Organizational Tools, Tricks and Apps for Children with Special Needs

It’s normal for a child to hate doing homework, but for children with special needs, this hatred can quickly develop into tantrums and meltdowns and make a necessary task difficult for everyone involved. If the right amount of structure and routine is built into the task however, the daily experience of doing homework can build a stronger relationship between the parent and child.

It is important to find the right place for your child to do homework, and that place may not necessarily be a desk. The kitchen table, where you can monitor progress, or even on the floor if it’s too distracting to sit for long periods of time, will work. Its important to remain flexible and adapt to whatever will continue to work for the child, allowing for flexibility when an approach stops working.

Keeping your child’s work organized so that what needs to be accomplished can be easily found and tracked is essential. Our Social Skill Builder Software, School Rules can help your child organize their materials and offers a way to track their progress with easy to navigate prompts. Additionally, there are apps available that can help children of any age accomplish their tasks in an efficient manner. For example, Plan It, Do It, Check It Off by I Get It, LLC can help pre-readers make lists they can understand by using pictures that can be checked off when the task pictured is completed. In this same vein, Photomind, allows for a multi-sensory approach to a calendar or a to-do list, attaching a specific photo to a reminder or a task.

Time management is an abstract skill to teach and is essential in the life of a productive adult. Effective time management can be learned from childhood, and using an app like Binary Hammer can help your child get started on the road toward effective routine time management. This app will also allow you to set up a list of tasks and assign a length of time in which to complete them. Because the app is very visual, it makes it easy for child with learning disabilities to see when they are working efficiently towards their break time, or whether they need to work faster.

For high-school aged children, the app iStudiez can help your child organize their schedule, summarize their course load, track their grades, and keep up-to-date with pending tasks and upcoming classes. All of these skills are difficult to teach on their own, and useful throughout an entire lifetime, so it is a long-term investment in your child’s future.

Talking with Children with Special Needs About Love

Any child’s experience with first ‘love,’or their first crush, is a milestone we all look forward to, and dread, in equal measure. It can be a maze of emotions and social cues that can be very hard to navigate without proper guidance. The first experience any of us have with love is within our own families, it feels natural and effortless, but the first crush is often a bittersweet experience.

With a child who has special needs, approaching the subject well ahead of their first crush is ideal. He or she is far more likely to listen and then remember your advice if they are not in the midst of experiencing those confusing feelings. Keeping your examples clear and simple, and preferably talking with your child while playing a game, sport, or doing a craft, makes the discussion easier. Staying positive and reminding them that these feelings though intense, do pass, and that it is important to avoid engaging in behavior that your family does not approve of.

Explaining to your child with special needs the temporary nature of new crushes, their unpredictability, and their intensity can sometimes be very confusing. Using tools, such as videos, to help demonstrate the various scenarios can be very helpful when children are not yet experienced enough to observe the social cues on their own.

The Social Skill Builder School Rules! Vol. 2 CD offers videos that talk about and demonstrate the differences between a friend and girlfriend/boyfriend


The Social Skill Builder School Rules! Vol. 2 software demonstrates real-life scenarios that prompt you child to ask questions and make decisions on what to say or do next, while observing real-life examples of the situation in question. Learning by example allows for a deeper understanding of what can be a very confusing time for children with special needs. Our software also provides an ability to keep track of progress, and simplifies the scope of what your child understands and builds from there.  Click below to view a sample of the many video scenarios within the School Rules Vol. 2 CD :

Sample Video from Social Skill Builder's School Rules Vol. 2

As your child matures, the nature of their questions will change, and our software allows for those continuing challenges. We also point parents to videos on You Tube to help them discuss the differences between crushes and friends with their middle school and high school-aged children. The visuals, that can be paused and played at teaching moments, help start a conversation about clear differences between the crush and friend behavior.

Learning to distinguish between a crush and real love is a developmental milestone, but using the right video modeling tools, including School Rules! Vol. 2, can make a sometimes difficult time of transition a lot easier.

Development of Social Skills in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

By Jennifer Jacobs, M.S., CCC-SLP

For many children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), succeeding academically at school is an achievement they work long and hard for. Sometimes, however, this intent focus on academic competence can lead parents and educators to overlook critical social skill development. This is most apparent on the playground and other places at school where large amounts of unstructured time leave children with ASD to sink or swim in a complex social environment.

