Best apps for children with special educational needs

Best apps for children with special educational needs
If you're supporting a child with special educational needs, try these brilliant apps to help make life easier, at school and at home.
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Best for children with autism

DayCape, 30 days’ free trial then $11.52 per month, Apple and Android

Many children with special educational needs (SEN) like autism – as well as many neurotypical ones – thrive on routine, and cope with daily life far better if they know what to expect. DayCape is an app for building visual timetables, helping your child navigate their day with less stress.

The app allows you as a parent, or your child, to build your own visual timetables using images from its library or by uploading your own photos to make the timetable even more relevant to your child. You can specify the time of each activity, how long it takes, and whether to repeat it every day, as well as adding notes about what it involves. You can also get teacher/carer subscriptions, allowing your child’s school or other people involved in their care to add to the timetable.

The app is colour-coded to show your child which activities they have completed, which is in progress and which are yet to happen, and you can program it to send notifications when an activity is about to start or end. There’s also a Moodshare facility, so your child can record how they feel about each task: useful for tracking their emotions and stress levels throughout the day.

Best for children with speech and language difficulties

Speech Blubs: Language Therapy, £19.99 per month, Apple and Android

Speech Blubs is a really clever voice-controlled app, designed to help children with speech and language delays or difficulties. It begins with a questionnaire to assess your child’s ability and ‘prescribe’ the right activities.

The app accesses your microphone, allowing your child to practise the mouth movements and sounds they need to make common words. It has over 1500 activities grouped into categories like Mouth Gym, Early Sounds, Yummy Time and When I Grow Up. Each exercise has a video of a real-life child making the mouth movement and sound for the given word, which your child has to copy. Using your device’s camera, your child can also see themselves on the screen, allowing them to compare their mouth movements to the demonstration.

By completing the activities, your child unlocks special activities like interactive videos, funny hat and mask filters to use on themselves, and stickers for their digital sticker book. It’s recommended that they practise for five minutes a day.

Best for supporting communication

Widgit Go, £54.99, Apple

Children who are non-verbal or have other speech, language and communication difficulties often rely on symbols to provide visual representation of written or spoken concepts. Widgit is the symbol system used by many schools and SEN professionals, and Widgit Go allows you to use it at home with your child.

The app lets you and your child write sentences, activities and grids to support their communication by selecting the right symbols to express themselves: for example, ‘I want,’ ‘to wear,’ ‘jeans’ and ‘t shirt.’ Their sentences can then be saved and read back, with a choice of different voices: ideal for kids who can’t speak. It includes over 14,000 symbols, covering just about everything your child might want to say, and you can print individual symbols or symbol sentences to make flashcards.

Bearing in mind that the full version of the app is expensive, you can try Widgit Go Basic for free. This gives you access to a smaller selection of symbols covering 14 areas of communication, and one voice.

Best for children with dyslexia

Dyslexia Quest, £9.99, Apple

Dyslexia Quest is a games-based app developed by the Bristol Dyslexia Centre. It’s designed to assess your child for the signs of dyslexia and improve the skills that are often lacking in children who have the condition.

The aim of the game is to climb Yeti Mountain by completing six different activities, each of which tests a different area associated with dyslexia: working memory, phonological awareness, processing speed, visual memory, auditory memory and sequencing skills. Tasks are age-appropriate, and include spelling words backwards, cracking number codes and recalling number sequences. Your child earns a coin for every correct answer, and collects yetis for completing the activities.

The app allows you to email your child’s test results to those that need to know them, such as their teacher or educational psychologist, and explains the areas where they have difficulty and how to make better use of their learning strengths.

Best for developing core strength

Super Stretch Yoga, free, Apple and Android

Children with gross motor difficulties or coordination disorders like dyspraxia, as well as those who struggle with their emotions, can benefit from exercises like yoga. Super Stretch Yoga is a great introduction to yoga for kids aged four and over.

Superhero Super Stretch is your child’s guide, introducing them to his 12 friends, each of whom will teach them a different yoga pose. Each pose is clearly explained, with animation and video of real kids assuming the position for your child to copy. In between poses, the app encourages your child to pause and do some deep breathing to help them relax. It builds core strength and gross motor skills, as well as promoting a sense of wellbeing.

The app is designed for everyday practice, helping to build strengthening exercises and relaxation into your child’s day, and once they’ve worked through all 12 poses, they get to take a team photo.

Best for improving fine motor skills

Dexteria Jr – Fine Motor Skill Development, £3.99, Apple

Developing fine motor skills is essential not just for handwriting, but for lots of everyday activities like doing up buttons, zips and shoelaces. Dexteria Jr is an app designed in conjunction with occupational therapists to improve these skills in pre-school children and those who have difficulties with fine motor tasks.

