Saturday, July 21, 2012

GarageBand: Instant Adapted Musical Instruments

It's hardly groundbreaking to say that music is valuable for children's education. Plato is widely quoted as saying “music is a more potent instrument than any other for education.” Justin Bieber thinks its important, too. I, for one, wouldn't want to argue with either Plato or Justin Bieber.

We've found introducing music to our son Jackson very rewarding, and surprisingly easy. We started with a synthesizer keyboard we had lying around our house. Despite his motor-control disability, Jackson is able to hit the keys and make some music. I it helps him understand the ordering of notes from low to high and other abstract concepts. It's also something he can do independently (all we need to do is applaud) and that he enjoys.
We also own two toy guitars, one from Little Tykes and another from Paper Jams. The Little Tykes guitar has nine switches of various types: five push buttons, three strings to pluck, and one slider. It plays a few notes and some low-fi renditions of old rock songs.
Paper Jamz has no switches. Instead it senses your fingers over the strings and plays music. We also have a drum kit from them as well. They let you play music on your own or play along with one of the built-in songs. Different models include different songs; we bought Jackson the guitar that plays “Machinehead” by Bush.
I'm a big believer in adapting things to work with the iPad. Jackson did a pretty good job of accessing the instruments without any adaptation, though. There also isn't much point in switch-adapting them when you can buy GarageBand for $4.99.
GarageBand give you keyboards, guitars, basses, drums, violins, and lots and lots of related instruments. It's a powerful tool, and apparently people with much more talent than I possess can compose complete songs with it. Jackson is particularly fond of the Sampler, where you record your own sounds and then play them back on the keyboard.

The app can be a bit tricky for someone without much motor control. Many of the targets are quite small, and accidental swipes can pull up menus to do things like change the Scale to something called “Mixolydian.” I generally sit with Jackson while he's playing to help him escape from such situations. But it's one of the best $4.99 purchases I've ever made. With the Autoplay feature, in a few taps Jackson can create music that sounds like he's been been taking lessons for years.

What's your favorite use of music for children with special needs?

Monday, July 16, 2012

Switching Up Adapted Toys

I started Switchamajig to expand the options my own son has for playing with toys. I feel that the single-switch toys that predominate do not provide enough of the benefits of play. Lekotek lists these benefits here.

As the parent of a child with special needs, I feel a lot of pressure to be an outstanding parent. I think children are in general resilient, so “good enough” parenting is usually, well, good enough. But children with special needs are using their resiliency to cope with their disability, and many still need help.

Between all of the therapy and the work of addressing my son’s disabilities, it’s easy to lose sight of playtime. And playtime has its own challenges, not the least of which is to find age-appropriate toys to play with.

I think multi-switch toys are a part, although only a part, of the answer. My Switchamajig simplifies the use of complex remote-controlled toys so that my son can drive them all over the house using only his pointer finger on the iPad’s touch screen. 

I also wonder if children with other disabilities would benefit from using these toys. Even if they don’t have motor deficiencies, cognitive difficulties or behavioral issues like autism might mean that they still can’t succeed with complex toys. Simplifying the user interface with the iPad might help this children as well, and merely using the iPad might draw in children who tend to fixate on their favorite app.

I want this blog to become a discussion of how expanding the reach of the iPad can help the most people possible. I’ll use it to discuss new features I’m considering for my app and to get your ideas for new products to develop. Let the discussion begin!