Gingerheaddad recently asked me to come up with a list of the Top 10 free apps that I would recommend for autistic kids. I said sure, but I also decided to give myself a real challenge with respect to this, so the following criteria apply to ALL of these apps:
- They are free on an ongoing basis. Only an app’s developer can control the pricing of apps so I could wake up tomorrow and find you now have to pay for them but, they were all listed as free in the Canadian iTunes store at the time this blog post was published and for some time prior.
- No in-app purchases.
- No ads.
- No ‘Lite’ versions of paid apps.
- All approved by me and used by at least one of my children.
When most people think of apps for autistic children they usually think of AAC or apps that help with transitions and scheduling and that’s with good reason; these apps are important and useful tools. However, the iPad in particular has been so useful for introducing my kids to activities which develop skills that they then generalize. The example I always give of this is of Owen and puzzles – on the iPad he has been able to do these with ease, even with his fine motor challenges. Once he gained confidence in completing puzzles on the iPad, he started to play with them in ‘real life’. I’ve observed this in many areas including art, matching, books – the iPad has broadened both their skill set and their interests in a way I had never envisaged.
So, without further ado, here’s my list:
Little Writer. Good for: Fine motor, tracing and handwriting skills. I just recently downloaded this app so the boys haven’t had a chance to use it very much yet but I couldn’t leave it off the list because honestly, it’s amazing. I know Oliver will love this app once I’ve had a chance to customize it for him. The app teaches your child how to trace upper and lowercase letters, numbers from 1 to 9 and shapes and words, but the beauty of it is how customizable it is. Hide the content you don’t think your child is yet ready for, add words you want them to practice, add your own pictures and record your own voice on the app. You can add pictures of friends and family members so your child can practice writing their names. Awesome.
Stewie the Duck Learns to Swim. Good for: Life skills. Drowning is the number one cause of accidental death for both autistic children and adults. I’m hoping I can get Owen into reading this book because he’s fearless around water. I especially like the water safety song as both my children respond well to music and it’s a great way for them to learn basic water safety principles that could one day save their lives.
Preschool Games: Little Puzzles Toys. Good for: Fine motor as well as critical thinking, matching and reasoning. It would be preposterous for me to include a list of apps that my children like without including a puzzle app. Puzzles are something that Owen probably does on the iPad more than anything else.
This app is another one from Grasshopper/Alligator apps, the same folks that developed Little Writer. They produce a lot of apps, many of which free and in my experience they are always customizable, so their entire catalogue is worth checking out. With respect to this app you can choose the number of puzzle pieces (from 4 to 36), select the level of difficulty, record your own sounds and best of all – add your own images.
Using I and Me. Good for: Teaching and reinforcing the correct use of these two personal pronouns. I’ve used this with Oliver a little since I downloaded it – he found it funny but it’s a bit above his developmental level at the moment so we’ll save it to use later. I like that this app is simple and intuitive and that you don’t have to be verbal to use it. The app supports multiple users, scores automatically and results can be emailed.
Lego App 4+ Good for: Fine motor, visual-spatial reasoning and promoting pretend play. I could never get Oliver interested in building blocks. He has always liked things that he can lie on the ground with and move, like trains and trucks. He was seldom interested in stacking or building things up. This app got him really interested in building blocks. The fact that he could easily build a vehicle and then drive it through various landscapes proved captivating to him. Now he is copying and building duplo models of vehicles and animals and incorporating them into pretend play activities. I’m not saying that’s all down to this app, but it certainly helped spark an interest that I didn’t see before.
Toy Story Read Along. Good for: Developing early reading skills and receptive language. If Owen found out I’d prepared a list of apps that didn’t have an ebook on it, he would disown me as his mother. Owen loves books but he usually takes some time to warm up to new ones and ebooks are no exception. In this case, he took to the app immediately. It doesn’t hurt that he likes the characters and the music in the film, but the movie itself has always proved to be a little too much for him. This ebook is packed with extras but for Owen, the book is enough.
Rocket Speller. Good for: Language and literacy with the benefit of some fine motor and visual-spacial skills thrown in. The artwork in this app is lovely and Oliver enjoys being able to build a rocket ship through spelling. Owen enjoys spelling apps like the First Words series but hasn’t latched onto this one… yet. With four levels of difficulty this app has the capacity to engage and challenge for some time.
Play 123. Good for fine motor and early learning. I wish I’d discovered this app a year ago. The boys have played with it but at their age and skill level, itdoesn’t quite engage them as much as I believe it would have if they had discovered it earlier. I’ve included it however because it really is a great app for learning colours, shapes and numbers in a fun and interactive way.
I Luv Drawing Santa. Good for: fine motor and art. You can read my Smart Apps for Kids review of I Luv Drawing Animals to see in detail why I love this series of apps. Owen, who has never shown any interest in art whatsoever, has used these apps because they break things down for him into simple geometric shapes that he can both understand and easily colour in. For children with fine motor challenges this is a huge confidence booster. Added bonus – these apps are fun for adults too!