Apps for Students with Special Needs

by Jonathan Laxamana

apps, special needs, iPad, managing behavior

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici |

All teachers are challenged with meeting the different needs of the students in their classrooms. Perhaps one of the most difficult challenges is crafting effective and engaging activities for students with special needs. At the heart of knowing how to engage students with special needs is knowing not just their particular needs, but also their idiosyncrasies. Knowing a student loves music, for example, might prove helpful when trying to teach him or her new words.

Technology, especially iPads, can provide teachers and paraprofessionals who are aware of their students’ needs, abilities, and idiosyncrasies with more tools to instruct and engage their students. There are number of ways educators can use iPad features and apps to help improve their instruction:

iPad Features

Guided Access ensures that a student can complete an activity within an app without accidentally exiting the app.

Voice Over can help students to navigate the device and its apps with voice assistance.  The typical gestures used with an iPad are modified in this mode, but it can prove helpful for students with visual impairments.

Speak to Text is simpler to use if you simply want a student to hear words that he or she is having trouble pronouncing. The student can select a word or paragraph to hear it read as it is highlighted.

You can also modify the iPad in other ways to suit your students’ needs using its Accessibility features, including changing the font size and reversing its colors.

Modifying Behavior

Breathe, Think, Do with Sesame (Free) includes activities that help students learn how to calm down when they are frustrated and develop a plan to solve their problems by “helping” a monster to do so.

Communicating with Others

Verbal Me (Free) includes letter sounds, numbers, and images of things like seasons, food, and feelings to help students communicate. By tapping an image or even typing a word or sentence, a student can communicate what he or she thinks, wants or feels to others.

Learning the Basics

I See Sam (Free) helps students to develop phonemic awareness. Students practice new sounds and words before reading a simple book. Teachers can have their students listen to a sound or word, record themselves saying the sound or word, and then play it back to hear themselves saying the word.

Articulation Station does precisely what it sounds like it does. It helps students to articulate sounds. However, it does much more than that. It helps students to practice those sounds by practicing words paired with images, in sentences, and in stories.  The free version only includes the one letter. Each additional letter is $2.99.

See.Touch.Learn. helps students learn to recognize a wide range of things—letters, numbers, colors, food, animals, body parts, and emotions.  Some sets of cards are provided for free, but you can buy additional sets of cards for about a dollar or two per set.  You can also create a series of cards to teach the students the skills however you choose.

Bitsboard offers students a number of games that help them to learn many concepts like emotions, actions, jobs, and characteristics. Students can view flashcards, answer true-false questions, play a matching game, or even do a word search to reinforce the meaning and spelling of words.

These are just a few basic (and free) tools you can use to help you put the iPad to good use for your students with special needs. There are many other apps available, some of which can be expensive. You should evaluate the more costly apps’ usefulness knowing the idiosyncrasies of your students.

Jonathan bioJonathan Laxamana is Technology Manager of Green Light Professional Development. He has more than ten years of experience in producing educational software products, video, web-based content, and mobile apps. He writes about new hardware and software, troubleshooting tips, and everything iPad. 

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