Friday, January 21, 2011

Joseph and the iPod

Greatest moment in computer game history

For months, we've wanted to get Joseph an iPad, hoping that he could use it as a communication device and also to play games that would help his development. We applied for the Hollyrod Foundation program that was providing free iPads to autistic kids, but we didn't really expect him to be selected. After Christmas and his birthday a week later, I went looking on Craigslist for a used iPod Touch. While it probably wouldn't be quite as useful to him as the iPad because of the smaller size, it will offer him many of the same benefits since it runs most of the same apps.

We bought Joseph an 8GB, 2nd generation iPod Touch. The 2nd generation Touch was the first model with a speaker, so it could be used without headphones. I would have preferred the 16GB model, but decided that if this one works well, then later we'll get him a bigger one and I can inherit his old one. :)

First, I put some Spongebob episodes and a few Pixar films on it for him. We'd been using Kristy's Nano for a while, if we needed him calm and quiet and couldn't find any other way, we would give him the iPod and let him watch Spongebob. We've had mixed success with this. It accomplishes our goal usually, but I know that it's not helping curb the bad behavior. (Fortunately, since going back to school after break, we've had much more success getting him on the school bus without the iPod, which was when we had to use this carrot the most.)

Second, I installed Angry Birds and Angry Birds Seasons (the Lite versions of both). Joseph really likes Angry Birds, and he loves Christmas, so "Christmas Birds', as he calls it, was a big hit. Unfortunately, after I showed him the educational apps I installed for him and the initial novelty wore off, all he wanted to do is watch movies and play Angry Birds. So today I decided that Angry Birds and the Bubble Wrap game needed to come off. So far, he's either not noticed or it's not bothering him. Also, I've put some music on, all with cover art so it can be found without having to read titles. Bob Marley, Hannes Wader, Chopin, Imagination Movers, Yo Gabba Gabba and a few others. I showed him a couple of times how to get to it and play it, but so far he's shown zero interest in listening to the music (which is really surprising).

I've been researching apps for a while. My priority for him is improving his receptive and expressive communication. I've been researching apps for a while now, but most of the ones that look like they'll be useful cost a couple of dollars. We're hoping we can get Kristy's parents to buy Joseph an iTunes gift card to pay for some of these. I'm particularly interested in the apps from, most of them are flash-card style apps and they say they're based on the principles of ABA.

I started looking for free apps, going through lists of apps for special needs kids in general, and autistic kids specifically. I found Lite (free) versions of several, some flash-card apps, some spelling apps, a Dr. Seuss storybook app. Most of the Lite apps are frustratingly limited, but good enough to get an idea of which ones are worth buying (because I'd hate to buy an app and then have him not be interested in playing it.) The goal is to have a collection of apps that Joseph can use by himself that will keep him occupied and teach him.

These are all either free, or have Lite versions that are free.
  • The Dr. Seuss storybook app is a success, so far. It's going on the list of apps we're going to buy.
  • Soundrop isn't exactly educational, but he plays it and doesn't get sucked in the way he did with Angry Birds.
  • Doodlebuddy is a good, free drawing app.
  • TapToTalk is a free communication app. It's $99 a year to have access to create your own vocabulary for it, which is a very good deal compared to some of the others. He fiddled with it for a few minutes, but has not shown any real interest in it. They've made it available on the iPod/iPhone/iPad, the Nintendo DS and several other devices.
  • There is a series of apps called "FirstWords" that I like. They show you a picture of something (a cat for instance) and then you drag Scrabble-tile looking letters into their correct positions to spell the letters. It reads the letters out loud as you position them, and when you complete the word, it says it and the picture spins. It kept him occupied for a little while. I suspect he lost interest because it only had a few different words in the lite version. Whether or not he's learning anything from it, it's at his skill level and he can play it by himself.
  • Animal Match looks good, but we've not been successful in getting him to play it by himself yet (just installed it today). It's a memory style card matching game, which he should excel at.
  • iColoringBook is another new one we just installed. I'm not sure yet if it's something he's going to be interested in.
  • We're hoping to find an app that will let us set up his schedule in the iPod and then it will alert and remind him. Like, he gets on the bus at 8:05, so it should make some noise at 8:00 and show him a picture of the bus. The same with dinner time, teeth-brushing time, bed-time, etc. I saw one in the app store, but there were a lot of complaints about it not working properly and this one was more than 99 cents.
I was concerned about leaving Joseph unsupervised with the iPod, so I asked around for the toughest iPod case available. I had several people tell me that the Otterbox Defender was the best. I ordered one from their website directly, $35 with shipping. I got it today and put it on his iPod. Three hours later, he had torn off the tab that covers the dock connector, and torn another part of the outer silicon case in order to remove it. I really expected a lot more. I am going to call Otterbox customer service, but I suspect my options will be return it for a refund, or have the silicon outer case replaced. Neither will really solve my problem, making Joseph's iPod Joseph-proof, as it will leave us either without a case, or with another silicon case that he can (and will eventually) tear.

He's had the iPod for a week now, and it's not been as revolutionary as I'd hoped, but he's showing interest. I will update again in a couple of weeks and we'll see how things are going then. I suspect that once we're able to buy the full versions of some of these apps that they will really be able to capture his interest.

If you have any apps, free or otherwise, to recommend for a mostly pre-verbal four year old; please leave a comment and tell me about them.

Update on Otterbox: I called customer service and they offered to send a replacement silicon outer case for free and I accepted. He's left the torn case on all week, so hopefully once we replace it he will leave the new one alone.


  1. I've been bookmarking 'apps' for several months now and have a somewhat long list. I'm also not taking-on review apps, but here is are 2 good reference bloggers - both AT people:


  2. We love the Imagination Movers in our home! As soon as my niece hears their show start on TV she goes running for it. I need to work on getting the iPhone and downloading the shows for her. I have tickets for a couple of the SoCal shows along their 2011 tour (tour dates here:, I also joined their street team and have earned tickets to shows, and other great Mover gear for my niece! She's gonna be super excited!

  3. Our 2 y.o. who was just diagnosed with Autism also loves his dad's iPhone. We have put some of the flashcard apps on there for him. Markie likes to go through them but what he really likes is going to youtube. We have a favorites list for him. However, he always manages to get off the favorites list.

  4. Yeah, I've got a rotating collection of a half a dozen animated movies, and a half a dozen Spongebob episodes. The problem is, now that the non-educational games are gone, he'd rather watch movies than play the educational games.

  5. I really enjoy your blog, as a fellow autism dad. Angry birds is a game that a lot of my family are addicted to. Does anyone have any tips for weaning kids off of Elmo? I'm ready to see that red bastard explode!