November 29, 2012

Grasshoppers, Apps and Alligators….Oh My!

Posted in Assistive Technology, Autism, Favorite Apps, iOS at 3:27 PM by kellyvansingel

November 29, 2012

One of my favorite app companies is known by names such as, innovative mobile apps, photo touch apps and  The apps they release are brilliantly simple, effective and all are customizable for the user you have in mind–and that user can be someone of any age or any ability.  This motto that is splashed front and center on one of their webpages says it all:

Highly educational and affordable. They hit this spot on.  Outstanding design and…..wait for it….most of their apps are FREE or 99 cents.

Let me show you some examples:

Photo Touch – Farm Animalsapp store – FREE

Use of real photographs on a simple white background make this app a model example of an app designed for children with autism or other special needs.  There are minimal distractions for the receptive language ID task at hand.  There are also visual and auditory cues that encourage error-less teaching.  As the user makes a correct response, the field of objects to identify are increased with each trial, so that the skill level is also increasing.  The customization options in each of their apps is also key: you can add your own pictures and sound bytes to build a personal experience.

Little Speller – Three Letter Wordsapp store – 99 cents

The dragging and dropping of letter tiles helps reinforce matching skills, phonic sounds, and letter order.  Like all of their apps, Little Speller can be customized to any user.  You can turn off sounds, hints and even remove the picture cue.

One of our favorites has also been

Sentence Makerapp store – 99 cents

The word tiles in Sentence Maker are similar to the letter tiles in Little Speller. Included in the app are over 500 phrases and sentences to reinforce language concepts and object attributes.  A  unique way we used Sentence Maker was by building a custom sequence of sentences that Gilly would use each morning on a morning walk around her elementary school.  The phrases included things like:

  1. “Good Morning Mrs. H!” (her teacher)
  2. “Go to the office.”
  3. “Let’s see the library.’
  4. “Time for a sensory break.”

Before the use of this app, a low-tech flip visual schedule was used to help her learn the names of various places in the school building.  It worked–but eventually Gilly would ‘tune out’ on the morning walk and require numerous prompts to look at / point to items in the flip book.  After introducing Sentence Maker customized with the phrases describing the various stops along the walk, the prompt level decreased.  She could independently and purposely build very meaningful and related sentences to the learning activity.  The fine motor planning aspects of Sentence Maker helped Gilly to maintain attention and focus.

Bitsboardapp store – FREE

One of the latest and greatest from this developer is their new app: Bitsboard.  It is what I would call a ‘portal app’ if that makes sense.  Check out this review of Bitsboard over at  This app contains hundreds of different flashcard sets that can be downloaded within the app.  The developer has also added the first of many great features and updates to come: the ‘Photo Touch’ game setting: allowing your desired flashcard sets to become a receptive ID activity.  It would not surprise me if eventually games such as ‘Little Speller’ or ‘Sentence Maker’ are made available in future updates.  It looks like Bitsboard is eventually growing up to be the ‘Big Kahuna’ residence of many great apps from this company.  And guess what….wait for it….it is FREE.


“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” ~Jeremiah 29:11.


November 9, 2012

Some Favorite iOS Accessories…..

Posted in Assistive Technology, Autism, iOS, iOS Accessories at 2:04 PM by kellyvansingel

November 9, 2012

This week has been a busy week of talkin’ about apps!  Yesterday I gave a workshop for the Autism Society of Michigan at the ACC EMU.  I was joined by fellow iTaalk guru Kate! and my friend Carol! to talk apps for those with autism and special needs.  We had a fabulous group of about 20 parents, educators and therapists and had a great day.    Last night was also an iTaalk app happy potluck in Toledo on Proloquo2go given by my friend Brooke.

Something fun yesterday at the workshop was to share favorite iOS accessory tips and tricks.    One of my favorite iPad helpers that we use everyday around our house is a stand that I first saw on Martha Stewart’s ‘good things.’

The stand is actually a plate rack for displaying items around your kitchen, .etc.  But, it totally rocks as a device stand.  You can get them in acrylic or bamboo from the Container Store.  I also added bumpers to the bottom of ours to make it non-slide on table tops.  We at first had one in acrylic and it fell and broke apart.  I then tried the bamboo and its been even more indestructible and is very light.  What I like about it most are the little feet on the front of the stand.  It helps to prevent iPad slippage! especially when your kid uses the device while dining out or at the kitchen table.

Another favorite for my iPhone/iPod is BONDI.

Bondi is a clever little gadget for hanging your phone on the rear view mirror while in the car, very handily ‘on’ an outlet while your device charges, or even use as a door stop in a pinch.  I love my Bondi. 🙂


“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” ~Jeremiah 29:11.

