To celebrate Autism Acceptance and raise awareness about apps for autism spectrum disorders, we bring you a special guest blog post by Smart Apps for Special Needs blogger and speech-language pathologist, Heather Hetler. Enjoy!

Children with autism are using touch-screen apps to learn, communicate, and connect. Especially since the 2011 feature on 60 Minutes, parents and educators have sought apps to teach all kinds of communication skills to children with autism, with a growing body of research evidence to support the practice.

As a public school speech-language pathologist, I’ve been using an iPad in my therapy sessions for exactly four years now. I’ve used a lot of different apps with many different children, including many students with autism. I use evidence-based practice to guide my selection of effective apps, seeking out apps with features supported by research along with my own therapy experience. Since my early days of using the iPad, I have consistently turned to Tactus Therapy apps for my students. Here’s why:

Conversation Groups for Apps for Autism

Speech-language pathologist Heather Helter uses Tactus Therapy apps on the iPad with her students with autism in group sessions.

1) Autism-Friendly Design

Though they were initially designed for adults with aphasia and other acquired communication disorders, the clean and clear design used in Tactus Therapy apps is also perfect for use with children. These apps for speech-language therapy are popular with all my students, even those as young as kindergarten. But more importantly, the design features are consistent with research on effectiveness in therapy for autism.

2) Clear Goals & Images

Children with autism need visual supports and reinforcement, but can be easily distracted. The pictures in each Tactus Therapy app are real, full-color photographs. Some students with autism have difficulty understanding abstract representations like line drawings or cartoons. By using real photographs, the therapist knows the students are working on the intended goal rather than the ability to understand what the drawings mean. Stimulus presentation is clear and streamlined, without excessive elements that distract from the purpose of the app.

3) Human Reinforcement

Many apps designed for children use colorful animations and exciting sound effects that are meant to be helpful. Unfortunately, while balloons and dancing animals may be reinforcing for some children, others end up distracted or confused, finding the app unappealing. A single sound with a color change is used in the Tactus Therapy apps to provide feedback if the answer is correct or not. This allows any additional reward or reinforcement to be provided by the therapist or parent, customized to meet each student’s needs.

4) Data-Driven Goals

Effective therapy needs to include frequent monitoring of progress, leading to the adjustment and development of new plans on a regular basis—and not just the annual Individual Education Plan (IEP). I monitor and evaluate progress toward individual goals on a session-by-session basis, providing more or less scaffolding depending on the student’s performance. Tactus Therapy apps make this simple. Nearly every app provides some form of data collection, and every app can be structured to meet the varying needs for support just by adjusting the settings.

5) Discrete Trials

Category Therapy is one of my favorite apps to use in therapy for all ages. Many of my students with language impairments have difficulty with categorizing objects, and it’s a frequent goal on IEPs. Category Therapy makes my job easy. Using just one app, students are able to target concrete categories, subcategories, and abstract categories in four different activities. These activities provide tiered support and cues, depending on the support needed. Many of my students can sort by concrete categories like food, clothing and toys, but have no ability to sort by subcategories until I target it in therapy with Category Therapy.


6) Personalized Learning

Tactus Therapy apps help support students who are nonverbal or with emerging language, too. Comprehension TherAppy helps me target single-word receptive language as well as single-word reading. It can be set up to target specific words, and new words are easily added. It’s highly successful for me due to the lack of competing features. The background is clear, making the pictures easy to isolate. I also customize the word list to include personally relevant pictures and can add new pictures specific to my school and caseload.

7) Social Language Skills

Another area frequently targeted in my therapy is pragmatic language. Individuals with autism often have difficulty with the social use of language and conversation skills. Conversation Therapy allows me to present relevant pictures and conversation prompts for higher-level language, including description, feelings, and narration. I also use it to target inferring and predicting, both skills that are frequent IEP goals for many students with autism. I really value the data in this app, as well as the ability to set up groups of up to four students at once – perfect for authentic conversation practice.


8) Speech Sound Targeting

Many of my students with autism also have speech sound errors, but targeting these errors using the typical articulation apps or photo cards can be difficult. For students with apraxia or difficulty sequencing sounds, the sound combinations in most articulation apps are too complex to effectively target their speech sound errors. In addition, they have over-practiced their mistakes on familiar words, so seeing a picture of a common object only elicits the same mistake again.

I use Speech FlipBook in therapy to remove these distracting features. This app is very easy to set up and gives me the ability to target only the sound patterns I choose, whether simple consonant-vowel patterns or more complex words with multiple blends. I can also choose to use real words or nonsense words, eliminating the automatic and incorrect speech pattern I would get when showing a picture.

Apps for Autism

I have used every Tactus Therapy app in my speech-language therapy for students with autism. I value a well-designed app that provides me with the materials needed to implement effective, evidence-based therapy. When I use Tactus Therapy apps, I am free to provide therapy in the effective and interactive way I was trained, using customizable, portable, and motivating materials.

For more information on evidence-based interventions for autism, be sure to check out the Missouri Autism Guidelines Intervention.

Every Tactus Therapy app mentioned here is available on the App Store. We discount our apps for Autism Acceptance every day by offering value-priced bundles. There’s also a free Lite version of each app to try before you buy! See how these speech therapy apps can the children with special needs in your life.

Heather Hetler, SLP

Guest Blogger Bio

Heather Hetler, MS, CCC-SLP is a speech-language pathologist working in the public schools in Indiana. She writes app reviews for Smart Apps For Kids and Smart Apps for Special Needs, meaning she’s used a LOT of apps. Find her on Twitter at @HeatherInIN or pinning on Pinterest.