AT and OT Blog: My Top Ten School OT App “Playlist” 2015

Molly Shannon, OTR/L, ATP


ATandOT:  by Molly Shannon, OTR/L, ATP



Hello!  My name is Molly Shannon and I’d like to welcome you to my new blog:  ATandOT! 

I’m very excited about this new venture and look forward to sharing the experience I’ve gained over the past 33 years, in particular during the 29 years in which I’ve specialized in Assistive Technology. Currently, I’m working as a school-based OT in addition to my role as an adjunct professor of OT in North Carolina. Through this blog, I want to bring you timely answers to actual questions from families and professionals, share great new AT resources (products, research, training, free printables), and give you ideas about how to “upcycle AT!”  So, let’s get started with this first article!

ATandOT Blog: My Top Ten School OT App “Playlist” 2015

A question I’m frequently asked as a school-based OT who specializes in AT is “What are your favorite apps for developmentally younger children”?  I love this question, as it is a timely one that I love to answer.  Before I do that, however, let me add a bit of background information about the use of technology in occupational therapy.

Why do we use technology as school OT’s?

Assistive Technology is one of the occupations a student uses in the schools.  AT can be presented as a SmartBoard, a class iPad, a Chromebook, classroom computer, or assistive technology equipment such as an augmentative communication device, portable word processor, or low-tech switch access devices. We are there to help our students access and participate in their school occupations – and that includes technology use.

Other questions to consider regarding the use of technology in school OT include:

  • Should we use iPads with every student?   No.
  • Are they appropriate to use in every OT session?  No.
  • Can they be used in conjunction with developmental and therapeutic interventions such as those school-based OT’s deliver directly or through classroom consultation and collaboration?  Yes.
  • Are apps a motivator for students with special needs? Definitely!

Apps are certainly motivators for most children.  But when we decide to include them as therapeutic strategies for our students with special needs, they should be used judiciously by the adults in the student’s lives or, as our grandparents used to say, “everything in moderation!”

  • Does the use of apps in OT reflect our philosophy for combining occupation both as means and as ends?  Yes.

For example, you may be using an app, such as Gaar, specifically as the “means” to address a student’s fine motor skill needs that are prerequisites for handwriting development, such as visual and horizontal stroke imitation. Then you may use another app as the “ends” for the actual handwriting stroke practice for the letters in his or her name. Of course, we as OT’s, would still be using our basic pencil, marker, and paper methods and handwriting approaches in conjunction with the use of these motivating apps.

  • Why do you like to use iPad apps in school OT?

There continues to be more iPad apps available across the board in comparison to those offered by Android or Chrome extensions, for example, especially for those with special needs. The other reasons I love using iPad apps are that they

  1. help support their school occupations.
  2. are a great motivator.
  3. help with early cause-and-effect.
  4. promote early prehension and fine motor skills.
  5. can increase attention span.
  6. support visual motor skills in preparation for handwriting.
  7. can foster social interaction with peers.
  8. can provide us with important data for progress monitoring.
  9. can support writing via alternative methods as needed for class participation.
  • Where can I see more than screen shots in the Apple Store to decide if I want to purchase these apps?

My absolute favorite app review website is by a father of a boy with autism and it is called Apps for Children with Special Needs.  He posts videos of popular apps on

Now that we have discussed the background supporting my use of apps in school, let’s talk about my favorite ones.

My Top Ten School OT Apps “Playlist”

These are apps for use with students with autism, developmental, and intellectual disabilities and for developmental ages preschool-2nd grade.  I have some students in high school with multiple disabilities who benefit from these early apps as well as preschool students.

  1. PictureBuild: $1.99 or Lite/Free version, addresses early cause-and-effect skills and has great sounds and pictures.

Picture Build


  1. Magic Fingers: $1.99 or Lite/Free version, also addresses early cause-and-effect skills, as well as, prehension, using classical music.  It is very visually stimulating.
  1. Touch Switch: $4.99, like a Big Mac with music, addresses early cause-and-effect.  You can add your own current music or videos or use the ones provided.
  1. Gaar Pre-writing: free.  A great early prehension and fine motor app especially for my boys – uses basketballs and trains.

