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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Rubycube Autism App Reviews and a Giveaway!

The Triangle is a rich place for autism resources, and now we can add apps for autism to that list. What do you get when a Speech Language Pathologist and a designer decide to create an app to help children like their daughter with HFA? Storysmart apps by rubycube. Jennifer and Pete Minelli of Chapel Hill designed a suite of apps to help children like their daughter Ruby learn social skills and social cognition in a fun and appealing way.

The series of apps (3 currently available and 3 more coming soon) are designed to "provide both a recreational and therapeutic activity for elementary-school aged children and are designed to help them develop social communication, social cognition, critical thinking and narrative skills". The apps take the form of stories, and the child gets to help the characters make appropriate choices in real life situations.

A cute kid cheering pops up when you makes good choices.

Since our son is obsessed with loves the iPad, we had already bought the first app in the series, Trudy Goes to the Beach. So we were excited when rubycube founders Jennifer and Pete Minnelli offered us copies of Casey's Big Day and Ruby Gets in the Game to try out at home with our 6 year old son with Asperger's.  (Rubycube donated the two apps to us, but we were not paid to review them. All opinions are mine and my son's.)

The results: Our son gave Ruby Gets in the Game 4 out of 5 stars, and he said he would have given Casey's Big Day 6 out of 5 stars if he could. Ruby Gets in the Game lost 1 star because my son said he would've liked more "dramatic action" during the soccer game, possibly something involving the tumbleweed in the story. (You can't make this stuff up!)

The thought bubbles were one of our favorite features of the storysmart apps.

What I Liked:

  • The child records their own happy or sad sounds that play when they make a good or less-than-ideal choice. My son is terrified of getting the wrong answer in many apps because of the obnoxious buzzer sounds they typically use for an incorrect answer, so choosing his own sounds is a huge upside for us. Plus it is just fun for a child to record himself making noises and get to hear them played back during the story.
  • Among the 4 choices for different situations, there are often 2 equally "correct" answers. How wonderful for our rigid thinkers to see there is more than one good choice in many of life's situations. 
  • Many of the incorrect answers were inappropriate choices for that specific moment, but they could be perfectly fine things to do in another context. So many kids with ASD have a difficult time learning what is expected or unexpected in different places or times, so this was a great conversation starter in our family. We love how the Social Thinking concepts are folded into this app.
  • I thought it was great that the pictures in the thought bubbles changed depending on the choices you made while reading the story. We have recently been working on "thought bubbles" and "speaking bubbles" in a social group, and I was pleased that the app showed how thoughts become actions.
Screenshot of the chapters in Casey's Big Day

What My Son Liked:

  • The story lines felt real to him. Going to the beach, a day in school, playing soccer - these are all everyday real life experiences that he found familiar and could relate to.
  • The interface and features were appealing.
  • He liked that the unexpected choices were funny. He did his best to choose the most appropriate option during each part of the story, and then we checked out all of the other answers too to see the silly things that happened. And because he made his own "wrong" sound, my son wasn't afraid to experiment with checking out the results of making an unexpected choice.

What I Would Tweak:

  • While I enjoyed the clean look of the app, I would have liked the pictures to be slightly larger. With his young, sharp eyes, my son did not necessarily share my opinion.
  • I liked hearing the app read the story, and wished it would have automatically continued reading when we turned the pages. If there is a way to do that, I did not find it.
  • The on screen buttons that run the app could be a little larger and come up more from the edge of the screen. We have a Gumdrop Drop Tech case on our iPad, which is a super rugged and fairly chunky case. I imagine that the elegant buttons would be easier to use on an iPad without such a bulky case, but I would gladly trade a little of the sleek design for larger features that are easier to use.

All in all, I thought these were enjoyable, high quality apps with a lot of therapeutic value. My son thought they were fun and they held his interest, so we were both happy. We are looking forward to the release of the 4th story in the series, Mario's Big Reactions - I think we will really be able to relate to that one!

Win These Apps! Rubycube has generously donated copies of all 3 of the current storysmart apps. One reader will win codes to download the trio for free! Enter the Rafflecopter for your chance to win these great apps. And if you don't happen to win, remember you can always find the rubycube apps on the App Store.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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