What Makes for a Good App?
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?