Gaar Pre Printing

  1. Ready to Print: $9.99 but worth it.  Developed by an OT and addresses a great variety of 13 early skills for visual motor and handwriting.
  1. Write My Name: $3.99.  An excellent early way to get some interest in stroke formation for the letters in their names, especially for my students with autism.   It is a “friendly” app as no nasty noises if they get off of the lines and you can take and post their picture above their name, which all of the students seem to love. They get so motivated that they want to practice all of their friends’ names too!  Also includes all letters and 100 words. Here’s the video Link:
  1. Touch Write ($2.99) or Writing Wizard ($4.99): a tie! Great early and motivating ways to provide handwriting stroke formation.  You can personalize word lists or use theirs as well. Writing Wizard can collect data and Touch Write cannot which may make a difference in your setting. Let’s just say I had one student with autism who asked Santa for Touch Write last Christmas!

Writing Wizard


  1. Word Wizard: $2.99.  Think of this as an onscreen talking word processor!  It is great for early writing/typing in the classroom for vocabulary, personal information, early assignments, etc. Also has spelling quizzes and other word activities, but I just use the main keyboard often providing the visual model of the word the student is to type.
  1. Amazing Shape Puzzles (free) or My First App: Vehicles ($2.99): a puzzle tie! Amazing Shape Puzzles is a beginning puzzle that appears to be very motivating to all of my younger students (and my own grandchildren!). Word of caution if you are using with students with autism, as they may want to complete ALL of the set, such as dinosaurs. My First App Vehicles is more difficult (pieces can be set by number and can rotate!), also very motivating, and it includes a labyrinth for great bilateral and visual motor coordination.
  1. Social Stories Creator: one for device care is free, individual ones are $1.99-2.99, or you can purchase the entire set and the ability to make your own for $24.99. More and more, as OT’s in the schools, we are being asked to assist in setting up visual schedules and routines as well as social stories. This is a nice app that helps with this and you can take pictures from the student’s classroom and of the student actually performing steps of the task or story to personalize the stories.

Social Stories Creator


So while these are MY favorite apps on my iPad “Playlist” for 2015, take care when you read posts and pins about the “Best OT Apps” as they might actually be from 2012, for example, and not even available for purchase any longer. Also, consider that no two OTs, students, parents, or teachers are alike and that we may all like different apps. These are all apps that my OT students and I enjoy (and learn from!). I hope that you find a few new apps you might not have known of to try with your students.


Molly Shannon, OTR/L, AT , is an occupational Therapist with 33 years’ experience and  currently working in the public schools as a school-based Occupational Therapist in NC. She has specialized in the provision of Assistive Technology for 29 of those years and is RESNA certified as an Assistive Technology Professional. In addition, Molly is an Adjunct Professor of Occupational Therapy at Cabarrus College of Health Sciences in the Master’s Program teaching Therapeutic Adaptations/Assistive Technology in OT. She loves to present and train others in Assistive Technology and has been a national-level conference presenter since 1989.  She has worked with clients of all ages and with a wide range of disabilities in public/private school settings, non-profit educational/therapeutic agencies, outpatient/inpatient rehabilitation, and with the North Carolina Assistive Technology Program.  You can connect with Molly on Twitter site, Pinterest Boards, or her ATandOT Facebook page.


Disclaimer: The information shared on the Go-To-For-OT Blog or affiliated Twitter, Facebook, or Pinterest sites, and shared on social or public media or as links on other sites is for general informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for sound professional medical advice or evaluation and care from your physician/medical team or any other qualified health care providers. Therefore, the authors and administrator of these posts take no responsibility for any liability, loss, or risk taken by individuals as a result of applying the ideas or resources.  


AT and OT Blog: My Top Ten School OT App “Playlist” 2015

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