app advice for speech-language pathologists, educators and parents

handy tools

These next apps are must haves in our specially designed classrooms for children with autism.

Permanently parked at the top of our list is Pictello by AssistiveWare.  This app lets you add text and voice to pictures that you string together. Use it for talking books or social stories, or use it like we do day in and day out to introduce a new activity or break down a complicated routine into manageable steps.

Take a picture of your own or grab one off the internet.  Add text and choose whether you will record your own voice (or another student’s) or use the built in text-to-speech.  Then just continue to add pages until you are done.  This app comes from the same people who bring us the industry standard AAC app ProLoQuo2Go, and you get the same state of the art text-to-speech voices from Acapela that you would find there.   Recent updates have included new voices you can easily download from within the app, including some amazingly realistic child voices.  The latest update also now includes individual word highlighting while the text is playing back.  We rely on this app every day to write  social stories for kids, to model activities like how to buy an ice cream cone, and to help kids sequence all the little steps they need to take in the morning before they are ready to walk into their classroom to start their day.


You can edit your stories with ease and you can also share your stories with others either in PDF format or by exporting the story itself to other Pictello users through the free file sharing server.  I can put a story together for our classroom teacher, export that story over to her iPad for her to use with students throughout the day, and print out a PDF version for the classroom library.  Just like that.

It’s incredibly versatile and easily worth the $18.99 price tag.  Once you download this app, you will find a thousand different ways to use it.


For a low cost, easy to use alternative to Pictello, check out Speech Journal by Mobile Education Store.  Speech Journal offers a simple, inexpensive voice recorder that lets you pair recorded messages with pictures or picture sequences.  There is no learning curve with this app whatsoever.  Choose a picture and record a message to go with it. Then add additional images and recordings to build a sequence of pictures if you like.  Speech Journal does not include text or text-to-speech, and it doesn’t offer the sophisticated editing features found in Pictello.  But it’s also priced much lower than Pictello and the fact is not everybody needs all of those features.  And not everybody is ready to invest the little bit of time it takes to get up to speed on using Pictello.  As noted throughout this website, I do work closely with this developer and therefore cannot claim to be an objective reporter when it comes to his work.  But if you are looking for an inexpensive and easy way to create social stories, talking photo albums or your own speech materials and flashcards, Speech Journal could be just what you’re looking for. It includes the top of the line record/playback and save features we’ve come to expect in apps from Mobile Education Store and like all of this company’s apps, Speech Journal is intuitive and user friendly. A great value at $3.99.

Another great resource for creating social stories and helping kids share their own stories is Story Creator by Alligator Apps. This app also lets you create a sequenced, narrated slide show like Pictello and Speech Journal, but Story Creator has several things going for it that makes it unique.   First of all, it’s FREE. And instead of just letting you choose or take a photo for each frame in the sequence, Story Creator also lets you include video, a feature that we’ve long been wishing for.  I happen to love that you can just draw your own image or draw over your own photograph in this app, too, meaning you can now draw a big red circle and a slash over a photograph of a child throwing a chair to show that throwing that chair is not okay. This app does not include text-to-speech and all the Acapello voice selections that come with that in Pictello, but it does let you record your own voice. And this is an unexpected surprise — after you’ve recorded your own voice, it then shows you the spectrogram (not kidding) of what you just recorded, so you can align the printed words with the visual representation of the sound file you’ve just created. This lets you play back your own recorded message with accurately timed word highlighting. How all of these features can be rolled into one free app like this is beyond me.  It’s a great option when we know we need video content in a social story and/or when we know we need to doctor up an image.  There are limitations in the editing and in the sharing of stories, however, that keep this from being our go-to social story app.  Story Creator currently lets you share stories over Facebook, but that is not an ideal fit for a school situation.  And there is just nothing like the slick editing features built into Pictello.  But there’s really no question about whether to download it, when you consider the added capabilities that you won’t find elsewhere, and the fact that this app is just plain free.

There is another FREE app that every educator should have on his or her iPad, and that’s Bitsboard from Grasshopper Apps. This easy-to-use app will give you the power to make top quality teaching materials across any subject imaginable in minutes. Create beautiful flashcards with matching audio, multiple choice tasks and word/sentence building tasks effortlessly with this elegantly put together educational app. Read the full review here. With new activities coming and planned enhancements that include data tracking for your students, this will quickly become an app you will use every day. Pre-teach vocabulary as you introduce a lesson. Create a quick choice board for a non-verbal student. Share photos from a recent field trip. Not only can you make high quality, engaging teaching materials for all of your students, but you can also instantly download ready made materials posted by other educators from right within the app.  It couldn’t be easier to use Bitsboard, and the possibilities are endless. Free.

Next up is Choiceworks by Bee Visual is another handy tool to have in the classroom.   This app refers to itself as a Visual Support System.  It gives you ready made templates that let you design a  reinforcement schedule, a waiting board and a feelings board.  Drop the pictures in or add your own and you instantly have an If I do this… I get this… reinforcement board complete with voice output.  This app basically replaces the whiteboards and picture schedules we’re using in class every day to scratch out a checklist of tasks that needs to be completed before we can offer a reward.  And, AND, this app cleverly includes a built in timer right into the boards that you set and manage.



