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Routines, Reflections and Rewards—Using Apps for Kids With LD and ADHD

Written by Esther Falcetta | February 26, 2013

Our daughter’s diagnoses are ADHD, anxiety disorder and non-verbal learning disabilities (NVLD). She was diagnosed during her 3rd grade year, and our family’s journey into this ‘new world’ quickly became life-consuming as we researched treatment, intervention, academic accommodations, etc. I know our story is very similar to thousands of others, and I hope that our experiences can make a difference in the lives of those traveling the same road that we have.
As an educational advocate, I was somewhat cynical and reluctant to believe that ‘apps’ could really make any significant difference in our daily life. Moving from tangible resources and human-interaction interventions required a definite change of perspective on my part. While I’ve always embraced technology for the positive impact it can have on our everyday lives, I honestly wasn’t sure that I wanted our daughter to be even more ‘connected’ to her iPod than she already was! Then, one of the families I worked with mentioned an app that they were using to help their child learn social cues. It intrigued me enough to do some additional research, and it quickly became clear that the education and therapeutic communities were contributing their expertise through apps!

Eight years post-diagnoses, I have come to the conclusion that most people find comfort in routines. For those of us with overactive brains, taking time to reflect can positively impact the present and the future. For many people, even simple rewards can motivate us to try again and improve on past efforts. Kids that struggle with impulse-control, time management, general organizational skills, social development, emotional regulation, anxiety and other neurological deficits often need a bit of ‘extra help’. It can be exhausting for parents to try and ‘surrogate brain’ for their children, and this is where apps can often serve as reliable resources.

ROUTINES: iStudiez, myHomework and other scheduling apps help students develop better time management and organization skills. Most of these have ‘lite’ versions that you can try at no cost, then upgrade to the full version for $5.00 or less.

REWARDS: iRewardChart, GoalTracker, iEarnedThat and other ‘reward’ apps are great for younger kids, and might be useful for some tweens & teens. We’re partial to iEarnedThat because it allows us to motivate positive behavior, completion of chores, long-term homework assignments, etc. by offering tangible rewards like iTunes gift cards, a concert, a new shirt, etc. Our daughter takes ownership of her goals because she chooses the reward that she wants to earn. Some might consider this bribing, but we tie it in with budgeting and money management principles by reminding our daughter that nothing is ‘free’ and that hard work pays off in the long run. We also like the ‘delayed gratification’ aspect of putting the ‘puzzle pieces’ together one by one.

REFLECTIONS: Effectively navigating social situations can be very challenging for children that struggle with impulse control, strong emotional responses, brains that run at ‘warp speed’, etc. There are many free and low-cost apps that encourage development of self-regulation and emotional intelligence. For children that require intensive intervention, Social Navigator is an app that promotes positive reflection and regulation skills. This app is not cheap ($49.99), but I think of it as having ‘therapy in our pockets’. Combining real-life situations with a focus on emotional intelligence and regulation, Social Navigator gets a 5 star rating from our family. Not surprisingly, the creator of Social Navigator is the parent of a special needs child, and also holds a degree in Applied Psychology. This app is another fine example of parents contributing their own experiences to help others.

Whether encouraging routines, developing reflection skills or rewarding good behavior, it is important to remember that maximum benefit from any app or external intervention is gained through consistent use. My mom always used to tell me that it takes 21 days to form a habit. For many people with neurological differences, I’d recommend doubling that number. Parents that work with their children to consistently use apps seem to have the most long-term success.

We’d love to learn more about any apps that you’ve discovered… for yourself or for your kids!


Esther Falcetta resides in Pennsylvania with her husband and teenage daughter. As the proud mom of a vibrant, energetic and resilient daughter, Esther has been privileged to be part of advocacy efforts at the local, state and national level.

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