Wednesday, June 27, 2012

An App Dedicated to Social Skills, Conversation and More

Conversation Coach: A few weeks ago I was getting ready to review this app. Here’s what I had written at the time: “It took me a fairly long time to learn to all the options available. But, that may be electronically challenged me. Even though the app’s Help section does a good job explaining how to use the app and make changes, I found myself going back and forth when trying to make changes.” Before posting my review, I contacted the developer, Jan Hopkins at Silver Lining Media, to ask her a few questions. She told me they were in the process of updating the app. I decided to wait for the updates. Glad I did. The updated app now has an "Intro" that offers a clearer road map of the workings of the app. My feelings of electronic inadequacy have diminished, but just by a bit.

This app has many facets to it within three general modes of use: talk, tell and practice. Talk mode focuses on the give and take of conversation. One person waits until the other has spoken before responding. Then it is the second person’s turn to wait while the other person responds. Visual assistance for turn-taking is in the form of a ball. The person who has the ball talks while the person without the ball waits. A picture of an icon saying, “Sh,” is an additional visual cue to wait one’s turn. Tell mode turns the app into a communication device, allowing the user to make requests and comments.  A very nice feature in this mode is that various options demonstrate the sequence of events for everyday tasks such as dressing, getting ready for school, the child’s day at school and more. In practice mode, the user practices two-way conversations, with the iPad functioning as the other person. Questions are randomly asked by the device and the user is given response choices.

This app is complex on many levels. There is a learning curve for navigating the app before it can be used with clients. The easy part is deciding the mode of use. Once that is done one needs to select the category of conversation from an extensive list. For instance, will the child work on greetings, feelings, clothing, or holidays? One can personalize the program further by adding one’s own pictures, recordings, and text.  I found this part challenging. Until I got used to using Editor, I found myself writing down the editing sequence explained in Conversation Setup. I thought I had to remember if I were editing for the Tell or Talk mode if I wished to challenge my brain or make my life easier and write the mode down. When I thought that there must be an easier way, I looked back at the screen and noticed that the information was right there at the top of the screen. Now the challenge was to remember what I had changed as I exited Edit and went to Play mode to see if I had edited correctly. Success! I think the challenge of recalling my edits had to more to do with the randomness of my editing rather than the complexity of the editing. I edited the recording for one picture rather than a set of pictures and I was not making changes for a particular child.

I like the clarity and rate of the narration. For readers, the text is clear. Color and black and white photographs are the visuals. Their quality is good. In Player Setup one can select specific conversations to display, whether or not the user is a reader, sound or no sound and the lag time for the computer’s turn.

As I worked on getting to know this app, I thought about its target population. The first group that came to mind was children who had difficulty with turn-taking or staying focused while waiting one’s turn. The app can also be used by an individual who needs a communication device. I can see this app getting a lot of use in a class for children with multiple handicaps. Autistic children and others challenged by conversational tasks are groups for this app. Children with organizational and executive functioning challenges may find the way that the app presents the sequencing of daily events helpful. Parents of children, whose communication skills are severely limited, will find many ways to use the app.

Have any of you used this app? I would appreciate hearing your opinions and will post them to share with others.

Ages: 4+
Ratings: ++++1/2
Developer website:
Cost: $49.99 for the full version; lite version is $1.99 which includes full access to the editors for the first 24 hours.

Monday, June 11, 2012

A Terrific Receptive Concepts and Directions App

Auditory Workout: This app, developed by Beata Klarowska, M.S. CCC-SLP, is one of the best I have seen for receptive language.  She has clearly given a lot of thought to all aspects of app usage for professional use.