There are companion books that go with each template to help you teach the concepts of schedule, waiting and feelings and you have the capability to add your own drop in photos and record your own audio to go with those pictures.  Well thought out and easy to use with a wonderful overlay help feature, this is the kind of app that people caring for children with autism will use again and again and again.  On sale right now for $4.99. A steal.

One more scheduling app that absolutely has to be listed here is First Then Visual Schedule HD by Good Karma Applications. This is a powerful, robust app that will let you make beautiful customized visual schedules for your students, AND even enhance those schedules with integrated video and choice boards. There are five different visual displays to choose from, including a basic list, an easy to grasp two picture FIRST and THEN list, and our favorite, a virtual velcro strip with a virtual DONE envelope.

Add your own photos or choose from their vast 10,000 image library. Add your own recording. Next choose whether that event requires a pop up video model or pop up choice board, and add those. When you are finished, you will have a completely customized, interactive schedule board to help your kids navigate everything from getting ready for school in the morning to going on a field trip to an ice cream shop and ordering their own ice cream.

FTVS is an easy app to use, once you get the hang of switching from Edit Mode to Play Mode. Just keep in mind that the main button that switches you back and forth is the Edit Button that is tucked inside the app’s Settings features.

Your boards are easily edited and easily shared. This is a fantastic tool for home or school use. And it’s a whole lot of app for $10.


Visual Scene Displays (VSDs) can offer a great alternative to standard grid based, menu driven communication devices, and can offer endless opportunities for teaching language in context. Visual scene displays have existed for many years in low and high tech variations — the concept is not new. What is new is all the power we now have at our fingertips to create our own interactive custom visual scene displays.

With a power-packed, affordable app like Scene Speak, also by Good Karma Applications, we are now able to create our own interactive language scenes to teach new vocabulary in context. And we can create customized, scene-specific communication displays for our non-verbal students who may not have the prerequisite language or organizational skills to access a grid based system. The concept of a visual scene display based augmentative system boils down to this for our kids: if I tap on the thing I want in this picture, I can have the thing I want in this picture. If your child can operate an iPad, he or she can likely access a system based on that design.

With Scene Speak, we aren’t just talking about affordable, ready made materials that transform the iPad into an all powerful communication system. Which by the way are also wonderful to have. Scene Speak and other apps like it give us a way to bring in our own scenes (whether that’s a picture of the classroom, a map of a theme park, or a photo of the all the choices facing our students in the lunch line), and then assign our own pre-programmed “hot spots” to those scenes. It’s crazy to think of how far technology has taken us in just the past few years. Now speech therapists, parents and other specialists have the ability to make their very own touch interactive augmentative communication materials, complete with text and voice output.

Scene Speak consists of an edit mode and a play mode. There is a manual right inside the app to talk you through the steps, and there are video tutorials available online. It’s not a hard app to learn… but it will take you a few minutes to get the hang of it. Those are minutes well invested, though. This is an app you can use early and often.

Start with their stock scene images or add your own. Add hot spots, add text and add your own recording if you like. The app also comes with built in text-to-speech and offers 5 synthesized voices to choose from.

Once you’ve put together that one scene, you can link it to other pages to create a book. That means we now we have  the ability to  create a whole new generation of interactive, scene based social stories.

If you are an SLP, a special education teacher, an ELL teacher or parent of a special needs student, this is one powerful, versatile tool to have at your disposal. Scene Speak is $9.99.


AutisMate by SpecialNeedsWare might just be the best all around full service product out there for children and adults with autism.


It’s based on visual scene displays (use theirs or make your own) that let your kids tap on a picture within a scene to communicate a wish. That means if your child can operate an iPad, your child can use this system.

Everything you can imagine you might need can be launched from these visual displays. Hot spots are tied to images that are presented in context. Your child can tap on the fridge, view the inside of the fridge, and tap on the container of chocolate milk. For many kids who are not ready for a language based menu communication system, visual display scenes provide the visual support and contextual framework they might need to get started with purposeful communication.

Of course, AutisMate includes a menu driven picture communication system. This is a robust app that includes everything from built in choice boards, visual schedules, if-then boards and social stories. You customize what you need and you link it to the pictures you create. Everything gets presented to kids in a visual context that makes sense. Let your kids tap on the sink and see a video demonstration of hand washing. Have them tap on a pizza symbol positioned over a picture of the school lunchroom and view a choice board that lets them initiate whether they want cheese or pepperoni.

There are no limits to what this app can do for you. It’s a visual organizer, it’s a communication system, it’s a choice board maker, and it’s a social story creator. Kids learn vocabulary and routines in context. The built in library of social stories, choice boards and visual scenes make this app an instant timesaver.

It’s incredibly powerful.

Completely customizable with top notch layered programming, you can build an entire school based autism program around an app like this.

The app includes a straightforward tutorial and there are webinars provided to help you master all of the features that are built right in.

If you have a child or adult in your care with autism, that lite version is right there for the taking.

$150 gets you the full package.