Apps & Therapy
By Emily Habelrih
Love it or hate it, technology has helped us in so many ways. One way that I have found it easier to engage my clients outside of sessions (i..e, if I ask them to do a home task or to try strategies we have suggested), is to give it to them in the form of an app. Children and young people are glued to tablets and phones, and apps have made strategies and therapeutic tasks much more appealing to them!
There are a billion apps out there to choose from, but I have put my favourite ones below for you guys to check out! Some of them are free (most of them actually), and others require a subscription or have in-app purchases. Regardless, you can choose which ones may be right for you!
Choiceworks is a great app for creating and establishing visual schedules in the classroom, in a therapy session, and within the family home. It also assists with transitioning students and helping children through multi-step tasks and routines such as getting ready in the morning, or regulating their emotions when they are upset. In the app, there are a collection of images you can choose from, however you are also able to take your own images and create unlimited, customised visual schedules, which is one of my favourite things about this app! Although particularly useful with children on the autism spectrum, this app is great for any child who needs assistance adapting to a schedule, managing their time more effectively, or even improving patience (you can add timers to specific tasks!). This is the only app that I will be reviewing in the autism section, as later on in this guide you will find a book that I have included, which is purely devoted to apps!
Seseme Street & Autism
This app is as much for parents as it is for children. It features some of your favourite “Sesame Street” characters. It also has offers interactive family routine cards, a digital storybook, several videos, and how-to articles for parents. It’s a good app to turn to for information and resources all in one. It is however aimed at younger kids/newly diagnosed children.
Autism Parenting Magazine
Autism Parenting Magazine is a print magazine designed for parents raising children on the autism spectrum. This app is made for subscribers. The app itself is free, but subscriptions cost $2.99 monthly. With a subscription purchase, readers are delivered the insightful, engaging issues monthly. They feature expert advice, tips, news, research, and personal stories from other families living with autism.
This app’s design is based on peer-reviewed scientific research. It’s funded by the U.S. Department of Education. iPrompts is used by special educators and therapists in the treatment of children with autism. It allows users to design visually based daily schedules for their children. The app includes a timer and voice and video prompts. This app isn’t free, and is a $49.99 one-off payment. It is very similar to choiceworks, which is free, so I would start there and try this one if need be.
This app is based on a PECS type system. Proloquo2Go is an app specifically designed for people who are nonverbal. It promotes language development and allows people to communicate through the use of pictures. It’s designed not only for children with autism, but their families, therapists, and educators. It presents users with images they’re most likely to use and has a level-based system for basic to advanced vocabularies. This is an expensive app, at $249.99, but it is amazing for non-verbal children. Back in the day when my brother was learning to speak (he wa non-verbal until 4 years of age), we had to print, laminate, and Velcro these images all over our house to help him communicate!! So now that this is all in an app is so amazing!
This is a great app for adolescents and adults on the autism spectrum, which helps teach the essential psychological skills an individual needs to navigate social situations. The app is a game in which players need to master certain skill sets in order to move up levels in the game. Each level challenges the players more and more. The skills and story lines are both based on current psychological research, so it really is a great game to upskill in certain areas required to successfully navigate everyday social situations. The best part is, it is a free download!!
Touch and Learn - Emotions
This is a great app for learning about emotions, which can help develop a child with autism’s theory of mind and emotional intelligence. What does a sad face look like? For people with autism, the answer to this and similar questions isn’t always so simple. This app helps teach these facial cues to autistic children. It uses more than 100 photos to show expressions and body language that we encounter every day. You can customize the app so the images and emotions are appropriate for your child. It is a $1.99 one-off payment, but money worth spent.
