.  TOBY Playpad focuses on four main areas of learning - Imitation, Language, Sensory, and Social. The first three activities have tasks to be completed both on and off of the iPad; the Social tasks are solely off the iPad (NET- Natural Environment Tasks).  There are a variety of tasks such as copying drawings of shapes on the iPad screen, matching up like images on the iPad, matching up like objects in real life, receptive vocabulary tasks, expressive vocabulary tasks, matching colors, imitating actions such as put on hat, imitating CVC words, working on eye gaze while singing a song, making noises with homemade musical instruments,  and much more.  There are even tutorial activities for iPad skills such as dragging and pointing (the pointing tutorial does not distinguish between isolated or non isolated finger touches).

Fine Motor Imitation, Basic


working on gaining attention and sharing a gaze during a moment of fun

TOBY uses modeling, prompts and positive reinforcement to help your child learn.
Toby introduces new words and concepts through the use of modeling and/or prompts.  I really like how TOBY Playpad does not use negative reinforcement by labeling the incorrect item when chosen. When an error is made, the object chosen in error simply shows a red No symbol, and a verbal prompt is given, i.e. "No, Try Again."  Then if the next attempt is wrong, both a verbal and visual prompt will be used - a prompt such as "Try this one" is spoken, while the correct object flashes and an illustrated hand points to the correct answer.  The verbal and visual prompts will continue if the user keeps making an error, however you will notice a written guide for the facilitator in the upper right hand corner : "Prompt: Hand Over Hand".  The facilitator should prompt the child and guide him to the correct answer for positive reinforcement - the name of the item will be spoken and verbal praise/reward token given before moving on to the next item.

Being introduced to a new word; below he chooses incorrectly, and then is rewarded for a correct choice.

TOBY works on imitation skills.

Action with Objects: NET Activity (Getting Dressed: Hats)

Copying, Drawings Activity

Oral Imitation, Consonants task

TOBY teaches you how to teach!

The activities included in TOBY Playpad are outlined for you and also include tips on how to prompt and reinforce during each activity, so there is no level of guessing.  There are also lists of what common materials you should have available. In addition, there is a guide that you can access from within the app.  There are sections for troubleshooting as well.  If needed, there is an online forum too. There are some resources on the TOBY Playpad website also, including printable templates and materials lists:
Each activity is laid out step by step, with tips on how to prompt and reinforce.

TOBY is fun!

My own kiddos are verbal and actually ask to play TOBY- The handful of  kiddos I've used it with seemed to enjoy the predictability and structure of the program; we have been using the program over the past month or so.  The fireworks reward, hands down has been the most popular, although all the reward games get chosen.  FYI, there are tips within the app on how to keep your child motivated when using TOBY Playpad too.

TOBY fosters learning across environments...

Learning the real world

As many of us may have experienced, a child can be a superstar at identifying items on a computer task, or in the speech therapy room, but then struggle with doing so in real life.  TOBY Playpad teaches skills both on the iPad and off, using simple materials and items from the real world.  The wonderful thing about this program is that it actually teaches you skills that can transfer to any environment.  Once you start to go through the program and experience different NET (Natural Environment Tasks) activities, you will see how you can create similar opportunities for learning through everyday activities using the techniques planned out in TOBY.  Many of the images I have included are our own activities using principles outlined in TOBY.  We are especially excited because these NET activities have fit right in with our Autism program funded here through our Regional Center, RDI (Relationship Development Intervention). You will see that TOBY Playpad actually takes the best components from a variety of methods (I see elements that line up with RDI, floor time, ABA for example), to give you a very well rounded, comprehensive home program that will likely compliment whatever program you are doing elsewhere.


How do I know this will work?

You don't know. This is not a miracle cure, nor will it be the right fit for everyone, but there are several steps you can take beforehand to give your child the best shot at succeeding with TOBY Playpad.  I can say that I have used this with my own two (verbal) children on the spectrum, and a handful of nonverbal preschoolers, and was excited to see them all interested and engaged in the program, with at least some successes for all.  However, I had in mind who might be a good fit before even introducing the program to them.   

Here is a questionnaire to help you determine whether TOBY Playpad might be a good fit for your child:
and here is a link to the light version to trial with your child:

Be committed. TOBY Playpad will require time and commitment on the part of the parent (or educator) implementing it.  Some of the tasks are more independent, but almost all will require your input or facilitation.  If you are prepared to put in the time for this program, and have taken the steps to ensure it was the right fit, my hope is you will be as pleased with the outcome as I have been.  That said, you can see fit to use the parts of the program that fit your child's needs as well as your lifestyle. 

