Our Blog

July 11, 2012 - Norwegian

Updated versions of Special Stories (1.2.0) and Special Words (1.4.0) are now available to download from the App Store. Changes include:

  • We have added a Norwegian translation to Special Stories and improved the Norwegian in Special Words: thanks again to Lars Erik Brustad of the Norsk Nettverk for Down Syndrom.
  • We've redesigned the sound handling, in the hope of banishing the Cannot record sound error messages that a few people have had. Also, in common with many other apps, sound is now played even if the device is set to muted: you can still turn sound off selectively using the sound options in the app's settings, or completely by setting the device's volume control to zero.
  • When using the Reset button in either app, you now have to reconfirm by typing the word “Reset” into a box that appears, before user-added content will be deleted and settings set back to default. This will make it very unlikely that your child will accidentally delete the words, picture and sounds you have added. However, we still recommend turning off Enable Editing in the app's settings when you're not actually changing content.
  • In Special Stories, when reading a story, the Select / Copy popup menu that previously appeared if you tapped the words is now disabled. This removes a distraction when touching the words, e.g. to finger spell.
  • In the Online Documentation viewers, on the iPad, there are now buttons in the bar at the top, to make it easier to navigate.

As always, this is a free upgrade if you already have the apps, and we would encourage everybody to update.

June 21, 2012 - Northern Grid conference

Tomorrow, Friday 22 June, we'll be exhibiting at the annual Northern Grid Conference in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK. If you're attending, come and say hello!

May 24, 2012 - iPad workshop

We are holding an iPad workshop for parents, carers and professionals in Durham, UK, on June 16. For more details, see the workshop programme. Spaces are limited: please contact us if you would like to book a place.

May 12, 2012 - Catalan & Spanish

Updated versions of Special Stories (1.1.2) and Special Words (1.3.1) are now available from the App Store.

  • Special Stories now supports Catalan (“Històries Especials”) and has an improved Spanish translation.
  • Special Words also has updated Catalan and Spanish translations.
  • We've improved the thumbnail-sized display of pictures in Special Stories: these could sometimes look jagged in previous versions.

Many thanks to Marta Montserrat for her help with the Catalan and Spanish translations. Marta writes a blog, The Laia Telegraph, inspired by her daughter who has Down syndrome.

On our website we recently added a resources page with links to downloadable add-ons for both apps.

We also now have a site map to help you quickly find things on the site.

April 8, 2012 - Updated Special Stories

A new version of Special Stories (1.1.1) is also now available.

  • At version 1.1.0, we made a change so that when reading a story you could tap the text as well as the picture to play the recorded words. Unfortunately, this acted as a distraction for those wanting to finger spell, so we have now changed the behaviour back to before version 1.1.0: only the picture now responds to being tapped.
  • The icons in this version are optimised for the new iPad.
  • We've corrected some mistakes in the Italian translation.

There are no changes to the export/import format in this version.

April 7, 2012 - Norwegian Special Words

We are please to announce that version 1.3.0 of Special Words is now available from the App Store. If you have an earlier version, you can update free of charge.

  • We have added Norwegian (bokmål), bringing the number of supported languages to 13. Many thanks to Lars Erik Brustad, General Secretary of the Norsk Nettverk for Down Syndrom, for contributing the translation and voice recording.
  • The graphics in this version are optimised for the high resolution screen of the new third generation iPad. Some of the pictures actually now look slightly sharper on the iPad 1 and iPad 2 as well.
  • We've fixed some issues with the timing of animations and sounds. In previous versions, if you had words with long audio recordings, these could overlap the reward applause. There's now always a clear gap before the reward. If you feel this makes the app seem slower, you may want to increase the animation speed slightly in the Settings.
  • When used on an iPhone or iPod touch, longer phrases on cards are no longer truncated. If your child finds the small font used for longer phrases hard to read (this applies to the iPad as well), you may want to make use of the device's Zoom feature: you can enable this using the Settings app (in General > Accessibility).

Please note, if you use the Export and Import features:

We have changed the file format used by export and import, to cater for the new iPad. As a result, profiles exported by version 1.3.0 cannot be imported by previous versions. However, version 1.3.0 can import profiles exported by all earlier versions. If, for instance, you regularly transfer data between different devices used at home and at school, you need to ensure you update the app on both devices.

March 10, 2012 - Don't lose your data!

If you've spent time and effort adding your own photos, text and sound in our apps, you and your child would be very upset if you accidentally lost them! Sadly, this has happened to a few people who didn't take some basic precautions. Take a moment to read these suggestions for how to protect your data, and it won't happen to you:

  • Regularly backup your device

    If your iPad or iPhone dies or is stolen, you'll lose everything on it. Back it up regularly to iTunes on your PC or Mac, or use iCloud, and you'll be able to restore to a new device.

