Our Blog

July 17, 2018 - Life cycle of a butterfly!

In our blog last week, we showed you our recent outing to a local butterfly house at Houghall Plant Centre here in Durham. We used Special Stories to create a personal story book of William's adventure. However, we did not want the learning to end there.

Reading about the lifecycle of a butterfly

There are many ways our apps can work in tandem to reinforce their educational benefits, as well as improving many of your child's social and developmental skills. Content can easily be shared between Special Stories and Special Words in no time at all. We particularly enjoy being able to use the stories we created with the different activities Special Words offers. It's great for homework tasks!

Speaking of Special Words, we have a number of curriculum resources available in the Pro edition of Special Words (you can compare editions here). Special Words Pro is great for teachers, therapists, professionals and parents who are looking to do more with their child. There a range of resources to download, from the seasons and the solar system, to history and our understanding of the world.

One of the curriculum resources we currently offer is the Life Cycle of a Butterfly, perfect to use alongside the story we recently created at the butterfly house. What a coincidence!

Life cycle of a butterfly in Special Words Pro

Picture to word matching

Life cycle of a butterfly in Special Words Pro

Word to word matching

Upon downloading the butterfly resource, William spent the afternoon using it within all the activities of Special Words Pro. He had great fun matching the words and pictures together! We also transferred the resource into Special Stories. This meant he could read along with the life cycle of a butterfly, gaining more of an understanding of how butterflies come to be while also developing his reading and language skills.

If you use our curriculum related resources, let us know what your child or pupils think! How did it help as a learning tool and what kind of Special iApps resources would you like to see in the future? Let us know over on our social media channels: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram.

Happy learning!

July 11, 2018 - We're Off to See the Butterflies!

William reading his story about the butterflies

We are very lucky where we live here in Durham, UK, as there are so many wonderful places to take William. He is able to regularly have new experiences, see new things and explore the world around him.

We recently went on a little trip to Houghall Plant Centre, where amongst all the shrubs and flowers sits a small butterfly house. On a cold day, the warmth of the conservatory makes for a very inviting environment!

When we went inside, William went straight to the mini waterfall and became fixated on the water feature. Upon realising we were not going to be leaving any time soon, we began making a Special Story of the butterfly house. We snapped away around the environment, capturing photos of the butterflies, a snail, the chrysalis and William's favourite feature, that all important waterfall.

After spending a wonderful time amongst nature, we returned home where William excitedly showed the family his newest story! To make his social story even more personalised, he recorded the audio for each page, reading out loud the text we had written.

Watching the waterfall
A butterfly

Creating the stories is a simple and quick activity that you can produce as you go! It will not interrupt your day or take up any of your precious time at home printing and sticking a photo book together. With Special Stories, you are able to carry your story books with you wherever you go and can transfer the content to our Special Words app. It all couldn't be easier! Our user guides explain the many ways of transferring content between our apps.

User Guides

Our apps have a number of educational and social benefits, especially when used in combination. They reinforce the learning experience, helping to encourage spoken language, increase sight word vocabulary and improve fine motor skills. Communication is key to development and the use of our apps can hep progress this important social skill.

For this little adventure with William, we were able to make a talking story book, but there are no limits to what you can do with Special Stories! You can use it for learning new skills, photo albums, step-by-step instructions, recipes and so much more. We would love to know the different ways you all use Special Stories! Share your photos and anecdotes about making the stories with us on our social media channels Facebook, Twitter or Instagram or feel free to drop us an email at: support@specialiapps.org.

July 10, 2018 - Dan Gilchrist joins Our Team

Dan Gilchrist

We are very pleased to welcome Dan Gilchrist to the team at Special iApps, as Sales and Marketing Manager.

Dan joins us with a wealth of experience in Sales and Technology. His previous role at Apple for the past 5 years has allowed him to work closely with businesses and education in the North East of England. He has collaborated in hosting business and education events, and recently participated at the Apple World Education Summit in London.

Dan's real passion for Special Needs comes from first-hand personal experience playing a vital role for his 8 year old nephew who has autism.

Dan enjoys running and will be participating in his 5th Great North Run this September.

June 26, 2018 - What's in the Shopping Bag?

If you read our previous blog post, you will have seen the grocery adventure we recently had with William. It was wonderful to see his face light up as he collected the items for our dinner that night.

