There’s a special app for that – Part 2: 5 (+1) Apps to develop social skills for students with special needs

Welcome to Part 2 of “There’s A Special App For That” series on iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad apps for students with special needs. Have a look at our others in the series:

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Social skills intervention for children with special needs is an area that is growing with new innovations in technology. [See social skills interventions for children with autism from the Kennedy Krieger Institute for a good overview.] It is especially encouraging to note that most of the technology being developed follows evidence-based practices in the development of social skills. Two such examples of research-supported technology are video modeling and social stories.

What is Video Modeling?

Video modeling is a technique that involves having a child watch a target behaviour with the use of videotaped scripts. A number of research studies have determined that students with autism can learn appropriate social behaviours with this technique, likely due to the fact that many individuals with autism learn in a visual manner. Video modeling also help to reduce anxiety and confusion surrounding social events by letting the child know (and see) the sequence of events of what will occur. Have a look at this example of video modeling of children playing “duck, duck, goose.”

Research has demonstrated this technique to be successful. Skills acquired through video modeling interventions are maintained over time and generalize across people and places (Bellini & Akullian, 2007). Other articles have been posted about video modeling; Emerging EdTech and Virginia Department of Education’s Training and Technical Assistance Center have both published 2010 articles on the topic.

What are Social Stories?

Originally developed by Carol Gray, Social Stories use a specific sentence structure and format to describe a social situation for a child. They are written from the child’s perspective and describe appropriate behaviour for a specific situation. For some ideas on how to get started with writing your own social stories, visit or The Gray Center for Social Learning and Understanding. In the words of Carol Gray:

5 Apps to develop social skills

New apps on the iPad and iPod have combined the theory behind video modeling with the structure of a social story. The key benefit to using some of these apps is that you can easily create social stories using pictures that are connected to your child’s (or student’s) life to demonstrate a desired behaviour. This is supported by research on video modeling; children will internalize behaviours more effectively if they are their own model in the video or visual social story.

1. Model Me Kids for iPad – Video Modeling

[Model Me Kids for iPad – Model Me Kids DVDs have been around for a while, and we have always found them to be very effective for teaching various social skills in different environments. The younger series, designed for ages 2-8 and 5-12 focuses on appropriate behaviour in different settings, while the series for older children and adolescents, designed for ages 9-17, focuses on conversation cues, non-verbal communication and friendship skills. The new App (also available on the iPhone), designed after the DVD Model Me Going Places, demonstrates appropriate behaviour in various community settings. We hope that more apps based on the other DVD’s will be available soon for a mobile format. Children could then take them on the iPad or iPod to the restaurant or doctor’s office for on the spot video modeling. Keep in mind that with Model Me Kids, you cannot create your own stories.

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2. Social Skills – Video Modeling

Similar to Model Me Kids, Social Skills is an app that is uses concepts of video modeling to create social stories. There are six “social narratives” available within this app. A higher price compared to some of the others, but it is very comprehensive and a great app for learning basic social skills. Again, this app is based on video modeling and you cannot create your own social stories.

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3. Stories2Learn – Creating Social Stories

Stories2Learn -Made by the same developer as Social Skills (MDR) above, this app allows you to create your own stories (rather than only have access to narratives). Here’s a review from MacWorld’s App guide, and a great video of “Leo’s Social Story” made with Stories2Learn:

[appbox appstore 348576875 screenshots]

4. Pictello – Creating Social Stories

Pictello – This is the brand-new visual story app from Assistiveware. You might recognize their name. They created the revolutionary app, Proloquo2Go, which is a fantastic argumentative communication application. Pictello has many uses for visual learning, but we see it as the perfect app for creating social stories. You can make high quality visual social stories with your own pictures, and create the accompanying text. You can record a sound or use a selected voice to read the text associated with a picture. You can then share stories with other Pictello users or through a file sharing application. For those of you that work in the area of special education, this is light years ahead of creating a social story with boardmaker picture icons. It is a completely customizable way to create highly personalized social stories. We can’t wait for the iPad version!

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5. iCommunicate – Creating Social Stories

iCommunicate from Grembe is an app (also on the iPhone) that we use frequently for social stories. It allows you to create what the developers call storyboards, in two different formats. Very simple to use, and you can create a database of pictures to use for multiple stories. We always recommend that parents use their own voice (or their child’s) voice to narrate the social story, as the pre-recorded voice is a little robotic. One great feature of this app is that you can move to the next picture in the story by swiping your finger (like turning the page). You can also use the social story as a checklist for task completion (by holding one finger down on the picture you can place a check mark on the picture, letting your child or student know that he/she has accomplished this part of the task). The iPad version is identical, but uses the larger screen and high quality resolution.

[appbox appstore 320986580 screenshots]

+1. Off We Go books – Going on a Plane

Not really a social story or video modeling app, but allows children to learn and prepare for social experiences:

Off We Go books, in the traditional format, are great for preparing children with special needs for life experiences. Some of their titles are available as apps; like Off We Go – Going on a Plane. A real story that helps to reduce anxiety and gives structure and routine to everyday experiences. Fantastic idea and kudos to the team (a mom) behind the app. Have a look at their video demo:

[appbox appstore 388916735 screenshots]

We hope you liked Part 2 in our series – there’s more to come, so stay tuned. Feel free to comment or ask questions below. Thanks for reading!

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