The app features three separate hand and finger activities, each of which develops a different skill. Squish the Squash involves your child tapping on the vegetables that appear on screen to squash them; Trace & Erase asks them to use their finger to trace lines and then rub them out; and Pinch the Pepper involves using their thumb and forefinger in a pincer grip to squash the chillies. Each task is intended to improve finger and hand strength, control and dexterity.

The app is best used in short bursts on a regular basis, and generates progress reports so you can see how long your child has spent on the activities and how they’ve performed.

Best for children with hearing impairments

Signed Stories, free, Apple

Children with hearing impairments can enjoy hundreds of best-selling picture books, narrated in British Sign Language (BSL) with Signed Stories.

The app aims to make stories accessible to all children, with BSL signing, narration, music, sound effects and subtitles – which can be customised with dyslexia-friendly fonts and colours. Each book comes with interactive language games and tips for parents for helping your child get the most out of the story. There’s also an inbuilt dictionary to help you and your child learn new signs.

The app and one story – Three Billy Goats Gruff – are free, with additional stories available to buy from 79p each. The stories are selected to support the National Curriculum, and new titles are added every month.

Best for helping children follow instructions

Following Directions by Teach Speech Apps, £3.99, Apple

It’s quite common for children with SEN to struggle with following instructions, whether that’s because of an attention deficit disorder, processing issues or a condition like dyspraxia. Following Directions aims to improve this important skill.

The app helps your child develop their memory, motor and auditory processing ability through four simple activities. One-Step Directions involves dragging and dropping one object onto another, in accordance with the instructions. Two-Step Directions introduces more complex commands, such as before/after and first/then. Inclusion/Exclusion involves your child selecting all the relevant objects – for example, all the pink items – from a group. Motor Skill-Based and Conditional Directions tests their ability to perform physical actions, like, ‘Touch your nose then meow like a cat.’

The app is designed to be used side by side with an adult, and helps improve language skills, auditory processing, vocabulary, memory, attention and focus.

Best app for supporting language acquisition

Special Words, £12.99, Apple and Android

Developer Special iApps specialises in apps for children with additional needs, including autism, Down’s syndrome, hearing impairment, motor difficulties and other learning difficulties. Special Words is intended to help these children with communication.

It features pictures of 96 common objects, with matching written and spoken words in 27 languages. You can also add your own words, uploading pictures or photos and recording voice narration. There are several different activities for your child to work on, including matching picture to picture, matching written word to picture, and matching spoken word to picture. The tasks aim to promote speech and language acquisition, hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills, listening and sight-reading.

You can also download the accompanying Special Stories app (£12.99), which allows you to create talking books, social stories, step-by-step task instructions and more, transferring content between the two.

Best for correcting letter reversals

LetterReflex, £3.99, Apple

It’s quite common for children to get certain letters confused, such as b/d and p/q, particularly if they have dyslexia. LetterReflex is a games-based app that helps them overcome common letter reversals.

The app features two games. The first, Flip It, involves your child tilting and rotating their device to roll a ball into a hole to form the correct letter, pinball-style. Using kinaesthetic learning, it’s based on research that shows a key reason for letter reversals is not knowing left from right, and gets progressively more difficult as your child gets better.

The second game, Flip It, is an arcade-style game that requires your child to flip and rotate letters and digits with their finger to match the correct orientation. This helps them learn which side the letter loop or tail should go on. The app also generates progress reports so you can keep track of how your child is doing.

Best for children who sign

Let’s Sign: My 1st Signs, £12.99, Apple (iPad only)

My 1st Signs is an app designed to help children with communication difficulties by teaching them signs in BSL, along with the corresponding written and spoken word.

The app includes over 150 words and pictures, and over 200 corresponding Let’s Sign illustrations for the most commonly used words. Each sign has an illustration and clear notes explaining how to form the sign. There’s also a range of activities to reinforce the link between sign, picture, written word and spoken word, such as Look and Sign, where your child is shown the sign and has to copy it, and Find Sign, where they have to choose the sign that matches the picture from a choice of three.

You can also personalise the app for your child by adding your own photos and voice recording of additional signs. It can be used by children who use Sign Supported English (SSE) and Makaton, as well as BSL.

Best for developing emotional literacy

Touch and Learn – Emotions, £1.99, Apple

Touch and Learn – Emotions is designed to help children interpret body language and facial expressions, and understand other people’s feelings. It’s suitable for all children, but particularly those who have difficulty reading emotions, such as some children with autism.

The app presents your child with a particular emotion or state, such as hungry, sleepy, crying or thoughtful. They then have to choose the photo that best matches that emotion from a choice of four. There’s verbal reinforcement for every correct answer, encouraging your child to keep going.

The app features over 100 photos, and you can choose which emotions you want to include and introduce new emotions one at a time. You can also add new emotions yourself, and create your own lists of emotions: useful if you have more than one child at different stages of emotional literacy.