Perkins School for the Blind Transition Center

Use Social Apps to Keep Skills Sharp Over the Summer

Summertime can be a welcome break from school for many students, who will cram as much sleeping in and having fun as they can into a few short months before the school year resumes. But the intrinsic break in routine can also spell disaster for some kids on the Autism spectrum or with other social learning issues, when the social parameters and interactions of a school day are suddenly gone. Electronic social apps are a great solution – they are a fun, motivating, economical, and flexible way to incorporate social learning over the summer.


Apps for Structure and Basics


In fact, some apps exist simply to help parents or caregivers manage a child’s expectations for their day, which can be incredibly helpful when the structure of school is on a time out. One such app is Behavior Scripts, which helps children visually see what may happen in a variety of typical everyday situations they may encounter. This allows the child to anticipate and understand the expectations of the day and to prepare for what will happen next. This helps to defer meltdowns and allow for visual prompting as transitions are about to occur.

There are also timer apps for rewards or chores, so that the child can see the timer and know when an event will be over or when it will begin. These include SpeechTimer, a simple way to show time passing, and Visual Cue, which provides picture prompts, simple cause and results, a token reward system, a time keeper for transitions, a visual scheduler and a visual timer – all in the free Lite version! Other great ones to try are Time2Do, Waitstrip and My Video Schedule. Try the free versions to see which App works best for what you are trying to accomplish.

There are also many apps available that cover the most basic concepts of social skills. Some examples are Conover Company Everyday Social Skills and Life Skills Sampler to prepare children on what to expect, to practice what to say, how to say it (voice volume), how to join a group, who and what they will see, what they can touch or not touch and possible issues such as lines at ticket counter, crowds, restricted areas etc. These apps put a strong focus on functional skills and are simple and direct.


Apps for Role Playing and Social Stories


Summer can also be full of new and exciting places to go and see, and the biggest key for social success when trying something new is to learn the rules – the basics of what to expect and how to behave – before you jump in. Apps are a great and economical way to introduce and prepare children to get the most enjoyment out of an outing. Let’s say you are going to a museum for the first time. A great way to prepare would be to get pictures from the museum website and incorporate them into a social story as part of the child’s preparation.

Many social apps allow for an extremely personalized preparation experience by incorporating the child’s photo and background photos of where the action, literally their own social story, will take place. Once example is PuppetPals, where the child can star in their own show of what to expect, what they might see, how to behave, and whom they might speak to. Import an actual picture of the child, have them trace around the image with a fingertip, and a new animated star is born! Now the child can place himself in the starring role of their own animated social story of a trip to the museum with pictures of the actual museum as the back drop and their own voice recording. This app is extremely flexible and can be used independently or in groups, and is perfect for home use. More outgoing kids will enjoy using the app for creating countless stories, while more nervous ones can benefit from planning out their day and managing expectations, and all will profit from practicing their social interactions.

Another option is to create an electronic book before the trip with photos of the child and museum photos with StoryKit, and bring that special story to the trip right on your smart phone. Comic Life is another great app to prepare for an outing like a museum trip. Upload photos to create full comic strips about the upcoming museum outing with your child or student. When the comic is complete, you can flip through the pages like a real comic book, print it and take it with you or refer to it on your electronic device. These apps could also be used after the trip to recreate what happened and continue the discussion and generalization of social skills. These and many of the social story apps allow for the final story to be “published” and shared electronically with family members and friends.


Apps for Peer Interactions


Summer is also a great time to set up play dates with peers at the park for a picnic or a day at the movies. Using the Conversation Builder or Social Skill Builder apps will help children expand on their conversational skills, turn taking, negotiation tools, and flexibility when interacting with a peer on the slide, playing a game of duck duck goose or just sharing a bag of popcorn. Having fun while working on these skills in a natural setting is a great way to see how the child is doing with skill generalization. Video tape these interactions for review and further use after the get together is over. Always remember to ask for permission from other parents before videotaping. Usually this is not a problem, and it can provide a great reason for the kids to get together again to see themselves “starring” in their own movie.

This video footage can downloaded into the iMovie app to edit into smaller clips. These clips can be used to highlight facial expression, body language and communication subtleties that are hard to see in real time action. These might include hand gestures, body posture, eye gazes or eye rolls. Keep in mind what is being “said” through the non-verbal cues. This is often where children on the autism spectrum get tripped up. Ask prompting questions as you watch these spliced videos with your child. For example, “How can we tell Peter is getting tired of this game and wants to play on the swings?” Helping your child become a social detective during this review helps them become a social predictor instead of a reactor and is another step down the path of social skills mastery.


With low cost, fun, and entertaining options, social apps are a great way to keep social learning going strong during summer break. For all of the apps mentioned, start with the free or lowest cost version first, then invest more if you find the app is a good fit with your child and the upgrade has features that make the investment worthwhile. A simple internet search of “social apps” will provide many reviews and top 10 lists to help choose what app fits your child or student best, and input from the child’s teacher is always invaluable and would be a great start on where to focus social learning efforts.


Laurie Jacobs, M.A. CCC-SLP, is co-founder of Social Skill Builder, a company launched in 1999 to provide computer-based tools for teaching social skills to children affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Laurie, along with her sister and co-founder Jennifer Jacobs, M.S. CCC-SLP, develops software products based on the unique needs of the ASD community.

Based on Social Skill Builder’s award-winning educational software series, the Social Skill Builder App features more than 100 videos for the user to view and react to by answering multiple choice questions. Video scenarios are real interactions in preschool, elementary, middle and high school and community settings. Within these settings, children and young adults demonstrate common social interactions with their peers and other adults. The Social Skill Builder App has been listed as a Top 100 Educational Apps for IPad.

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