#TechTuesday: iPad speaks for children with cerebral palsy and other special needs

Kim Musgrave’s iPad has opened up a whole new world for her son, Luke. At the special needs parent support group meeting at Akron Children’s Hospital in June, Kim made a compelling case for the electronic tablet for parents of children with special needs.

Luke, 14, has cerebral palsy and cortical vision impairment. Due to these challenges, he functions at the level of a 2 year old. Because of his communication impairment, he’s been somewhat isolated from the people around him.

Until the iPad came along, she relied on several different communication devices, many of which were cumbersome and not as adaptable as the iPad.

“One of the best things about the iPad is that it brings other kids closer to my son,” said Musgrave. “Kids are stand-offish and don’t always want to come up and talk to Luke because he’s different. We use the iPad to help him communicate with other kids so he can have a conversation. He likes kids to play with him on the iPad and it attracts the kids to come to him. Luke can connect with kids and they can connect with him.”

Here are a few of the programs Musgrave has found helpful for Luke:

TapSpeak Button: Musgrave thinks this is a great program for communicating with others, and you can use your own pictures to make it even more interactive and personal for your child.

“The customer service is phenomenal,” said Musgrave. “The developer calls you right back if you have questions and he’s always working on making the app even better. Every time he does an update, you get the new version free.”

TapSpeak Button is a great communications app for children with cerebral palsy, autism, apraxia of speech, cortical vision impairment and stroke. The iPhone version costs $14.99, while the iPad app costs $29.99. A Plus version is also available for the iPad for $49.99.

TapSpeak Sequence: TapSpeak Sequence may have a fun laugh feature Luke enjoys using, but Musgrave says it is a seriously great program for helping Luke conduct conversations. Musgrave uses the tap sequences to help Luke keep up a conversation with a peer.

For instance, she might load this sequence, “Hi. How are you? I am fine. What did you do this weekend? I went to Rotary Camp and liked swimming in the lake the best.” Luke is then able to gently tap the iPad when he wants to play the next part of the sequence, creating a rapport with peers.

TapSpeak Sequence Standard costs $29.99, and the Plus version is $49.99.

TapSpeak Choice: Musgrave uses this app often to load pictures and keep track of home IEP goals. She uses it to help offer Luke choices.

For instance, she can load a picture of him walking and an image of Luke sitting and ask him to tap the picture of which he prefers to do. She really likes the full library of cartoon pictures and she’s able to load up to 16 choices per page.

TapSpeak Choice costs $149.99, but Musgrave says even with the cost of her iPad, it is well below the cost of many communication devices, which can run as high as $10,000 and aren’t nearly as adaptable as an iPad.

Pictello: Musgrave uses Pictello as a talking photo album because Luke loves sharing pictures with people at school and church. “The best part is people are interested in it and that makes him really excited,“ she said.

Another parent at the meeting, Michelle Cohen, said she uses it as a behavioral guide. For example, she can load a picture of herself to reinforce the idea it is not acceptable to hit your mother. She has it on both of their iPads and also on an iPhone, so she can pull them up anywhere. Teachers can also upload them and put their own pictures in the app to reinforce not hitting your teacher.

Another plus of the app is that you don’t need an Internet connection for story creation or playback. It costs $18.99.

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  1. I love that this technology is out there…I too have told several people about your story Luke and how this form of communication has open up worlds of conversation for you. Kim I hope the word gets out there for more families so I will be posting this too. 

  2. warner246@neo.rr.com' warner246 says:

    The ability to communicate with your family and friends is something that so many of us take for granted.  Kudos to Kim for being a persistent Mom who is tirelessly advocating for her son.  I think the iPad can be a great tool for education as well as an electronic device for fun.  How wonderful that Apple has made so many apps available that are so much cheaper than other communication devices.  Kim, I know you believe you have been blessed with your sweet “angel child”, Luke, and I agree and he is equally blessed with the loving mother that you are.  Blessings to you and your family.

  3. I bought one for my 5 year old daughter who is seen at Akron Childrens for a mitochondrial disease. It helps her practice her letters and coordination among many other things when her hands hurt too much to hold a pencil. It also enables her to do her activities while laying down when she is having a bad mito day. Her OT is always letting us know of new apps that can help her.

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