Climbing slowly and carefully onto the treadmill, 7 year-old Vincent smiles with anticipation. He pushes the button, and his feet begin to move rhythmically. As the treadmill gains speed, he barely notices. He laughs and sings and pushes buttons in front of him, all the while maintaining his balance at a good pace. After 8 minutes, he slows his pace and steps down, legs shaking with effort.
Why a treadmill for a 7 year old? Vincent was born with Down syndrome and, as a result, has low muscle tone. He moves about the world slowly and cautiously and prefers to sit on solid ground most of the time. A year ago getting on a treadmill at all, let alone for 8 minutes, was simply unthinkable. What has changed?
Vincent’s physical therapist has mounted an iPad on the treadmill for Vincent to watch and interact with as he moves his body. Despite the most creative efforts of therapists and parents to encourage Vincent to move, it was the iPad that did the trick. Vincent uses the iPad in therapy sessions, at school and at home.
Why the iPad? In addition to his motor problems and processing delays, Vincent had difficulty working at a computer. Whereas other kids could play simple games on the computer or their Nintendo DS, Vincent became frustrated at his inability to control a device with his hands. For two years Vincent’s mother, Cristen, searched for an adaptive mouse that her son could control. After trying a roller ball, joysticks, a touch screen, and numerous adaptive mice, she was demoralized.
When the iPad was introduced, it occurred to Cristen that this may be the answer for Vincent, as it only requires an index finger! It also does not require constant visual shifting between the keyboard and a screen–it is all in one place, and therefore easier for someone with tracking issues. Needless to say, Vincent was immediately successful with the iPad, maneuvering among the various apps within a short period of time.
Many children with special needs and their caregivers have found the communication apps and the iPad to be life savers. Vincent’s world has been enhanced by the multiple uses of the iPad. Motivation for using a treadmill–yes. Ability to read books and record his voice–yes. Practicing fine motor skills as well as visual tracking–yes!
Given the growing number of apps emerging on a daily basis, it was easy to become overwhelmed. Cristen begin gathering information in snippets of conversation from other parents and therapists about good apps to use for her son. She then found herself sharing this information with others in grocery stores, at the pool, at school and virtually everywhere she went.
The therapists who work with Vincent at Helping Hands Pediatric Therapydiscussed starting an informal group for people to share this kind of information. Cristen enthusiastically organized the first meeting in October 2010. A teacher, therapists and many parents of special needs children attended this first meeting. Sami, the father of a 2 year-old boy with Cerebral Palsy heroically volunteered to create a website in order to share this mountain of information with others. And thus, SNApps4Kids was born.
Our group meets monthly and continues to attract therapists, teachers and parents of children of all ages and all abilities. The SNApps4Kids website, which is a labor of love in the truest sense, is done in our spare time. It has grown and evolved by leaps and bounds in five months. Our vision is to provide a community forum where the use of application technology is discussed in respectful, creative ways with the special needs child in mind. One of our short-term goals is to help users choose appropriate apps for their children by providing more comprehensive information about particular apps. Our testers are parents, therapists and teachers who are using these apps and share their findings. We invite users to treat our site as a helpful tool in navigating the numerous apps on the market as well as share success stories.