You can also get in touch with TOBY Playpad.  TOBY Playpad welcomes feedback from you and is happy to answer questions/ troubleshoot.  Developer comment: we have support available for anyone experiencing any problems with the Lite or Full Version –

Wish List ( I always have one)
 I have probably scrutinized this app more than any before -  If someone asked me to pick just one "Autism App" - excluding essential AAC apps for communication for a moment - this would be the one I would recommend first.   So I am nitpicky not because there is anything wrong with this app - in fact I see this app as very valuable to the autism community.  I have a couple of ideas for options that I feel would benefit more children globally and that would better adapt the program for use in a therapy setting as well.

Voice recording
My first wish would be a way to address the differences in vocabulary and pronunciation, as some of the items are markedly different - a stroller is a "pram" for example.  This is especially true for many of the clothing items.  For example, a swimsuit, from what I can make out of the Australian accent, is called "bathers" .  A tshirt is called singlet. Flip flops are thongs, etc.  The pronunciation for leggings is really different, as well as for items in the Household Objects set, such as radio.  On the upside, my 5 year old now can identify and label foods such as a sultana! (I will let my fellow North Americans go look that one up).  Anyhow, if I were given the option to record over the vocabulary item with the American equivalent, that would be fabulous.  In fact so as to not to be selfish in wanting an American version, recording would allow access for anyone with the ability to read in Australian English.  This would be ideal for parents to work with their child in their home language, or for working with students who are second language learners. Developer Response: Record button – we’re working on how a record button can be incorporated as there have been several requests for language translations J  This might be a little way off due to resource limitations but it’s definitely on our wish list too J

Written labels
 A written prompt option would also be super for noisy classrooms when completing some of the iPad tasks. I know a quiet environment is ideal, but that is often not the reality in a school setting.  For loud classrooms,  instead of relying on the voice instructions/replay button when an instruction is missed*, the facilitator could announce what to find "Find _____ " etc.  (*Just to be clear, there is currently a "replay" button available to users when instructions are missed- I have found this very useful for occasional interruptions/ unexpected noises).  Having a written label option would also be a work-around for an English-speaking facilitator working with a student whose language is not English. The facilitator could read the label and voice the word for the child in his language.  Also thinking ahead - a written label option would allow a child to work on reading, using the vocabulary already familiar to the child through using TOBY Playpad! This could also be a way to expand use of TOBY to other children with other learning difficulties.   Developer response:       Written labels – we’ll take this to the team, the thing we’ll need to problem solve it that the written word is potentially a prompt for the child, so we would need to be very careful when and how this is used. We want to ensure that the child is able to pay attention to the auditory word before they pay attention to the written word.  But great food for thought in terms of how to make more advanced options available once skills were achieved J

Customizable Rewards
I would love to see the option to include a personal video or photo illustrating a favorite toy or activity - when a reward is reached a portion of the video would play or a timer would indicate how long to play with the child's preferred item.  The built in rewards are really fun and the kiddos I have used them with have enjoyed them.  However I have worked with children in the past who need something more personal to them in order to be motivated. My youngest took to the idea of playing with castle blocks after completing his TOBY time.  It would be wonderful to have an image of us playing the castle blocks to access when the reward has been reached. Developer Response: Customisable Rewards – this is also on our wishlist J

Customizable Lists of Vocabulary to Target
I would love to have access to a list of all vocabulary used and an option to turn words on/off to focus on the child's strengths and/or weaknesses.  This would be useful for a therapy setting - for example a speech provider could focus on vocabulary within TOBY Playpad to address a specific speech and language goal.
Developer Response: Customisable Vocab List – this is something we can add to our wish list.

