Improve Communication Skills with These Comprehensive iPad Apps for Special Needs Education


The iPad is a wonderful teaching tool to help both children and adults with special needs. Whether teachers and parents are helping a person with autism, speech difficulties, or verbal learning disorders, developers have created a range of comprehensive communication apps that engage as they educate. While many iPad apps designed for general populations work well in special needs settings, we’ve chosen to focus on five that were designed specifically for individuals with special needs such as autism and speech delays.


1. The Social Express ($89.99) — With 16 interactive lessons at two skill levels, the Social Express targets social deficits common to people with autism and Asperger’s syndrome. This app reinforces the importance of eye contact, works on pragmatic language skills, and helps the user recognize non-verbal social cues.

2. Sono Flex ($99.99) — Sono Flex turns symbols into speech, helping pre-verbal or non-verbal users speak. With more than 11,000 symbols, and the ability to custom create symbols, Sono Flex is a powerful and flexible vocabulary-building tool. For a taste of how Sono Flex works, check out Sono Flex Lite.

3. Proloquo2go ($189.99) — Designed for individuals who have trouble speaking, Proloquo2go is an AAC (augmentive and alternative communication) app for iOS, and though pricey, this universal app is much less expensive than a dedicated AAC device. English native speakers can choose from two vocabulary organizations, Core Word and Basic Communication. Both vocabulary organization can be customized to the individual needs of multiple users.

4. SpeechTree ($169.99) — An AAC program that includes a learning component, SpeechTree is designed exclusively for iPad, and supports multiple users. Parents, teachers, and care givers can choose from 5,000 symbols that teach both receptive and expressive language, as well as monitor each user’s progress from within the app.

5. See.Touch.Learn Pro 2012 ($19.99) — See.Touch.Learn Pro 2012 is a picture learning system for special needs such as autism or speech delay. Users can build customized lessons for a wide range of users with the app’s digital cards. Since it is more affordable than many of the other options in its cohort, making it a perfect choice for families or single users. However, professionals may choose See.Touch.Learn as an alternative to lugging traditional picture cards from client to client.

While this list focused on comprehensive (and therefore pricier) offerings, parents and teachers working with autistic individuals will find this Google Groups spreadsheet to be a useful clearinghouse for information. The spreadsheet, which features input from its creator Shannon Des Roches Rosa as well as a speech pathologist and an autistic adult, covers many high quality general education apps such as Stack the States, Zen Brush, and BrainPop’s Featured Movie that the site’s curators have found useful in special ed settings.

Photo courtesy of flickingerbrad.

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About Emily: Emily is a freelance writer who loves discovering new apps whenever she can pry the iPad away from her children or husband. You can contact her via Twitter: @whatwentwrite

  • http://www.facebook.com/specialneedsswimlessons Sensory Swim

    The ipad is a great tool for teachers and the children they work with. Will have to check out the programs you recommend. Thank you for sharing

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Steve-Gossett/1639998940 Steve Gossett

    Why is it that as soon as someone puts “special needs” in front of an application its automatically $80, $150, etc. For most of these there is an exact equivelant at anywhere from 99 cents to $2.99. Im all for educational apps but come on!

    • whatwentwrite

      I agree that the prices which accompany most of these apps is steep. Most of them are more comprehensive and specialized than cheaper counterparts, but I included the link to the Google Groups doc to give readers access to a wide variety of affordable apps that have been endorsed by users with first hand knowledge.