iPads for Children with Special Needs

Using iPads with children with special needs is a growing trend. Although there isn’t conclusive research yet on the outcomes of using iPads with children with special needs, feedback from the field is mainly positive. Teachers and librarians who are using apps with children with special needs report improvements in targeted skills. In cases where the child’s skills didn’t improve, teachers felt that the child’s skills also hadn’t decreased.  Because children have such varying abilities, skills, needs, and behaviors, the effectiveness of iPad technology will also vary with each child.  Instruction and experiences should be individualized. As you consider and/or implement iPad technology in your library collections and programs, here is some current discourse to consider:

·        The iPad can motivate children to practice a skill over and over again until they master it.

·        Apps can be used to target specific needs and can sometimes be adapted to a particular ability level.

·        The iPad is touch screen and generally easier for children to manipulate than a mouse.  Some children may need additional assistive devices.

·        A good app makes the most of visual learning, which can be particularly beneficial to some children with special needs. 

·        Good apps help children understand cause and effect.  An immediate response to a child’s action is most effective, such as a chime when a question is answered correctly. 

·        iPads allow for real-sounding text-to-speech voices that can encourage a child to speak or allow a child to communicate via technology.

·        iPads help children develop fine motor skills by touching, pointing, dragging, and practicing how hard to press.  This can be a challenging aspect of the iPad for some users.

·        Children learn most effectively from technology when the caregiver/teacher and child/student work together to construct learning.  Learning is also enhanced when apps are paired with hands-on experiences.

Some of the special needs apps we have pre-loaded on our circulating iPads at AHML include:

·        First Words International: Encourages language development.

·        Book of Me: Gives children the opportunity to make choices and can encourage certain behaviors.   

·        Model Me Going Places 2: Six sets of photos with narration help children learn expected behaviors for visits to the hairdresser, doctor, playground, grocery store, and a restaurant.

·        See.Touch.Learn.: This picture-learning app is ideal for children with autism and other special needs. Teach new words and concepts using digital flashcards.

·        TapToTalk: TapToTalk turns the iPad into a communication device.  Tap on a picture and it speaks.

What are your favorite apps to use with children with special needs?  Share your ideas here! 


The iPad as Part of the Smart Inclusion Toolkit. Teaching Exceptional Children, Vol. 45.
Price, Amy. Making a Difference with Smart Tablets. Teacher Librarian, October 2011, Vol. 39, Issue 1.
Roth, Kristi. Adapt with Apps. The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation, & Dance. February 2013.
Shah, Nirvi. Special Ed. Pupils Find Learning Tool in iPad Applications. Education Week. Vol. 30, Issue 22.
Lindsay Huth is the Early Learning Specialist at the Arlington Heights Memorial Library.