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Speaking of Apps

What Makes for a Good App?

Published June 11, 2012 5:49 PM by Megan Sutton

I'm so excited to start this new blog about apps for adult speech-language therapy! Every week, I'll be posting information about apps and how to use touch-screen technology to enhance therapy and the lives of people with acquired communication and swallowing disorders. The App Store is filled with over half a million apps, a number that grows every day. For a working clinician, it can be nearly impossible to keep up with the new apps and find the gems for speech therapy with adults. As an app developer and speaker, I have to stay on top of available apps, and as a rehab SLP, I use apps with my clients to determine what works and what doesn't.  

My hope is that I can do the legwork for you and share the best apps, ideas for therapy, and ways to use touch-screen technology efficiently and meaningfully. I invite you to be a part of the blog by leaving comments with your own ideas.

What makes a good app for adult speech therapy?  These are a few principles I use when evaluating apps:

1) Appropriate for adults. This means no "Hooray! You're great!" sound effects that can't be turned off and voices should be adults. Pictures of people can't be exclusively of children and cartoons must be tasteful if featured in the app. It's hard enough for adult client's ego to work on simple skills like spelling "C-A-T", they don't need a childish cartoon cat meowing back at them with a child's voice cheering. Some adults may not mind using childish apps, but we should be very careful in this area.

2) Add value to therapy. Using the iPad may be motivating in and of itself for some, but for most adult users there isn't the same thrill using the technology that we see with kids. Once the novelty wears off, the adult learner needs apps that enhance the learning experience, whether through more realistic actions, functional activities, motivating game play, challenges to rise to, virtual therapists, or more repetitions of an activity in less time. Just because "there's an app for that" doesn't mean it's better.

3) Make our lives easier. Apps should definitely give us fewer materials to carry around, which is always a bonus. Hopefully they can also tally and calculate our data, organize our activities, and give us access to previously expensive and cumbersome tools. Apps that crash, lose data or don't work correctly end up making our lives more difficult.

4) Easy to use. One of the best advantages of apps is that family members and clients (often new to the technology) can use them on their own for continuing practice of skills taught in therapy. If the user interface is too complicated, you'll spend more time teaching the app than the skill, and brain-injured clients are unlikely to gain independence. The best apps are quick to start and do not require storing confidential client data.

5) Adaptable. Apps with multiple levels are great. Not all clients are at the same level, so choosing a starting level and having levels to progress through is ideal. Great therapy apps are customizable to the client's ability and should progress as they make progress. Apps can also be adaptable in the way they're used by the skilled clinician. If simple enough, the SLP can vary directions and uses along a hierarchy customized for the client.

6) Goal-focused. The use of the iPad or iPhone isn't an end, it's a means to an end. Whether the goal is to communicate basic needs, remember appointments, or speak louder, the technology can help us get there if used correctly. Apps are tools, just like flashcards and workbooks. If they can't be used to reach a goal, they aren't worth having in our toolbox.

Are there additional criteria you use to evaluate apps for your more chronologically-advanced clients?


For app for aphasia

Katie Lyall September 11, 2014 12:54 PM
Baisden WV

Hi Megan, It's great to see a focus on SLP apps for adults as so many out there are targetted towards children.  At So2speak ( we have developed an adult oro-motor skills app with over 40 videos for patients to follow. It would be great to have some feedback!

Ed January 10, 2013 8:56 AM

Hi Megan. I really like your new blog and I look forward to reading future posts. I also really like the apps made by Tactus Therapy Solutions. They are great to have in my toolbox! I am a Speech and Language Therapist in England and have recently launched an app called Speech Pacemaker. I am hoping it will also also be a useful tool for SLP toolboxes.

Lorraine January 9, 2013 1:49 PM

I work w/all adults & love using the iPad for cognition.  My biggest complaint is finding apps that are appropriate for adults & not kid based.  For example, w/reading comprehension, I have yet to find anything that is really appropriate.  Executive functions is another area that I cannot find much.  Any input would be greatly appreciated!!

Donna Hersch, SLP - SLP, Outpatient Hospital July 9, 2012 3:50 PM
Westerville OH

Thank you for explaining how you use Bla Bla Bla!  Would you believe I put it on my iPad months ago but had not used it because I couldn't figure out what it was supposed to do?  Obviously, I was in a too quiet mode!  So far I have used Make Change with only two (TBI  & stroke ) adult clients.  I LOVE it because I never have enough actual currency/change with me to use for therapy activities!  I wish I had it available when I worked with special ed. middle school kids.

Maureen, Home Care - SLP, Nursing Homes July 3, 2012 4:23 PM
Conesus NY

I find that many older adults are getting iPads, including my 89 year old client. What I find frustrating is that most apps for adults use cartoons and are very limited in the lexicon.I am in the process of developing an app which should be ready in the app store in September.

Gail, SLP - Supervisor, University July 1, 2012 10:46 PM

Rae - I will do my best to mention if an app is available on Android.  However, I don't personally use Android and know that most therapy-specific apps are not available on Android devices.  However, I hope that you can take the principles of the apps and therapy suggestions to see if there are compatible apps available on Android.  A number of my patients with Android devices have abandoned them in favor of iPads since the apps are so much more useful.  It's a great point though, and well taken.

Megan Sutton June 15, 2012 2:11 PM

I enjoyed the careful elaboration of criteria for app selection.  It would be useful, too, to consider what sort of system the adult patient has available.  iPads seem popular as purchases for clinicians, but many of my adult patients are already into Android based systems, or other tablets/operating systems.  So as a criteria, I would add the need to consider whether the patient has a preference for one operating system over another.  I'm hopeful this blog will not just discuss the iPad apps available, for this reason.  Thanks - this is a really burgeoning topic of discussion these days!

Rae Zimmerman, Home Care - Speech Pathologist, Continu-Care Home Health of SHGM June 15, 2012 12:58 PM
Newaygo MI

James - the SLP Talk Apps group is wonderful! Perhaps I can do a post in the future about how to find new apps :) Sara - I haven't worked with the same population as you, but hopefully you will find all my recommendations age-appropriate and fitting for low-level language.  The apps my company makes might fit the bill - try Language TherAppy Lite if you want to see.  Next week I'll review a free app that anyone can use!

Megan Sutton June 15, 2012 2:21 AM

I am new to the use of the ipad.  I look forward to any help with apps for my patients.  I also see mentally challanged over22, cerebral palsy, who need low level materials but the materials must be age appropriate.  Thanks for your help.

Sara, , Speech Pathologist home health June 14, 2012 1:15 PM
Hollywood FL

Check out image2talk.  I developed this app as I work with teenagers with Autism and Learning Disabilities and I was struggling to find an app that was age appropriate and easily customisable to meet individual needs.  Fiona

Fiona Wilson, Special needs - Teacher June 14, 2012 12:31 PM
County Wicklow, Ireland

So many apps! And new ones coming out weekly!  I found a gem of a FB group called "SLP Talk Apps" that is strictly for SLPs who want to discuss and share relevant apps.  %0d%0a

James Brinton, SLP June 14, 2012 11:56 AM
Washington DC

You have developed a very insightful criteria for considering apps for adults. Looking forward to your posts Megan!

Mai Ling June 14, 2012 9:07 AM

Hi Pat - Look at some of the links on this site:  There will also be several apps described here on this blog over the coming months.

Megan Sutton June 12, 2012 2:23 PM

Where can I find some speech apps to help an adult with aphasia from traumatic brain injury.

Pat June 12, 2012 1:12 PM

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About this Blog

    Speaking of Apps
    Occupation: Speech-Language Pathologist
    Setting: Rehabilitation
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