app advice for speech-language pathologists, educators and parents

social skills

A handful of  social skills apps  stand out above all others.

First up is a must have for anyone working on conversation skills with kids on the spectrum.  That one’s Conversation Builder by Mobile Education Store.

Conversation Builder truly captures the essence of a give and take conversation by putting your child directly into the conversation.  A picture is presented, the child chooses from a list of possible things to say and the child records the appropriate response.  The conversation then continues by way of a built in, pre-recorded question or comment from a friendly peer.  In the end, you have a 4-part or 8-part conversation to play back that includes your child’s voice in it:

–Can I pet your dog?
— What’s his name?
–His name is Goldie.

The freshly updated version of Conversation Builder costs $19.99 and now includes all of the conversation topics that used to be separate in-app purchases.  There is also a pass and play setting (without the pre-recorded peer responses) that allows you to take your own pictures.


If you are wishing this same thing existed to help teenagers on the spectrum with all of the challenging social conversations they need to face, there is some good news there.   The long awaited teen version, Conversation Builder Teen just landed in itunes. Read the full review here.

Conversation Builder Teen takes takes the same concept and underlying design elements of the original Conversational Builder to offer you 300 new conversations on everything from clothes, summer jobs and entertainment to bullying, relationships and sarcasm. This app takes on the good, the bad and the ugly to give our teenagers with social challenges an opportunity to practice the kinds of real conversations they will encounter as they navigate their way through middle school and high school. One new key feature you’ll find in this teen version is a little speaker button that lets you hear the intonation of each response choice before you choose one. You can also preview the content of each conversation before you choose it, and you have full say over the topics you will cover within a session.

Once again Mobile Education Store has delivered a fully customizable yet easy to use app that pushes the whole field forward. This teen app is ideal for parents, social workers and guidance counselors, and is appropriately priced at $29.99.

I do need to disclose my connection to Mobile Education Store because my work with this developer makes me clearly partial to his apps.  But I am also a long time user of Conversation Builder and quite simply, there is nothing else like this out there. It’s so, so clever to let us prompt a child toward the appropriate thing to say to then see that child be rewarded by a comment or question from a welcoming peer. And it can be very moving when you hear those completed back and forth conversations include a young child who is just learning to interact with others.  With Conversation Builder Teen, we now have a way to help teenagers on the spectrum hold their own in conversations about smoking, dating and cyberbullying, and you just can’t assign a value to the importance of that experience.  These two apps let us model conversational turn-taking for our kids by putting their own voice right into those  conversations. Truly brilliant.


The next app is an expensive one ($89.99), but once you see The Social Express in action, you’ll know why.   Everything about this app is cutting edge: the concept, the animation, the music, the professionalism. This is the future!

The Social Express delivers interactive animated video modeling of social skills.  That’s right, interactive animated video modeling of social skills.  It plays like a movie and your kids will be glued. They get to help the characters make choices and then watch the reactions of the characters as those choices play out. You have all the power to stop, freeze the picture and talk about what is happening and why the characters are feeling the way they are.

Zach, Katie, Emma and Sam manage their emotions with the help of their Digital Problem Solvers (also available as a companion app).  They pull these iPod looking devices out when they need help sorting out how they are feeling about what just happened.  Kids watch these characters use the “D.P.S.” to choose the emotion they’re experiencing, and then help them use it to pick a coping strategy. They then get to watch those choices play out, and they learn that there is always something they can do to help themselves feel better about a situation.

There are right choices and wrong choices in the scenarios presented, and the wrong choices can be just as valuable in teaching social thinking as the right ones. This is an unbelievably powerful teaching tool, and kids on and off the spectrum can benefit. Kids connect with the characters and they can relate to their feelings and reactions. All of our elementary kids seem to enjoy watching these social scenes unfold. 

Social Express comes formatted for the iPad, the PC and the Mac, and the price is the same for all three. What you may not know is that this same company is about to launch a web based version of the software that incorporates all of these lessons into a full service learning management system.  The lesson content right now is the same as in the app, but many more lessons are coming around the bend. Once things are fully up and running there will be new content added monthly.

All it takes to run the web based program is a PC connection, so this version is available to providers and parents who do and do not have iPads. The system is designed to help with custom lesson planning and progress tracking for your students.  Many more features are in the works, including a way for families to access their student’s program from home and a virtual clubhouse environment where kids working on social skills can find each other and form friendships. Our school district has just started piloting this online version of Social Express, and I have to say it’s really exciting to get to bring these same eye catching lessons into whole classrooms. And if your school has classrooms with Smartboards, wait till you see this fully interactive on the big screen… You can check out all the details and planned subscription options right here.  Keep an eye out for this one.


A newer app series worth noting that will help your students read body language, understand idioms and improve their perspective taking skills is the Between the Lines series from Hamaguchi Apps. These apps integrate short, real life videos and audio clips into a set of complex listening tasks for students working on interpreting non-verbal cues and flexible thinking. There are three types of tasks: one in which students are shown a video and then asked “What is he thinking?”, one in which a student first listens to a comment or question and then matches the intonation to a facial expression with the prompt “Who said it?”, and one in which an idiomatic expression is presented in context and the student is asked to choose the appropriate meaning. Level 1 and Level 2 are designed for elementary aged students, with Level 2 drawing on more advanced skills, and Level A is designed for teens and adults. All three apps offer both individual and group settings as well as easy data collection for each of your students. Not only does this family of apps offer a great resource for teaching social thinking and interpretation skills to our students on the spectrum, but you may find it a valuable informal assessment tool as well. Each level priced separately at $15.99.

Want a wonderful new way to model sharing for your younger students? Sharing with Duckie Deck is one of those apps you will instantly fall in love with. The animation and execution are perfect. In a matter of seconds your kids will grasp that elusive, abstract concept of sharing AND desperately want to even out the toys, food or birthday cake pieces so that all of the children on the screen are smiling.  It’s even FREE right now.  One of those apps that’s appropriate for anyone working with preschool or kindergarten children. Grab it quick!



Next up is a FREE app called Model Me Going Places from Model Me Kids.  This app gives you 6 different social stories in the format of a narrated slide show.

Model Me Going Places lets you take kids through some every day places step by step.  Great for social modeling and for reducing kids’ anxiety about particular outings.

Why is it free?  Well, Model Me Kids produces ready-made video software for kids with autism and this free app gives you a taste of what you can buy. Worked on me! We bought several of their DVDs and have used them again and again with our kids on the spectrum.  Particularly wonderful are the Model Me Going Places and Model Me Faces and Emotions DVDs (for ages 2-8) that are set to music.



For more about their DVDs click here. 



This next app is an original iPhone app that  has since spun off into a variety of flavors. Look Into My Eyes is the ingenious invention of Fizzbrain. One beautiful, welcoming child’s face is presented after another and after a slight delay a matched set of numbers is flashed within the child’s eyes. A moment later, the student is asked to recall the number he saw, and if he is correct he is on his way to earning a new dinosaur, some restaurant equipment, an undersea creature, etc., depending on the version of the app you are using. It’s a wonderful concept. Children are rewarded for looking directly into the eyes of another child. My favorite moments have come after we turn the ipad off and spend several long seconds looking into each other’s eyes for numbers we know are not going to be there. Each version is $2.99.