Three Good Things
Mood Meter - building your emotional intelligence
People on the autism spectrum may not only have difficulty understanding how other people emote. They may have difficulty understanding their own emotions, too. Mood Meter is specifically designed to help people get in touch with their emotions. Children can use it to gauge their feelings each day or at regular intervals throughout the day. They can also look back and identify any patterns and grow their emotional vocabulary. A one off payment of 0.99c
For more resources on Autism/ADHD/ODD/Sensory processing disorder, check out the Resource Guide I created here: https://www.theplayfulpsychologist.com/product-page/resource-guide-asd-adhd-odd-and-sensory-processing-disorder
Calm is a guided meditation app to help reduce stress and enhance wellbeing. The 7-step program teaches you how to meditate, with adjustable nature scenes and relaxing music tracks. Sessions range from 2 to 30 minutes on the topics of focus, creativity, energy, confidence, sleep and more. This is an app that I recommend to clients aged 12+. Now, with the most recent update, there is a ‘Calm Kids’ section designed specifically for children aged 3-17 and includes kids sleep stories, lullabies, and soundscapes. The most recent update also includes morning and evening stretch routines, as well as so many other awesome tracks! It is most definitely worth checking out if you are a parent, teacher, or therapist!
Thinkladder is a Mental Wellness and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) app. The app allows users to evaluate and challenge unhelpful beliefs associated with stress, anxiety, relational conflict and depression, and receive empowering insights to help form healthier cognitive pathways. Users can incorporate these insights into their daily rituals through setting up scheduled reminders, so insights are received at the most opportune time. This is a great app for adolescents/adults who may already be engaging in CBT with a therapist. As always with apps/resources, I encourage therapists to trial using the app themselves prior to suggesting it to a client to ensure it is appropriate and effective.
Smiling Mind: Meditation for All Ages
Smiling mind is another great, FREE, app that I often suggest to clients. Based on a mindfulness approach, it is a unique tool developed by psychologists and other educators to help users bring balance to their lives. The main focus of this app is mindfulness programs for both adults and children, designed to assist users to deal with the pressure, stress, and challenges of daily life. It only takes 10-minutes a day to complete the exercises, which is great for adolescents who are busy with school, sports, and their social lives!
This is another CBT-based app, but what makes this one different is that it is specifically aimed at teens and young adults, and is designed to help them cope with anxiety. The premise behind the app is that it can help you change how you think about anxiety; rather than trying to avoid anxiety, you can make an important shift and face it. MindShift helps teach users how to relax, develop more helpful ways of thinking, and identify active steps that will help them take charge of their anxiety. This app includes strategies to deal with everyday anxiety, as well as specific tools to tackle exam anxiety, perfectionism, social anxiety, performance anxiety, worry, panic and conflict.
This is one of my favourite apps to use with clients. I often recommend that teachers download it onto all classroom tablets, and that parents download it onto their phone as a quick mindfulness tool. Basically, the app plays ‘relaxation music’ and shows a dark screen with colourful dots/lines on it. Whenever you touch the screen, those dots/lines create patterns. Because this app is so simple to use, it is absolutely perfect for younger kids. I do however use this app with older kids, and even adolescents, so it really is worth every cent! You are also able to mute the sound if your child does not like the accompanying music. My favourite thing about this app is how easy it is to use, and how quickly it can be accessed. It is so effective in giving children that bit of mental space that they need to think about their surroundings or ground themselves back into reality. You know how children cannot challenge their thoughts of realise how irrational they are being when they are so heightened? This app gives them the opportunity to calm themselves down in a really simple way, just enough that they are then able to have a conversation with you or re-think what is going on for them. I will however say off that you should most definitely purchase the full version of the app, as the free version is riddled with ads, which really defeat the entire purpose of the app in the first place.
Stop, Breathe, and Think Kids
This is an app that you subscribe to, and it can be quite expensive ($9.99/month), but it is quite good and is based around mindfulness. It’s based on the premise around Meditation and mindfulness made easy and fun for kids, to help them discover and develop their superpowers of sleep, being calm, learning to breathe or to resolve conflicts.From the creators of the award-winning app for adults, Stop, Breathe & Think Kids is a mindful games app designed specifically for kids ages 5 - 10. Kids can check into how they are feeling using fun emojis and try recommended mindful missions and meditations tuned to those emotions. Stickers reward their progress and keep the mindful activities engaging.
This app is very similar to the RELAXAPP earlier in the list and is also a useful calm down/mindfulness tool. It is a beautiful interactive Realtime fluid dynamics simulation, control fluid flow and stunning colours at the tips of your fingers. It is free to download but has in-app purchases.
For more resources on anxiety-related disorders, check out the Anxiety Resource Guide I created here: https://www.theplayfulpsychologist.com/product-page/resource-guide-anxiety