As every parent (or uncle, cousin, or friend) knows, parenting is a tough and rewarding job. The challenge can be compounded when a child has special needs.

Regardless of whether those needs are physical, emotional, developmental, or very often, a combination of any or all of these, they can makes an already tough job seem impossible at times, and the rewards seem all the more precious.

A friend has a daughter who was born with a rare genetic condition that limits her ability to communicate with language. I was delighted to learn that, with the help of their new iPod Touch and a communication app, she was making solid progress expressing her needs.

This story is not unique. In the past few months, I have heard of or read about several other success stories with iPod Touches, iPhones, and now the larger, more easily viewable and touchable iPad.

For parents with special-needs kids, any extra hand can be a life saver. True to Apple’s tag line “there’s an app for that,” this is one area that’s no exception. The following are 11 popular apps that offer a helping hand.

(links launch iTunes)


iCommunicate ($4.99) This is not only a communication app, but also allows for the creation of “picture schedules” or story boards to aid children with sequencing the events of daily routines.

You can add your own audio as well, increasing the flexibility of this creative app. When you have a child who becomes frightened by changes in routine, the ability to demonstrate schedules with a comfortable “friend” —the iPhone, is priceless.

Specialneeds 2

Tap to Talk (FREE) Like iCommunicate, Tap to Talk is an adjunctive communication tool, which allows the user to pick from a set of images to express basic needs, such as hunger or a bathroom break.

While the basic app is free and comes with a “starter album,” you’ll need to go to the website and pay an annual fee of $99.00 to expand and personalize. This might seem expensive at first, but their extensive library makes it worth considering.

iComm (FREE) Here’s a less expensive, albeit less feature-rich choice. This app, developed by the dad of a special needs daughter, focuses mainly on basic communication and offers a few nice features. You can add your own photos, or record your own voice to accompany them.

A yes or no page comes up. The initial download is free, but comes with only a few few pictures. You must upgrade for a cost of $7.99 to be able to add sound to your files or access a larger picture library.

Proloq2go ($189.99) This text-to-speech app is designed to replace the expensive AAC (Augmentative and alternative communication) devices—think Stephen Hawkings—which can start at $350.00 and go up to well over $1000.00.

Overall, purchasers have been very pleased with the features of this app, its ease of use, and overall functionality. It definitely appears to be a valued player in the area of alternate communication, and irreplaceable by those are unable to communicate in other ways.

Picture Schedules

First Then Visual Schedule ($9.99) This app is a solid winner. Tested and approved by my 5-year-old who can become frustrated transitioning from one activity to the next, this app is useful for helping navigate the overwhelming waters of changing daily schedules.

You can tap its stock images or load your own to create individual schedules. Now instead of creating schedules by hand, this app has saved me time and money.

Stepstones ($9.99) Stepstones is another app which provides picture schedules. This app is easy to navigate and offers an advantage of being able to “check off” a completed task. While I’d like using that feature myself, I feel this app might best be suited to an older kid gaining more independence, as the visuals on each page and the check-off feature is a little busy.

Social Skills

Model Me Going Places (FREE) All kids need a helping hand with what is expected in social situations. This is even more true for children who’s thoughts are absorbed with other needs.

Model Me Going Places walks kids through basic scenarios such as a trip to a restaurant or a doctor’s office visit and “models” the expected behavior in all situations. (Click the link to see a full review.) This is a go-to app for me before any outing.

ABA Problem Solving Game – Healthy Habits ($0.99) Part of the ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis) series of problem solving apps (many are terrific—check them out —link launches iTunes search results), Healthy Habits teaches basics of health and safety. For each screen, four picture options are offered and children are asked questions such as “What do you take when you are sick?” or “What do you use to blow your nose?”

Social Skills

Abstract Thinking

Sentence Builder ($0.99) Your child practices forming grammatically correct sentences with Sentence Builder. When going through this one, I couldn’t help feeling this could benefit most school age children, but it’s clearly of particular use to kids struggling with communication differences.

Question Builder ($2.99) This app helps children learn abstract concepts by answering specially designed questions. Certain children, especially those with communication challenges have difficulty with abstraction, tending to be very concrete.

This app is a fun way for kids to stretch their abstract thinking skills. Audio clips accompany each question for kids who either cannot yet read or need an additional way to help process the words.


Autism News Reader ($0.99) This one is more for parents and caregivers of kids on the spectrum or with related communication or sensory issues. Stay up to date on the latest Autism news and get connected with this dynamic community.

These are just a sampling of the great apps available for special-needs kids. From their success, and the buzz so many are creating in the special-needs parenting communities, I imagine new apps and upgrades to existing apps will be coming out soon. Keep your eyes peeled, and I’ll work to keep you posted.

If you don’t see an app here for your little one’s unique needs, try a creative search. I was surprised how much I have uncovered by modifying my searches in looking for special needs apps. For example a “special needs” app search yielded little in the way of apps, but “communication,” “autism,” and “talking” searches yielded solid results.

If you are aware of other apps along these lines or have a comment to share on how an iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad app has helped someone special in your life, I would love to hear from you.

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