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Saturday, June 21, 2014

Autism Spelling App Review and a Giveaway!

We all know how much kids with autism love the iPad, so we were delighted when the folks at esSENtial learning offered us a free copy of their SENspeller app to review. Penny is "Mum" (they are British!) to Harry, a little boy with autism, and Jo is his aunt; together they created SENspeller to help children with autism learn to spell in a very concrete way.

The app is intentionally very visually simple and low arousal. SENspeller is black and white, with no moving pictures or loud noises that could distract the user. The concept is to screen out sensory stimuli that may cause distress. At the same time, the app is designed to utilize the visual learning strength that is common among children with ASD. The parent or therapist can upload their own photos and voices to make the spelling words more personal for the individual child, ie, using a photo of the child's own cat paired with the word C-A-T.

Choose from a variety of themes or make your own topics.

I tried the app with my six year old son (who loves spelling!), and he really liked it. The app has several levels of difficulties for each word group. At Level 1, there are shadows of the letters, indicating where the child should drag and drop them to correctly spell the word. By Level 3, the letters are scrambled, there are no shadows, and there are extraneous letters not needed for the word. A child's voice says each letter as it is put into place, and the whole word is spoken once it is complete. The app comes with sets of words in categories like "Animals" and "Body" and you can also add your own words and pictures.

Errorless learning - the app only lets you put the letter in the correct spot. There isn't a limit to how many times the user can try until he gets it right.

esSENtial learning gave us a free copy of the app to try out, but we were not compensated for the review. All opinions are mine and my son's. That said, this is what we found...

What We Liked:
  • Errorless learning. The app only lets the user put the letter in the correct spot and does not make any terrible buzzing sounds if they make an incorrect attempt. That was a huge plus in our book, because my son is terrified by the "wrong answer" sounds in so many apps. My son also enjoyed the happy cheers when he finished spelling a word correctly.
  • Very nice illustrations.
  • Simple, un-busy screen. My son liked the clean look of the app, which was carefully designed to avoid distractions or unnecessary busyness. It is easy on the eyes, allowing the spelling to take center stage.
  • It is great that you can add your own sets of words. It allows the app to expand once the original sets have been mastered, and is also a good opportunity to introduce the child's special interests to engage them in spelling. 
  • Multi-user settings, which make the app useful for a therapist or teacher to use with multiple children.

What I Would Tweak:
  • The cost. There are so many great apps out there that I personally am reluctant to spend over $10 for a single app, unless it is loaded with bells and whistles (like Pictello) or is an app that will be used every day, such as an AAC app for a non-verbal child. Maybe I would feel differently if I was a therapist or teacher who could use the app with many children, but for just one child, it feels a bit pricey to me.
  • I'd like the option to select from several default voices like you can on GPS programs. The app is made using a very sweet British girl's voice (the makers are British, after all); while we found her voice appealing, her pronunciation of individual letters was different enough from American English to be problematic for teaching phonics.

Win This App!

esSENtial learning has generously donated a copy of the SENspeller app for one lucky CHART reader to win! Enter the Rafflecopter below for your chance to win this useful autism spelling app. And if you don't happen to win, remember that you can always get SENspeller on the App Store.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Looking for more great autism apps? Be sure to check out our review of the Rubycube storysmart series!

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