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Special Needs iPad App List

Shannon Des Roches Rosa is a founder and co-editor of the Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism book and blog project. She writes and speaks frequently on how her son’s iPad supports his learning and independence. Her next iPads and autism workshop will be in New York City on June 5th.


If you’re like me, you’re determined to find ways for your child with special needs to demonstrate what they know, better communicate what they want, and feel like the cool kid you already know they are. The iPad may not be the perfect match for every one of our kids, but for those kids it does suit, the results — the learning, the leisure, the independence — can surprise everyone in their lives, including parents. Including teachers. Including themselves.

I’m a huge iPad fan because is lets Leo do things he’s never done before: spelling, “reading” himself books, independent play. That last one may seem silly, but Leo — who is ten and has intense autism — is a 1:1 kid. Independent play has never motivated him before, and I know he’s not the only one of our kids who finds self-direction intensely challenging. Even if he wasn’t using apps to reinforce and even teach himself spelling and reading, the iPad would be worth its price tag for the giving Leo this newfound ability to entertain himself.

There’s also the cool factor. Though iPads have been around for over a year, people — other kids especially — flock to Leo whenever he uses his iPad. That phenomena has simply never happened to our quirky and socially awkward guy before. It’s wonderful. It’s also wonderful to watch Leo and his little sister call off their usual sibling hostilities and teach each other how to use new apps.

We don’t just plug Leo into his iPad and let him goof off — he plugs himself in, and we watch him go. There are so many great apps that let us create custom content for him — social stories, labeling practice, visual schedules, remembering personal information, assembling reinforcer (reward) systems for tasks completed. There are so many other great apps that let him soar on multiple levels — with his fine motor skills, art, geography, math, and puzzles. I maintain a spreadsheet of the apps Leo likes best, along with recommendations from SLP Jordan Sadler and Corina Becker of The Autistic Adult App Project. Here’s a selection of Leo’s and my very very favorite iPad apps:

Visual Schedules

Social Stories

  • Stories2Learn– $13.99 – Create custom social stories, using your own photos, text, and voiceover

Reward System

  • iEarnedThat– $1.99 – A puzzle-based reward system that uses custom images

Personal Information

  • All About Me – $.99 – A straightforward app for helping to learn personal information

Labeling and Identification

  • Word SLaPps – $2.99 – Turn custom photos and voice labels into a game, picking 1, 2, or 3 items from a field – no reading necessary


  • FirstWords* – $4.99 – Spelling in an error-free environment, reading
  • Bob Books – $1.99 – Spelling and phonics from the popular early reading series
  • Word Wagon – $1.99 – Drag-tiles-to-spell-words with letters clustered by sound.


  • Dr. Seuss’s ABC – $3.99 – Leo loves all the Oceanhouse Media Dr. Seuss apps, as they allow him to “read” books to himself by tapping on each word individually. But this is his favorite.


  • Whizzit 1-2-3 – $.99 – Practice 1:1 correspondence/counting, with fun balloon-popping breaks
  • TallyTots – $1.99 – Leo’s current favorite counting app for numbers 1 – 20. Cute animations varied reforcements and counting strategies


  • ShapeBuilder – $.99 – An errorless learning puzzle game
  • My First Tangrams – $1.99 – Play with several varieties of simple tangrams, or create your own
  • FruitMemory – $.99 – Concentration, turn taking, scalable, fun, cute!


  • Dropophone – Free – Experiment with a soothing, cycling rain drop orchestra
  • TappyTunes – $1.99 – Tap out your favorite songs (note: text-based interface)
  • Moozart – $1.99 – Exploring basic music notation and composition through this silly barnyard-themed program



  • DrawFree – $ Free – Magnadoodle-like simple drawing app
  • Faces iMake* – $1.99 – Fun, free-form collage making


  • ZooTrain – $1.99 – Five fun train-based activities – puzzle, spelling, music.
  • Toca Tea Party – $2.99 – Set up a tea party, tap on all the noms to “consume” them, then wash the dishes. Simple, cute fun.

Fine Motor

  • Supernova – $.99 – Practicing iPad pinch-and-expand motions
  • InfinitiTrack – $.99 – Track a ball around a figure eight pathway with eyes or finger. Simple but effective


Thanks so much Shannon Des Roches Rosa and good luck at the next iPads and autism workshop in New York City on June 5th! Thanks for sharing your App knowledge with all of us! (now I’m off to buy some of these…).

Many thanks, Julia

Scrolling photo by Kelly Nicolaisen, copyright 2010

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