The app strategically works on prepositions, colors, size, quantity, spatial, and temporal concepts in a following directions format within four sections in ascending order of complexity: Basic Concepts, Quantitative and Spatial, Temporal, and Conditional Directions. One can start a student in the section and level of one's choice. The instructions for each screen are clearly narrated. Once the narrator finishes the instruction the child taps on one of the pictures. (I appreciated the narrator’s rate of speech and the time given for the child to process the instruction.) Each screen has five pictures that are clear and uncluttered. Now here is an example of a well-thought out app. When the instruction is being given, the pictures choices are framed individually and the screen is slightly opaque. At this point, the child who taps the screen does so in vain. Nothing happens. The child needs to wait until the complete instruction is given. At that point, the frames disappear and the picture choices are seen in their full clarity. There is a Repeat button on the bottom of each screen.  The top of each screen clearly indicates the type of direction, the level being worked on, the name of the child and the direction (Example: "Follow directions with concept before in the beginning of the sentence + size + object"). The child can see basketballs accumulate for each correct answer. As the child sees his progress in basketballs, the adult will see the child's level of accuracy, in percentages. Later, one can review each child's scores for each level in the database.

The Settings screen allows one to select a number of features such as automatic paging, sound indication for a correct or incorrect choice, and turn on/off the the answer. If one turns off automatic paging a Go button needs to be tapped after the child has tapped on his answer. A third button, Next Page, appears at the bottom of each screen after the child's response has been determined to be correct or incorrect. This button allows the adult to to proceed to the next page. The app allows for there to be multiple users during a session by changing the User Alternate Count.

The app offers two reward game options: basketball and catch ball. In Settings, one can determine at what point the game reward appears. The app recommends basketball for older children and catch ball for the younger crowd. I tried both. I found the basketball game to be awkward. The area of play is narrow; the net and backboard are bordered by walls to the left and right. One needs to hit the walls on precise points in order for the ball to drop into the net. Otherwise the ball drops frustratingly down to the floor. Catch ball was easier and thus more rewarding. In catch ball, one moves a box around the screen and catches as many balls as possible as they enter the basketball court. The child can view his score on the screen’s backboard for each game.

For those of us who find working on following directions and concept learning a tedious affair, an app, such as this, is what makes the iPad an incredible tool and the task enjoyable.

Ages: 4-8 years (The developer designates the age range for this app to be four to ten.); adults who are aphasic or for those who may be mentally declining.
Ratings: ++++1/2
Developer website:
Cost: $19.99

Friday, June 1, 2012

Apps targeting articulation

Sometimes I feel like the Simon Cowell of app reviewers. When some rave about an app, I am left feeling disappointed. Then I feel like I need to apologize for not liking an app that others love. I do like to give good reviews because I know that developers have the best of intentions when trying to provide apps that will be useful. They also invest time and money. Plus, I know that many of us are eager to have really good professional apps in our therapy arsenal.

Those of you who have read my earlier blogs, How Effective Is the iPad as a Therapy Tool, Minimal Pairs App, and Is the iPad Worth the Investment, have read that voice recognition technology is highly inaccurate. The technology works best when it recognizes the user and when it analyzes large communication segments, such as words in phrases. The finer the analysis needed the less accurate the technology becomes. This means that voice recognition technology is highly unreliable when it comes to analyzing sounds in words, syllables and in isolation. I have examined two apps that target sound production. One relies on the adult to determine whether or not the phoneme is correctly produced and rewarded. For the other, voice recognition is an integral part. This difference is critical.
Speech Stickers: This app was developed by speech pathologist Carol Fast. This app targets the following sounds: /m/, /p/, /b/, /t/, /d/, /n/, /k/, /g/, /s/, /ʃ/. These phonemes are practiced as either CV (consonant-vowel) or VC (vowel consonant). The vowels used in the app are:  /ʌ/, /ɒ/ (shown as /a/ in the app), /u/, /i/ and /o/.

The workings of this app are straightforward. The app opens to a screen on which one can tap on play, options or instructions. Tap on play and a screen, with the first phoneme /m/, is displayed at the top of the screen accompanied by the narrator saying /m/.  At the bottom of the screen are five faces: a girl, boy, alien, cat and monster. The child selects one of the faces. When the face is tapped, it appears on the middle of the screen and /m/ is said again. On the right side of the screen is a vertical bar, or meter, with numbers 0-5 in ascending order. The goal is for the child to produce the sound five times. Each time the child produces a sound, the adult either taps on the green check mark, for a correct repetition or red X if incorrect.  Either the check mark or the X must be tapped for the face to show up on the meter and for the sound to be produced again. This level of control allows the adult to carefully monitor the child’s production and give feedback before the game can progress. Once the five repetitions are noted as either correct or incorrect, a new screen, with 10 objects (rocket, hiking boot, bomb, shark head, bus, train, tractor, wand, balloon and a dragon), appears at the bottom of the screen. The child taps on the picture of choice and watches as the object performs a short action.

