There are an array of apps available that are designed to assist patients with specials needs and their families. The iPad has become a popular therapeutic tool for people with disabilities of all kinds, especially because of the sensitivity of its touchscreen. For example, parents of autistic children are using applications to teach them basic skills, like brushing teeth, and how to communicate better. Studies are ongoing to test the iPad’s effectiveness as a functional tool for the disabled, which can vary widely depending on diagnosis. In this article, we’ll cover just a few of the more popular apps that can make a real difference in the life of people with disabilities.

Story Builder (Mobile Education Store) is designed to help children accomplish the following educational goals: 1) improve paragraph formation; 2) improve integration of ideas; and 3) improve higher-level abstractions by inference. Extensive use of audio clips promotes improved auditory processing for special needs children with autism spectrum disorders or sensory processing disorders.

First Then Visual Schedule (Good Karma Apps) is designed for caregivers to provide positive behavior support for those with communication needs. This application provides an affordable and convenient audiovisual prompting tool for use on the iPhone or iTouch. The portability of the iPhone and iTouch and ease of use of the application make it effective for use at school, home, or in the community.

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Speech With Milo: Verbs (Doonan Speech Therapy) was created by a licensed speech-language pathologist and offers a versatile and entertaining speech therapy tool for children. The app is for speech therapists working with children, or parents who want to teach language skills to their children. The animation that comes with Milo will keep any child focused and attentive.

ABC Braille Translator (FQ Publishing) is a tool for understanding and communicating in Braille, created for individuals who are either completely blind or have a high level of blindness (or for individuals looking to learn Braille). The application allows users to translate all letters of the English alphabet with interactive selection buttons.

Proloquo2Go (AssistiveWare) offers picture-based communication for children with communication disorders. Known as an augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) device, the app lets kids tap on symbols or type to direct the iPad to speak for them. It can be customized to provide simple or detailed speech, using clear and expressive voices. Kids even have the option of choosing a child’s voice to speak for them.

The Social Express (The Language Express, Inc.) targets core deficit areas that stand in the way of school, social, and life success for children and young adults with social-learning challenges. Presented as video vignettes starring four animated children, this app helps users learn by role-playing through 16 interactive lessons. It’s designed to teach users how to think about and manage social situations, helping them to develop meaningful social relationships and succeed in life.

See. Touch. Learn.(Brain Parade) Combining the effectiveness of picture cards with the power and interactivity of the iPad, this app is a picture-learning system designed by professionals specifically for those with autism and other special needs. Parents and professionals can use this to build custom picture card lessons and automatically track a child’s responses. Its platform allows for the design and execution of image-based exercises, typical in applied behavior analysis programs. It includes 60 exercises created by a certified behavior analyst.

ArtikPix (Expressive Solutions) is an engaging speech-practicing articulation app with flashcard and matching activities for children with speech sound delays. Children use the app to practice sounds independently, with a speech-language pathologist, or their parents. Features include recorded audio, voice recording, and group scoring for collecting scores in flashcards on up to 4 children at a time. Children can listen to their speech, and then decide if it’s correct or incorrect.

My First AAC(Injini) is specifically designed for toddlers and preschoolers with delayed speech or severe speech disorders. Intuitive and child-friendly, this app helps young children to communicate with family, caregivers, teachers, and other people they meet in everyday life.

Developed in collaboration with speech and language pathologists, it offers icons organized by categories that reflect children’s natural speech development. Children can scroll through theme-based category icons, such as greetings, food, or feelings, and access sets of over 250 related words and phrases to express frequently used ideas. Users can also create customized icons using their own images.

Abilipad (Appy Therapy), aka “the Write Tool for the iPad,” was developed by an occupational therapist to facilitate writing. It provides customizable keyboards, word prediction, text to speech, voice recording, and picture support to encourage language and writing development.

The Keyboard Creator lets one design keyboards using letters, words, sentences, or pictures with custom key sizes, fonts, colors, and audio recordings, including using their own voice. The notepad offers word prediction to assist with spelling and to reduce keystrokes, as well as text-to-speech that allows one to hear what was written in order to correct spelling and grammatical errors. The e-mail enables the sharing of a student’s work with a parent, or a parent can send what their child has created to a teacher.

ConversationBuilder(Mobile Education Store) is designed to help elementary school–aged children learn how to have multi-exchange conversations with their peers in a variety of social settings, because being able to converse with peers is the cornerstone of developing relationships. The auditory pattern of conversation is presented in a visual format to help students recognize and master the flow of conversation. Students will learn when it is appropriate to introduce themselves, ask questions, make observations, and change the subject of the conversation. 

ACT Spell (Cool Tool Apps) is an education and therapy tool. An accessible curriculum tool (ACT) has large implications for the special needs community, enabling facilitators to build custom user programs targeting specific vocabulary and assisting with motor, visual, and neurological skills. This app provides simple functionality and a “return to basics,” where many in the special needs community can use it to train their motor/visual/executive function systems to align and work together.

To learn more about any of the apps in this article, and for dozens of more apps for patients with special needs, visit the sites listed in the Sources section below.


  1. 5 special needs apps you should know about. Friendship Circle blog.
  2. 40 amazing iPad apps for the learning disabled. Disability Network Web site.
  3. Apps for special needs. Moms With Apps Web site.
  4. Complete guide to educational and special needs apps. One Place for Special Needs Web site.
  5. Gudmundsen J. iPad apps for special needs kids. Houma Today Web site.
  6. Hager EB. iPad opens world to a disabled boy. New York Times Web site. October 29, 2010.
  7. Power Up! Apps for kids with special needs and learning differences. Common Sense Media Web site.