Abilities United (formerly C.A.R, Community Association for Rehabilitation) now utilizes iPad apps in their therapeutic and educational services for children at risk of or diagnosed with a developmental disability. As the Coordinator of the Abilities United Therapy Clinic, Dawn Ferrer, MS, SLP, utilizes many iPad applications in her therapy sessions and has downloaded over 770 applications to research how each can be used with the special needs population. But more than just the apps themselves, Dawn finds the real therapeutic properties and power of the iPad apps is in the application of applying learning techniques by the parents and professionals so the child utilizes the app for maximum educational and therapeutic benefit.
In reviewing the apps, Dawn found that most were too complicated for her clients and they lacked that important opportunity for joint interaction with a communicative partner such as a parent, peer, or therapist. So she and her Morning2Moon Productions business partner L. Luna DeCurtis, M.A., CCC-SLP , set out to design a simple application to engage children in the thinking process and encourage active participation in learning.
Their recently released app “That’s Silly”, according to Ferrer, can be set up to address the child’s individual learning level and development. The app helps children attain flexible thinking, increase vocabulary, recognize absurdities, focus on salient features, make inferences, build imagination skills, expand and spark communication, and comprehend the whole/part of a picture. “That’s Silly” also enables the student to practice motor skills (tapping/swiping) and encourages interaction between the child, teacher, parents, therapist, etc. Therapists and families have equal access to “That’s Silly” on iTunes and at 99 cents it is completely accessible to everyone.
Dawn states, “Unlike a computer, which is intrusive and makes it harder to interact with the child, I maintain control of the iPad. I can put it up to my face so the child will interact with the iPad and me at the same time. I can put it behind me when I need the child to interact directly with me. An iPad is affordable and portable, especially compared to the other PC based software or augmentative alternative communication (AAC) devices for the special needs population.” Ferrer shares, “If the child has a question, I can instantly go to the Image Finder app and bring up the appropriate images. I can then compare one to another. For instance, if you say ‘I’m not a parrot, I’m a ferret’ but the child doesn’t know what a ferret is, I can bring up pictures of ferrets to show them. We can compare and contrast the various pictures. Having so much information literally at my fingertips makes therapy so efficient and effective because I don’t have to get up, leave the child, and return with visual aids for the child. I can maintain contact and interaction with the child during the entire therapy session.”
The children naturally interact with the “That’s Silly” application because they can use all their senses; touch, sight, oral, auditory, and in a sense, smell. It is so simple that even babies can use it. Even if they have not yet developed the ability to point, the application teaches following directions, making choices and visual scanning and tracking. Other toys are static, and the child has to manipulate the toy or the parent has to do the work. With “That’s Silly”, the child just taps the image and instantly experiences a simple cause and effect.
The application engages all senses through pictures and sounds, and allows the child to manipulate the image using touch. For instance, a child is looking at an image of a Tiger with colored polka dots. When the student touches the tiger, the polka dots wiggle and change to tiger stripes, which triggers the tiger to roar. However, for those children who find sound distracting, the mute button can turn off the accompanying music.
The “Beginning” level gets the child to start to see the whole and the individual parts by cueing the child to look at the image and follow a conversation.
“Intermediate” level allows the child to develop further by learning to make choices and expanding motor skills. The number of choices increases to three.
“Advanced” stage includes pointing and dragging functions with four choices, two on the left and two on the right. The set up allows the child to see the whole picture, tap it, and drag it.
The progress of each student is automatically tracked so the therapist can tell from the data whether or not the child is reaching their established goals. The tracking is done behind the scenes so the child does not know about it. This allows for a judgment free environment, which is conducive to the developmental analysis of the progress.
To give further awareness about the advances and uses of iPad Applications in therapy, Dawn and Luna will spoke at the IDA (Infant Development Association) in Los Gatos on Saturday July 16.

The presentation “Maximizing iPad Technology: It’s About the Technique, Not the Tool” is an interactive presentation on how to utilize the iPad and its related apps as an effective educational tool using the tried-and-true techniques of speech-language pathologists and early intervention specialists. The techniques are for young children at all developmental levels.

This presentation will also be available to the public in September 2011 at Abilities United.
Some of the uses for the application include: consulting families in Early Intervention on how to use the iPad Technology to benefit their children. Ferrer says: “Even therapists who do not want to use the new iPad need to educate themselves on the iPad and apps because parents and children will eventually ask how to use it.”
Videos showing how Ferrer uses the iPad to enhance the child’s therapy are available on YouTube