Specific data scoring and emailing of work samples
I would LOVE specific data, such as scores showing exact items correct, correct with prompt, or incorrect. This addition would be incredibly useful for data tracking purposes.  Right now TOBY Playpad gives an excellent overview of your child's strengths and weaknesses, but including specific data could allow an I.E.P. member to use TOBY Playpad to show specific progress toward goals met.  Developer's Response: Specific data – yes, that has been the feedback and we’re working on adding this element to TOBY 2 (which targets later developing skills).  Once it’s tested in this setting we might be able to transfer it across to TOBY 1.  We didn’t want to burden families with inputting too often, but parents are asking for more rather than less data collection J

Option for more users
TOBY currently allows 3 users.  I created profiles for each of my children and used the third profile for my students. You could also use the second or third profile as a "test" profile to figure out how TOBY Playpad works. Obviously in my case the third profile's data is not accurate, as it is a conglomerate of several students' work.  I would love to see the option to purchase additional profiles as needed.
Developer Response: More user options – the team are working on this as well J

FYI : As the code for TOBY Playpad expires within 7 days, the winner must redeem his/her code within 24 hours of the Rafflecopter ending.  After 24 hours if the winner has not been in touch, the code will be given out again.  Sorry, it would just be such a shame to see this code go unused. 
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Monday, November 5, 2012

GIVEAWAY: Tense Builder by Mobile Educational Tools

Tense Builder by Mobile Education Store ($19.99)

I have quite a few apps from Mobile Education Store, and I am glad to say Tense Builder meets all expectations built up by the rest of Mobile Education Store's collection of apps- these are apps that engage students while teaching important concepts for language development. This app tackles the tricky topic of tenses through the use of animated video clips (students can choose from Future, Present, Past or a combination of all three tenses). Another plus is the clips are playful and funny. The child can play the video clip, then assemble sentences to match what they saw.  I am particularly happy that Tense Builder includes a data feature- I can save my students' recordings to play back with them at a later time.  I can also choose to save data from a session and email it to myself.  This has been really useful. Another positive is customizable settings- there are different levels of difficulty and cues can be turned on or off as needed. You can also decide if you want to focus on just regular verbs, just irregular verbs, or a combination of both. My short wish list:  I would really love the ability to pick exactly which verbs to focus on.  I would like to see the price drop a bit as well, but the good news is the app will soon have even more content added (58 verbs covered by December 2012)

Description (from Developer)

TenseBuilder is designed to help students learn how to identify and use correct tense forms by playing movie quality animated videos to demonstrate past, present and future tense. 48 video lessons (will expand to 58) are in place to help give students a deeper understanding about the purpose of tense. Special attention is paid to the past tense of irregular verbs.

Students will learn how to sequence events and how to differentiate between events that will happen, events that are happening now and events that have already happened. Students will also identify correct written verb forms and drag them to complete sentences.

Students have the opportunity to record their sentences in their own voice to improve their receptive and expressive language skills and promote carryover of these target verb forms to their conversational speech.

Tense Builder offers a unique environment for improving a student's ability to understand tenses and use verb forms properly.

-48 target verbs with matching animated movies (will expand to 58 by Dec 2012)
-Movies employ humor to engage student
-Video modeling for each verb and tense form used
-Each verb has separate animated lesson to show past, present and future tense
-Option to focus on a particular tense
-Ability to address past tense developmentally, by first teaching regular past -ed forms and then moving to irregular past.
-Includes receptive task, where student taps the correct image to match a sentence, and an expressive task where student drags the correct verb form to complete the sentence
-Intuitive drag and drop to create sentences
-Words are spoken as they are being dragged for emerging readers
-Record feature allows students to record sentences in their own voice
-Save and email recorded sentences

- English

- Compatible with iPad
- Requires iPad 5.0 software update

Mobile Education Tools is a member of Moms with Apps, a collaborative group of family-friendly developers seeking to promote quality apps for kids and families.
Recommended Ages: 3-6, 6-10
Categories: Special Needs, Education

Mobile Education Store recently appeared on the Lifetime network show The Balancing Act.  Click here to see the segment!

Thanks to a wonderful community, MES has been able to help over 250,000 children improve their language around the world.

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Friday, November 2, 2012

REVIEW / GIVEAWAY: Talk About It Objects Pro HD by Hamaguchi Apps

Talk About It: Objects Pro HD by Hamaguchi Apps for Speech, Language and Auditory Development ($9.99 at time of review; Home version also available- $5.99 )

After a while on the app scene, you begin to recognize apps by the developer name.  Having used many Hamaguchi apps and knowing their quality, I knew Talk About It: Objects Pro HD would be a good addition to my app arsenal. Many of the Hamaguchi apps work on more basic language skills like combining words into phrases, or following basic directions. This app, however is more geared toward students who have already mastered basic communication skills, but have difficulty with tasks such as describing, categorizing, and recognizing the most important/most specific details of an object.  Students work on receptive, expressive or both receptive/expressive tasks. I am glad to have a Hamaguchi app that meets the needs of these students. 