  • Save copies of your stories and word lists

    Export your stories from Special Stories and your word lists from Special Words after making important changes. It is quick and easy to email them to yourself as attachments and then save them elsewhere. If you have 2 devices (e.g. an iPad and an iPhone), it's also easy to transfer copies directly between them, using Bluetooth or Wi-Fi.

    To learn how to do this, read the Extra Actions chapters in the Special Stories User Guide and Special Words User Guide.

  • Prevent your child accidentally deleting apps

    Apple's Restrictions features (in the Settings app) allow you to passcode-protect actions like deleting and installing apps. Turn on these protections, and little fingers won't be able to delete all your apps!

  • Use the safety features in Special Stories & Special Words

    Special Stories and Special Words both have a padlock button to keep the app in a story or a game: press and hold for 3 seconds to lock or unlock.

    Both of our apps also have an option in their settings to disable editing. To find the settings in Special Stories, tap the action button at the top left in the main view, or in Special Words tap the Word List icon at the bottom right and then the action button at the top right. In either case, you are then looking at the Extra Actions view, and the Settings button is at at the top right (if you don't see this button, you have an old version of the app - visit the App Store to update it). In either app, if you set the Enable Editing option to OFF, this will prevent the app's data being modified in any way.

February 5, 2012 - iAutism

The iAutism website is a trilingual Spanish, Catalan and English blog devoted to the use of tablets and smartphones for people with autism and other special needs. They have a comprehensive list of apps for special needs, and today they have kindly published a review of Special Words, available in English and Spanish.

Do you live near Wakefield, West Yorkshire? Wakefield and District Down's Syndrome Support Group are holding their second Family Fun Day on March 24th in celebration of World Down Syndrome Awareness Day. It's being held at Nostell Priory from 1:00pm to 4:00pm. We'll be there displaying our apps, so come and say hello!

January 22, 2012 - Updates coming soon

We hope to soon release a new version of Special Words, with a number of enhancements, mostly suggested by you:

  • There's a new Settings option Shuffle Cards. If you turn this on, then the 4 cards to match on each page appear swapped around randomly each time the page appears. This will now stretch those children who are remembering the position of each card!
  • In previous versions, tapping or swiping before each card to match appeared could allow children to guess ahead. Now these gestures are ignored until the card appears, encouraging waiting to perform tasks in order.
  • The padlock button now has to be held for 3 seconds to have any effect (as is already the case in Special Stories). Also, when locked, the buttons to move to the first or last page are now disabled. Together, these should make it less likely that children's fingers will move the game away from the task in hand.
  • When importing a Word List, the option to add as a new profile now appears at the top of the list, instead of being hidden at the bottom. Also, if you choose to replace an existing profile there's an extra confirmation prompt, so you can avoid accidentally replacing the wrong profile if you tap it by mistake.
  • Previous versions had a bug that meant that even if editing had been disabled in the Settings app, it was still possible to delete words or profiles by swiping across them. This is now prevented unless editing is enabled.
  • When using UK English, the word yogurt is now spelled yoghurt, to match the paper See and Learn resources.

We're also working towards a new version of Special Stories. This will also have several improvements:

  • Support for organising stories into Collections. This will work rather similarly to the existing Profiles facility in Special Words. So you could, for instance, have a collection entitled Holidays or Vacations, and another called School. If working with more than one child on the same device, you can give each child their own collection of stories. Import and export, which previously transferred one story at a time, can now also be used to transfer a whole collection in one go.
  • A story can now have a different title to the text on the first page. You can also now enter the author's name, copyright details and additional notes for a story, and notes for a collection.
  • It's now possible to have pages without picture or text (or both).
  • Previous versions had a bug that meant that even if editing had been disabled in the Settings app, it was still possible to delete stories or pages by swiping across them. This is now prevented unless editing is enabled.
  • When printing a story, or emailing as a PDF, each page now has a header and footer, including the story title and page number, and any author and copyright details.
  • When importing a story or collection, the option to add as a new one now appears at the top of the list, instead of being hidden at the bottom. Also, if you choose to replace an existing one there's an extra confirmation prompt, so you can avoid accidentally replacing the wrong story or collection if you tap it by mistake.

  • We have added Croatian, Dutch and Turkish translations.

Please keep telling us how you are using our apps: we love to hear your stories and see your photos and videos.

December 8, 2011 - New game in Special Words

We're pleased to announce that version 1.1.0 of Special Words for the iPad, iPhone and iPod touch is now available for download from the App Store. If you already have a copy, you can update free of charge.

There's an extra 4th game, “Picture to Word” matching a picture to 4 words; the opposite of the existing “Match Both” game, now renamed “Word to Picture”.

