Special Needs App of the Day – Categories Learning Center

Special Needs App of the Day – Categories Learning Center

This review is courtesy of Wynsum Arts’ Every App Has a Story, the stories behind Wynsum Arts’ distinguished apps

“Categorization is a major building block for language development.”

— Mary Huston, speech-language pathologist
and creator of Categories Learning Center

Categories Learning Center

Speech-language pathologist Mary Huston couldn’t find the tool she needed for her therapy sessions. She needed a creative categorization activity, and she wanted an app that would focus on receptive language skills but that would also include the expressive component, which is the next logical step. So she approached Barbara Fernandes about collaborating on an app. Fernandes, who also is also speech-language pathologist, is president of Smarty Ears Apps, which is dedicated to creating speech therapy apps for mobile devices.

“Being able to work with another speech-language pathologist who understood what is needed in a good school-aged app was essential,” Huston says. “I wanted to use pictures or symbols that would be easy to recognize as the picture stimuli within the app. I liked the Smarty Symbols created by Barbara and Smarty Ears. Using the symbol set, working with another SLP, and creating an app I could use in my own therapy sessions created a winning combination.”

Why Did You Create Categories Learning Center?

Mary Huston: Categorization is a major building block for language development. When we read, we are accessing associations and semantic networks that we have built through categorization skills. Having a deeper understanding of the meanings of words allows us to build that semantic network which, in turn, increases our receptive language and reading comprehension. In many ways, categorization is similar to an office filing system. If the file folders (word meanings) are just dumped into the filing cabinet (the brain), then they cannot easily be retrieved. However, through good categorization skills, we create a filing system complete with cross-references and an index that allows us to retrieve the meanings for those words easily. Students with poor categorization skills often demonstrate poor expressive language, poor vocabulary, and memory difficulties.

I focus on categorization with many students, and I wanted a fun app to practice this skill. With a well-designed app, the iPad really motivates students, it allows therapists to track progress and it saves us time as we present fun, tailored activities to our students.

The app is designed for use in therapy sessions or for use with parents who oversee children practicing language skills. Language is not one-dimensional and the app reflects the multi-dimensional nature of language. In every session, therapists can take both right and wrong answers and use them as a springboard for discussing language connections. For example, the app leads students from categorizing animals as “animals” to categorizing them as “farm animals” and “jungle animals,” and therapists should talk with kids about why these distinctions are made and how the student knows the difference in the subcategories. For students ready for a higher level of learning, therapists can discuss what other categories an image might go in. This app really opens the door for dialogue.

How Does Categories Learning Center Work?

Mary Huston: The app — which is appropriate for use in preschool through fourth grade — is designed to allow therapists to customize the level of difficulty in each session and to determine specific categories for practice in each session.

The first and second levels are entirely focused on developing receptive language. The other levels allow children to practice expressive language skills.

In Sorting — Level One, the therapist chooses the level of difficulty by selecting whether the child will sort two or three categories. The therapist can then specify which categories (e.g., animals, clothes, body parts) the session will include, or allow the app to randomly assign categories. The app will present images that the child can drag into bottles labeled with the various categories.

Sorting — Level Two is much the same, but the categories become a little more difficult. For example, the student might have to sort jungle animals and farm animals, which is more complex than sorting animals and vehicles.

In Where Does It Go? sessions, students are presented with a single image and they must select the appropriate category for the image. For example, they might be presented with a photo of a motorcycle and category choices might include toys, vegetables or transportation. There are no other items to compare which makes the task a bit more difficult than the previous levels. This also provides an opportunity for the adult to discuss the picture and help develop a deeper understanding.

In the Category Naming sessions, children must come up with a category name on their own and the adult helps to tally correct answers. For example, a child who is presented with photos of a chicken, a pig, a cow, and a horse might claim these are all animals. I would mark that answer as “almost right,” whereas an answer of “farm animals” would receive full credit as a correct answer. It is important that the child learn to be specific — to use the correct subcategory rather than always defaulting to the umbrella category.

In the Category Selection sessions, the student is presented with several images and they must indicate how these images are related by naming the category to which they belong. (Users are given four potential answers from which to choose.) For example, an arm, wrist, hand and finger are all “body parts.” Category Selection questions ensure students have understood the material — that they can recall specific categories and that they are paying attention to details.

To find more apps to help your child with autism, download Wynsum Arts’ free app, i.AM Search – available on iTunes.

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