There are several things I value about this app. For starters, it is developed by a speech and language pathologist.   It allows data tracking to easily keep track of students' progress, it has the "fun" factor with a spinner feature during describing practice, and a built in game/reward system. In addition there is a recording feature which has been very useful for students to refer back to their speech productions.  Another feature I love is the customization- I can go in to the settings and choose exactly which objects I want to cover from the list, or make it randomized.  There are 50 objects spread across the following categories: Animals, Clothing and Accessories, Foods, Household Items, Jewelry, Musical Instruments, Places, Vehicles, and Miscellaneous.  I can set how many facts per object I would like the student to work on, (three, five or seven statements) and whether or not there will be feedback given for incorrect selections (I personally have kept this to off).  I can also remove the recording feature and/or clues from the game screen, and choose whether the reward game is played after every object, after three objects, after five objects, or none.  I can even shut off progress and scores if they are a distraction to the students.

While I am reviewing the Pro edition, there is also a Home edition of this app available, if you do not need to track multiple students. The Pro edition tracks up to 30 students; the Home edition is for a single child.

To play, select the students from the students you have entered under the Users tab, and highlight them in red to include them in play.  The name of the player whose turn it is will display in the top right hand corner.  To play, the student presses the play button under the picture square on the left hand side to activate the spinner.  The spinner will land on an object to describe- possible guesses/information for that object is displayed in a "Guess Box" to the right.  The game show feel continues with a special "Talk About It" curtain below the picture window and guess box-

During game play the student is required to look for the best descriptive sentence for an object.  The choices include a mix of statements, from unlikely, to true but vague or irrelevant etc., and to most specific.  For example there is a picture of a doll and the user is asked "Which sentence below tells us the most specific and important information about a doll?

1. A doll looks like an animal or a unicorn
2. A doll is something that you look at on your shelf.
3. A doll is something that you sleep with.
4. A doll is something to play with and looks like a person.

If needed, there are audio buttons next to each sentence so the child can hear each detail read aloud before making a choice.  If an incorrect choice is made, a red x will show in the box next to it.  More than one correct answer can sometimes be chosen.  For each correct answer a chime will sound and the child's score will increase in the upper left hand corner if it was not preceded by an incorrect choice. When a correct choice is made, a green check mark will also be placed next to the sentence, and the sentence will "magically" be sent behind the curtains for storage.   The student can view these stored sentences by pressing the Show button below the curtain to reveal them.  Then the play will continue with more choices for the same object, along with the same request to find the most specific and important information:

1. It has a head, body, arms and legs.
2. My sister has a doll named Cathy that is really cute.
3. I saw a doll.
4. It has different parts.

After all the important details have been gathered, the curtain opens to reveal all the details, with bubbles to check off for each detail, and a recording feature displayed below.  If you want the child to recall the features without written support, there is a hide button. Press the start button to have the student list the details he/she remembers (The curtain will automatically close when the start button is pressed and open after the stop button is pressed)  If the student needs cues, touch the magnifying glasses along the bottom to hear different hints voiced such as "Tell me some important parts of it."  "Can you describe what it looks like?" "Think about what you would do with it." "What category is it?"  The details the student remembered can be ticked off on the list- a chime will sound and the correct responses will be scored when this is done. The student can also listen to his/her recording, pause it, or rewind it to the beginning. You can set a reward game to play after a certain number of objects are described.

 When the student is finished, choose a new student from the Player list, or end the session by pressing the red End Session button in the top right hand corner. If you choose to end the session, a pop up window will say "Save data and show session?  Here you can review data for each student, email, delete or print the data.  You can also create a PDF of the data.  You can also see data from previous sessions by returning to the main screen, selecting Users, then Previous Data.

Wish List:

There is not much to add, as Hamaguchi Apps has already thought of what we need most!  What I would love to see:  this is one I am always pining for in my speech and language apps- the ability to insert our own picture and details, of course!  I would also like to see the app automatically move from one player to another, instead of having to change it manually.  I would also like the reward game to be more interactive and perhaps timed- right now you can keep pressing Play again but sometimes a set time length is better, especially for some of my students who have a need to know what is coming next- these kiddos need a more defined time frame.

Learn More:

Developed by noted speech-language pathologist and author of Childhood Speech, Language & Listening Problems: What Every Parent Should Know, Patti Hamaguchi, M.A., CCC-SLP. To find out more about this app and our other upcoming projects, visit our website: or YouTube channel: HamaguchiApps


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