November 5, 2012

Social Stories with GoogleDocs and ‘Story Creator’…..

Posted in Assistive Technology, Autism, iOS, Social Stories at 1:28 PM by kellyvansingel

November 5, 2012

Often there are certain places or situations that create a barrier for a child with autism.   Specific places, happenings or times can actually trigger difficult behaviors and reactions.

Recently, Mags was having a terrible problem when arriving at her tutor’s house.  At some point in August, she had begun bolting out of her tutor’s basement office (which is in a private home, but has a separate entrance). She would run out of the basement and up into the house.

We tried to deter her with child door lock, which worked for a few times until Mags figured out how to get around it, so what to do? Time for a social story.

Social Stories TM is a trademarked term used first by autism specialist, Carol Grey in 1991.  However, most folks use the term ‘social story’ in the same way we used terms like Kleenex and Xerox, to refer to a scripted literal story that can help an individual with autism or special needs overcome a problem behavior, serve as a guide to navigating social situations or to help learn a new task.

So I took a few pictures with my phone or found others easily online with Google Images.  I used the pictures to make a presentation slideshow for Mags in GoogleDocs (for a nice example and how-to on making a social story in the presentation maker in GoogleDocs, check out this blog entry from Savvy Advocate Mom and More). GoogleDocs is an online-based software suite, very similar to Microsoft Office, that is FREE. With it you can create spreadsheets, word processing documents, slideshow presentations and more.

You can also create a social story on iPad with an app like Story Creator, which is also currently FREE.  Story Creator allows you to use images from your Photo Album on iPad and insert them right into the story.   Here is a great review and how-to of Story Creator from another one of my favorite blog sites: OTs with Apps.

How do you decide what the story should contain?  My experience has been to make the story script as literal as possible. Here is the social story that I created for Mags who was struggling with an escape behavior at her tutoring sessions.  We read it several times the night before her tutoring session.  Her teacher and speech therapist also read it with her and school.  When she arrived at tutoring…no problems!  We were all amazed how well it had worked and helped to correct the escape behavior.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” ~Jeremiah 29:11.

November 4, 2012

60 Minutes ‘Down Under’…..

Posted in Assistive Technology, Autism, iOS at 4:46 PM by kellyvansingel

November 4, 2012

Do you remember the “Apps for Autism” segment that aired on on 60 minutes in October 2011?

Did you also know there is a 60minutes show in Australia?  They also recently did a segment on apps and autism called “First Words”. It is almost like a ‘part 2’ to the original US segment giving an update on the some of the technology users.  You can see the clip at the link below…

Video: First Words

It is never “too late” to begin using technology for those are ‘differently-abled.’  It can make a huge difference in the ability to have improved regulation and communication. I am so impressed by Joshua Hood, a 28-year iPad user with non-verbal autism in both of these clips…amazing and inspiring.


“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” ~Jeremiah 29:11.

November 3, 2012

“Mags & Gilly: Bloggin’ It” is now on Facebook…..

Posted in Assistive Technology, Autism, iOS at 10:25 AM by kellyvansingel

November 3, 2012


Facebook here we come! Why not? Facebook has been an instrumental networking, teaching, learning and support tool for our family over the past few years.  For everything from app ideas, advocacy strategies, and meeting other ‘differently-abled’ families, Facebook it is.

You can also follow blog posts and other tidbits at the Facebook page:

See you on Facebook!


“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” ~Jeremiah 29:11.

November 2, 2012

Do you “Dropbox?”…….

Posted in Assistive Technology, Autism, iOS at 1:11 PM by kellyvansingel

November 2, 2012

One of the most helpful apps I have started using over the past year or two is Dropbox.  It’s like having a personal digital storage space in the ‘cloud’.  So how do you use Dropbox? and why would you use Dropbox?

You can download the Dropbox software onto almost any device, whether it be a laptop, desktop, tablet, smartphone.  I have Dropbox on my iPhone, iPad and laptop.  I also have it installed on Gilly’s DynaVox Maestro.  Having Dropbox installed in all these places means that I can access any digital media or files that I put into Dropbox on any of these devices at anytime AND without having to email myself attachments or copy things to a USB thumb drive.

