iPad Apps for Your Special Education Class

Swing into technology with these special education apps that are perfect for your learners.

By Ann Whittemore

Box of apps

For those of us who have worked with special needs populations, we know first-hand the struggles of helping our learners communicate and progress academically in traditional venues. Over the years, I’ve spent countless hours labeling classrooms with icons, making PECS boards, and taking photographs of every possible choice available. I did this to create comprehensive visual aids to assist my learners in communicating their wants and needs.

Picture schedules, timers, and behavioral documentation have also been a part of my daily routines in special ed. I’ve hand-made everything from toilet training charts, to antecedent charts. Thankfully there is a new way to complete these very necessary tasks, the app!

Now I can find everything I need to conduct my class on a hand-held device with applications that are tailor-made to fit my needs. Many of the apps available for those with autism are just as well suited for others with similar communication or developmental disabilities, such as Down syndrome and PDDNOS, hearing impairment, and cerebral palsy. The intention of this article is not to sell you on the idea or adaptability of the app, but to provide a list of 10 apps, what they do, and how they can add a bit of ease to your day.

Useful Apps

  • App: AutoVerbal Talking Sound Board
  • Cost: $20.99
  • What it Does: Great for nonverbal children, or those who have difficulties speaking because of disabilities, such as cerebral palsy, hearing impairment, or verbal articulation issues. You type and the app does the talking. Images and pre-programmable phrases make this an easy tool for any nonverbal individual to use.
  • App: AutisMate
  • Cost: $ 149.00
  • Description: This app is super pricey, but could be an at-home or in-the-classroom lifesaver. It includes personalized visual scenes, a sentence builder, video modeling, visual schedules, stories, a content library, GPS, and over 10,000 functional symbols. The possibilities for functional communication are endless.
  • App: TapToTalk
  • Cost: Free
  • Description: TapToTalk is a verbal communication device where kids tap on various images and the app does the talking. It is not as extensive as the AutoVerbal Talk Board, but works well enough to provide a voice for learners in the classroom and at home.
  • App: PCS Articulation Flash Cards 
  • Cost: Free
  • Description: This system uses the same icons seen in speech pathology labs for years. It is an easy, portable speech articulation tool to help your non verbal learners practice their speaking skills. In a pinch, you could also use this tool to help a child make a choice between two objects or activities by having them point to the picture that represents what they’d like to do or have.
  • App: Model Me Going Places
  • Cost: Free
  • Description: As many of us know, transitions for special needs children can be rough. It can be just as rough to go to places like the store, a party, or the dentist. This app lets you make social stories as an anticipation guide for your learner. They’ll know what to expect, how to behave, and if a reinforcer is in their future.
  • App: First Then Visual Schedule 
  • Cost:  $9.99
  • Description: Creating daily schedules for our special needs or behaviorally challenged learners can be done quickly and easily with this app. You use the app to make personalized visual schedules that should help reduce anxiety, transition time tantrums, provide behavior support in a positive way, and allow the child to make choices about his day.
  • App: Everyday Social Skills 
  • Cost: $1.99
  • Description: There is actually a whole series of these apps. Each one helps special needs individuals practice social, safety, and independent living skills. It has 75 videos to view and an assignment maker. Learners can practice asking for information, talking to peers, and even using the public restroom. All very important daily tasks that can fill your pupils with anxiety and frustration.
  • App: Find Me (Autism) 
  • Cost: Free
  • Description: This app is great for early intervention with autistic children. Intended for the very young (18 months and older), this app lets little ones practice and engage in simple social skills. It’s a game, requires no reading, and has very friendly graphics.
  • App: ASL: Coach
  • Cost: Free
  • Description: This app is a quick reference for learning ASL finger spelling and numbers. It doesn't do much more than that, but could be helpful in engaging young learners with hearing or speech difficulties as they learn their ABC's and 123's.
  • App: SeeTouchLearn
  • Cost: Free
  • Description: As we know, many of our learnrs with autistism or special needs are very successful when they are learning with picture cards. These cards are versatile tools that we can use to facilitate sight word recognition, object identification, sorting skills, speech skills, and even communication. This app includes tons of picture cards that don't get bent, lost, thrown across the room, or need to be laminated. They're all in your handy techno-device and ready at your fingertips. 

No matter how you choose to use apps in the classroom, technology companies are working with educators to create helpful, fun, and dynamic tools to make our jobs easier. I know I don’t actually need apps, and most of the time I’m afraid the iPad will simply end up broken (tantrums). But they are a nice luxury, and if my kids are having fun and learning lifelong skills, then I’m a happy teacher.