If one wishes to switch sounds or work on the sound in syllables, one taps twice on the phoneme at the top of the screen. (I like the idea of tapping twice to keep the quick tapping fingers of children from making the changes.) This opens a screen showing all the targeted apps as well as the sound in CV and VC. One can switch phonemes or select to work at the syllable level by tapping on a specific syllable. There is a scoring feature for each screen. As noted above, the child’s production is marked as correct or incorrect. The number of correct is tallied and shown as a percentage for only that screen. There is no database to refer to at another time. Also, the app can be used only in vertical position.

I like that care is given to the production of the target sounds; their clarity in isolation and syllables is good overall. The graphics and animations are basic.This app can be used with children who are at the beginning levels of learning a new sound. I can see the app being used as a fun diversion from basic sound and syllable repetition that is typical at the early stages of phoneme learning.
Ages: 3-5 years
Ratings: +++
Developer website:
Cost: $14.99

Tiga Talk: This app offers 23 phonemes designed to elicit the sounds in isolation. One taps on the target sound one wants the child to say. A screen appears with an animated animal producing a sound, a picture of an item beginning with the targeted sound, the letter for the sound and a sound meter whose lights move with the speaker's volume. On the left side of the meter is a mouth icon. Tap on the mouth icon and the child is able to view a mouth moving as it produces the targeted sound. The animal instructs the child to say the sound. Once the child has said a sound at least two times, he is praised and stars explode on the screen. The child is then told, “You’re doing very well. Let’s play a game to celebrate.” There are four game choices: Driving, Balloon Pop, Smash and All, which offers a selection of the three games.  The child is asked to say the target sound. Choose Drive and a vehicle moves closer to its destination each time a sound is said. Balloons cover a vehicle in Balloon Pop; balloons pop, to reveal a vehicle, each time the child says a sound. Each time a child says a sound in Smash, tires, hay bales, logs, boxes, rocks or tires are thrown aside to reveal a vehicle.  I used this app with one of my clients who does not have an articulation problem. He enjoyed repeating the sound after the animated character told him it was his turn. He also enjoyed playing the game. 

The website for Tiga Talk states, “Game play rewards are based entirely on participation, not accuracy, so the child is constantly getting positive feedback as long as they are trying to make sounds!” This is  important to keep in mind before purchasing the app. A child who cannot yet produce a particular sound in isolation, consistently, should be supervised when he uses this app. Here is why. Let us say that the target sound for the game is /d/. Whether I said /d/, /g/, /v/, or “muh,” the app recognized the sound as the correct production. This leads me to disagree with website's statement that Tiga Talk “can improve speech clarity and articulation.” Unsupervised, the child will get rewarded whether he says the target sound or another sound. This happened for every sound the app offered.

Another word of warning: a fast talking child, eager to move the boat across the lake, let us say, may be able to say the incorrect sound a few times (thereby self-reinforcing an incorrect sound production) and will receive positive feedback from the game before the adult might have a chance to intervene. I am concerned that this has the potential to make the adult’s task more difficult. The child might wonder why the app said, “Great job,” but the adult indicated that the sound was not correctly produced. I would have preferred that this app not rely on voice recognition, but rather on adult feedback as Speech Stickers does. Also, visuals for mouth movements, is, like voice recognition, a tricky feature to put into apps. I found that the mouth movements, except for bilabials, difficult to see and easy to misinterpret.

Tiga Talk has serious limitations as a speech app. For children who can easily say the sounds without error, it can be a fun game that children will enjoy.
Ages: 3-6 years
Ratings: +1/2
Developer website:
Cost: $4.99