Some examples of things I ‘store’ in my Dropbox include photos, presentations, PDFs of newsletters and worksheets, even video clips of Elmo or Veggie Tales.  Take a look at the ‘magic pocket’ that is Dropbox:

Dropbox relies on a WiFi connection to sync and access files amongst various devices, but there is a way to access a much needed file when you are not connected to WiFi.  If you ‘star’ /tag a file that you may need offline as a ‘favorite,‘ you can access that file offline.  For example, a favorite Elmo clip can be accessible and playable at that time when you need it most and there’s no WiFi for youtube or accessing all of your Dropbox files from the ‘cloud.’

Another handy thing you can do with Dropbox is to store a library of PDF worksheets for your child or any user.  Children with autism and other special needs may benefit from multiple practice when completing handwriting, math or reading worksheets.  Instead of having to make multiple paper copies practice, you can use your iPad or tablet.   By using a PDF annotation app, such as Notability, GoodReader, or PDF-notes you can mark up and write on PDF files. These annotation apps contain pen, marker, and highlighter tools that you can use to trace on top of the PDF for multiple practice.

This video shows a user modifying a PDF with PDF-notes:

So do you “Dropbox?” If you don’t yet…you will love it.  (Click here to get started: and we will both get extra storage space for our Dropbox).   2.0 GB is included for FREE to get started with when you install Dropbox.


“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” ~Jeremiah 29:11.

November 1, 2012

So how did you get hooked on iOS anyhow?….

Posted in About Us, Assistive Technology, Autism, iOS at 6:50 PM by kellyvansingel

November 1, 2012…

In August 2010, five months after the initial release of the iPad first generation, my parents showed up at our doorstep with a plastic bag from the apple store. “We thought you could use this…,” they said as they took out a white box marked ‘iPad’ from the bag. We were floored and so excited at the same time. Cue the opening music and credits to our now unfolding real-life docudrama “Van Singel Family iOS: the Experience.”

Prior to this unbelievable gift, we had acquired an iPod touch by using cash back bonus rewards from our Discover Card at Sam’s Club. It opened a new door for the girls, especially Magdalyn. We first knew how powerful these little touch devices were for her when she had outpatient surgery in May 2010, to remove her ear tubes. This was her fourth surgery to either have ear tubes placed or removed. On previous occasions, she had to have sedation medication to just tolerate being in the O.R .prep area. With her last procedure, she held the iPod touch and played ShapeBuilder until calmly receiving the mask from the anesthesiologist. She continue to watch and play the iPod touch through the mask! before gently allowing the anesthesia to work for her short operation. “iPods for all!” said the nurses doctors. It was a night and day difference from having to use Versed just to stay put in the O.R. prep area.

The iPod continued to be a piece of assistive technology that we could use with Magdalyn to help her adjust to being in new or formerly uncomfortable situations. Trips to a restaurant, the dentist, the doctor–were finally not a nightmare any more. She could use the iPod touch to feel regulated and look like any other kid at the same time.

The first night we got the iPad from my parents, I brought it out to introduce it to Magdalyn who was having a snit about something at the time about which I cannot remember, but I said, “What is it?” She immediately stopped fussing and reached for the iPad saying…. “iPod…..big iPod” and the rest was history. She knew exactly what to do.

When I could sneak the device away from her, I started immersing myself into app store research, following more and more facebook pages about apps, and starting to teach, learn and experiment with my own live-in iOS hungry sponges named: Magdalyn and Gillian (aka ‘Mags’ & ‘Gilly’)–two girls living with autism.

Magdalyn was naturally intuitive from the start having used the iPod touch for a few months. Gillian, on the other hand, needed teaching and guided self-discovery with the iPad. How do you introduce a device like this to a kiddo whose attention span and visual spatial skills were still developing? By trial and error and with cause & effect apps. Little by little, Gillian started to interact with the iPad more and more. She began to understand that using her hand to swipe caused things to happen. She learned that by using a pointed finger, she could draw and scribble. She learned to navigate the apps and find favorite videos.

Everyday on Facebook, I began posting and linking articles demonstrating what I was witnessing at home in my own daughters. I was so excited by how they responded and had so much to share. I was asked at that point by my friend Amy at the EMU Autism Collaborative Center to do a Wednesday Night Light about apps. In October of 2010, I gave my first app workshop for parents called “Happy to be App-y.” At that event, I met my friend Brooke, who was starting a non-profit called iTaalk. An instant bond over iPads and autism was formed. I joined up with iTaalk as a volunteer to help contribute to some of their Ohio and Michigan training events, App Happy Potlucks, and to the iTaalk Facebook page.

I am passionate about sharing iOS technology and our story. There are so many families that are hungry for knowledge about where to start and how to start in helping their children with assistive technology. I hope this blog can help others in their journey.


“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” ~Jeremiah 29:11.

Previous page