Also, you can now have more than one list of words, using what we call “profiles”, so e.g. you could create a new list for a topic at school, or to work with more than one child on the same device. You can also select a different language for each profile, making it easier to use with bilingual or multilingual children.

If you haven't seen our new app, Special Stories, released yesterday, look here

November 15, 2011 - Special Stories coming soon

We've been a bit quiet recently, as we've got William in hospital for a few weeks for some surgery. He's being very brave, and hopefully will be back home very soon.

We have some new app releases scheduled for the next few weeks. We'll be updating Special Words with some enhancements people have specifically asked for, including an extra game and a facility to allow more than one list of words.

We'll also be launching our second app, “Special Stories” that allows you to create your own stories with text, pictures and sound. You can read and listen to your stories, print them, and share them with friends and family. Possible uses include:

  • Making photo albums about holidays, trips, and other events
  • Improving reading skills
  • Encouraging development of spoken language skills
  • Creating talking books
  • Helping with social skills
  • Explaining step-by-step tasks
  • Practising foreign language skills
  • Sharing news with distant family and friends

October 21, 2011 - iOS 5

Apple released a major update to its phone and tablet operating system earlier this month, iOS 5.0. If you connect your iPad (1 or 2), iPhone (3GS or 4) or iPod touch (3rd or 4th generation) to iTunes on your Mac or PC, you'll be able to download and update your device. We recommend you read the following notes before updating your device:

  • Save your Special Words data before updating

    It's very unlikely, but just in case anything goes wrong doing the update, and you end up having to reinstall all your apps from scratch, we recommend exporting your personalised pictures and words from Special Words beforehand, so you can re-import them afterwards if you have to: otherwise you risk losing them. From the Word List in Special Words (the right most button in the tab bar at the bottom), tap the action button (top right), and then tap the Export Word List button. If you then select Use Email from the action sheet that pops up, you'll easily be able to send yourself your personalised data as an email attachment.

  • Update to the latest version of Special Words

    Owing to an incompatible change in iOS 5.0, Special Words version 1.0.0 is unable to record new sounds. Version 1.0.1 of Special Words resolves this problem. If you have version 1.0.0 installed on your device, please update to the latest version.

  • Multitasking gestures

    On the iPad, iOS 5 introduces multitasking gestures. You can pinch with 4 or 5 fingers when running an app to return to the Home Screen (the same effect as pressing the Home button), swipe up with 4 or 5 fingers to reveal the multitasking bar, and swipe left or right with them to switch between apps.

    However, a young child or one with learning difficulties or poor fine motor control may inadvertently perform these gestures, and make any app they're using vanish. This can be very confusing and break their concentration or upset them.

    We recommend you turn off multitasking gestures, at least when using an iPad with your child (it's not relevant on an iPhone or iPod touch, as they don't have these features). To do this, tap Apple's Settings app, tap General in the left hand pane, and tap the switch in the right hand pane next to Multitasking Gestures so it says OFF.

  • iCloud

    Apple's new iCloud service, available with iOS 5, can store your music, photos, documents, and more and wirelessly push them to all your devices. Not all apps make use of iCloud yet, as their developers have to do some programming work and release a new version of their apps. We will be doing this in the future, but at the moment our apps don't use iCloud.

    If you have more than one family member with their own device(s), sharing one iTunes account, you may want to set up a separate iCloud account for each person, otherwise you can end up with with things like calendars merged and apps you only wanted on one device automatically downloaded to others. There are some useful articles on the Internet that explain the steps you might want to follow to set up iCloud for a family, and we suggest reading them before you update your devices to iOS 5. We cannot guarantee the accuracy of articles on other web sites, but one you may find useful is here.

October 13, 2011 - Launch Party & Press

Thank you to everybody who came to our Launch Party at the Alan Shearer Centre on October 1st. Everybody seemed to have a great time, and Angela's cake was very yummy.

Durham County Council kindly arranged a photo shoot and issued a Press Release for us at the end of September. Photo by Keith Taylor.

Several newspapers picked this up and featured us in articles last week, including The Newcastle Evening Chronicle, who said “Parents hailed for developing iPad software” and The Sunderland Echo, who wrote “Durham couple’s special app to help with teaching”.

October 5, 2011 - Events

We'll be presenting and demonstrating at some events in the North of England this month. If you're local, come and see us!

On Saturday, October 15 we'll be at the Down's Syndrome North East Numicon Workshop in Durham.

On Sunday, October 16 you can find us at the Special Health Conference organised by the Bradford based Down Syndrome Training & Support Service.

We'll also be at the NEPPS Annual Parents Conference in Newcastle on Thursday, October 6.

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