Over the last twenty years, much research has indicated that social impairment is a common feature of ASD, and a common misperception is that these children lack interest in relating to others. Kids with ASD do not choose to alienate themselves – they are simply missing skills that are essential for developing meaningful peer relationships. You may have noticed some of these common social deficits:

  • Opening and closing a conversation
  • Initiating peer interaction and joining play
  • Decoding facial expressions and body language
  • Observing and mimicking appropriate social behavior in specific situations
  • Predicting and understanding the emotions and reactions of others

If you stop and think about it, these are not easy concepts, and in fact, most children succeed socially at recess or in the locker room because they’ve acquired these skills automatically through repeated exposure to real-life scenarios. Children with ASD, however, don’t have that ability. In fact, it is notoriously difficult for these children to acquire social skills that come to many of us naturally. In order to master social skills, children with ASD must be taught them explicitly, and have the opportunity to practice them again and again and again. This last point is a key one, because many children with ASD don’t master social skills simply because the adults in their lives arbitrarily decide that a certain number of trials should be sufficient and give up on the effort too soon.

It’s critical, however, that caregivers and educators make a concerted effort to teach social skills to children with ASD despite the challenges. Otherwise, they may find it impossible to interact with peers one-to-one, or in an informal group. Instead of eagerly anticipating unstructured play periods like other children, they might dread them. Over time, they might become anxious and depressed, and might purposefully avoid the very social situations in which they need to become competent. They’ll carry their deficits into adulthood and may spend their lives feeling lonely and rejected.

That desire to belong that propels most people to learn whatever it takes to fit in is not something that’s necessarily implicit in children with ASD. For some, this type of “social sense” may never be fully achieved. But in order for a child with ASD to grow into a well-adjusted adult, he must learn basic social functioning, even if he never gets to the point of emotional relatedness. Social skills are the entryway to all relationships that involve two or more people, from friend/friend and teacher/student to boss/employee and salesperson/customer.

For this reason, it’s unfortunate that social skills acquisition is not automatically included as part of most children’s school curriculum. However, with our guidance and persistence and the right training program, even the most emotionally challenged children can master effective peer interaction at every stage of the game, from the moments just before class starts and conversation in the lunchroom to locker room changing sessions and afternoon recess.

Teaching Social Skills

Social skills or “pragmatics” are a vital part of living and functioning in our world today. Many children with developmental disabilities, such as Autism Spectrum Disorders, Down’s Syndrome, hearing impairment, and others have problems learning the complex understanding of social interaction.

Parents, educators, and therapists are challenged to teach these children the “unspoken” rules of social behavior. Usually children pick up these skills through experience and learn from interactions. Children with disabilities sometimes lack the understanding to learn from their life experiences and have more difficulty with social skills. In order for these special children to learn critical life skills, essential to living, they have to be taught.

So how do we teach social skills?

Many parents, educators and therapists have difficulty instructing children on social skills. It is different than teaching the ABCs or naming colors. There are so many components that make the task overwhelming! Language skills are broken into several parts, including syntax (the rules of language – verbs, nouns, etc.), semantics (the meaning behind language – vocabulary), and pragmatics (the social use of language). Without each part functioning, you cannot be a successful and complete communicator.

The role of social stories

The concept of the social story makes great sense when teaching social skills to children. The speech pathologists at Social Skill Builder have found that social stories provide simple, concrete examples of appropriate and inappropriate behavior within a social context. Children are able to target certain emotions, relations, and behaviors in a controlled teaching environment. The only problem is that social stories don’t always motivate the child. Pictures in books cannot relate all the components of social relationships or situations, such as body language, facial expressions and movement throughout an interaction. Something more dynamic is needed.

The role of social story in video

Through concrete trials, the speech pathologists at Social Skill Builder have found that videos of social interactions seem to provide a more dynamic alternative to stories in books. Children are motivated to watch television and attend to the real-life interaction seen on the screen. Educators can point out key elements found in appropriate interactions and provide an accurate model for functioning. The only problem is that the child can sometimes become distracted, because there is nothing required of him/her but to watch. Something more interactive is needed.

The role of social story videos embedded in an interactive computer program

Finally the speech pathologists at Social Skill Builder have developed the concept of combining social stories and live video into a computer program. Social Skill Builder programs use real-life video and require the child to watch and interact in order to obtain understanding in the discovery of social skills. The child is drawn to the video sequence (and of course the computer!) and then asked to respond in a game-like atmosphere to appropriate social behaviors. The child then gets a positive or negative response to motivate and teach the skills targeted. The child is excited by not only watching the interaction, but then responding and engaging in the situation himself/herself.

Carrying over skills learned in the program

It is vital that skills taught in the computer programs are carried over into real-life situations. After playing “My School Day” on the computer, for example, teachers can get a group together and practice waiting in line or interacting on the playground. The therapist, educator, or parent must use the computer program as a stepping stone to carry over skills into the natural environment. The program provides a dynamic interactive tool, but then the skills must be practiced and used in real situations.