After we created the initial story using our Special Stories app, we wanted to take the learning experience that one step further. We decided to create a story all about what was in our shopping bag that day. Having taken a picture of each item individually, we then captioned the fruit and vegetables and William recorded the audio for each page. This may seem like a simple idea but it is a great way to encourage spoken language and have them involved in the families routine tasks.

Fruit and vegetables in Special Stories

Special Stories

Fruit in Special Words

Special Words

Another great way to use Special Stories is to create a small shopping list specially for the children. You can take a photograph of each item that you need them to collect on the adventure. This in turn provides a visual aid for them to follow around the grocery store. It becomes a treasure hunt of sorts for them to complete. And what little one doesn't love a treasure hunt!

We have one more special tip to reinforce and develop the educational aspect of this shopping journey. You can transfer your stories into Special Words so the children have new activities to play and learn with. Our user guides explain the many ways of transferring content between our apps.

User Guides

June 21, 2018 - Shopping

The weekly food shopping can be something of a chore. You seem destined to end up with the trolley that has a wonky wheel and the checkout queues always feel a mile long.

Have you ever thought about your child being your special little helper on the trip? William was certainly ours! Over the half-term holiday from school, we visited the local farm shop to pick up some ingredients for our dinner that night. We could not have done it all without his help!

William in the farm shop

Food shopping doesn't have to be a task you dread doing, especially when you have a star helping you out. There are a number of things you can to do make the shopping into a fun and educational outing for them, and you! For us, Special Stories is perfect for this activity.

William carried the basket around the shop and filled it with all the items on our list. As he excitedly picked the meat, fruit and vegetables, we snapped away on the iPad to create a Special Story all about our shopping adventure. When we got home, he was able to show the rest of the family how he helped to collect everything for our meal. Over dinner we talked about his visit to the farm shop, what he picked up and how he helped pack the bags. The story we created with William became a great talking point!

Special Stories is a great way to improve communication but it can also help to improve your child's recognition. By taking photographs of them within the grocery store, they will begin to recognise the environment more and be familiar with the layout. You could then give them their own little shopping list to follow with a step-by-step story of photographs from around the shop. It's a simple tool to transform a mundane task into a highly beneficial experience.

The stories you create can have a number of benefits for your children. Being able to personalise the photos, text and audio can help to improve their reading skills, encourage their spoken language and help with their social skills. It can also help you as a parent to explain routine tasks in a clear and simple way.

There are many ways you can develop from your shopping experience and we have another great blog all about how coming up very soon! Keep an eye on our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to be the first to know about our latest blogs and Special iApps updates.

June 17, 2018 - Father's Day

Father's Day is celebrated today in several countries, including the UK, US, Canada and Ireland. We wanted to wish all the Dads, Step-Dads and father figures out there a very happy Fathers Day. This is a day to appreciate you and all that you do to help guide your children through life. It's a day to say thank you for being there on the nights when the little ones are poorly. To say thank you for making up the best bedtime stories about knights and princesses. To say thank you for all the adventures you take them on.

Special Stories, William and Colin

We're sure you all agree that Dads deserve something extra special on this day! We think Special Stories is perfect for creating a personalised gift and capturing all those loving moments. You can make a story using family photos with each page being a different reason why the children love him, reasons he is amazing or why they are thankful for him. By personalising the audio, each page can have a very special message from the little ones to their Dad.

If you made a Special Story this Fathers Day, let us know how they liked it! We'd love to see your creations so be sure to share your stories with us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and use the hashtag #SpecialStories.

So to all the Dads celebrating today, thank you for all that you do. Thank you for being you.

June 14, 2018 - Update for Special Numbers

Special Numbers

An update to Special Numbers for iPad and iPhone is now available on the App Store. As always, it's free to upgrade from previous versions.

We have tweaked this version for iOS 11 and the 10.5" iPad Pro. We have also added a child safety gate (parental lock), that works similarly to the gate in Special Words and Special Stories.

Please note that the earliest version of iOS this will run on is 8.4.1 - unfortunately we are no longer able to support iOS 6 and 7.

Special Numbers is a great app for learning early number skills, including counting, matching, ordering and comparing, and is very easy to adjust for different skill levels. It currently includes text and audio in English, Catalan, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Norwegian, Polish, Spanish and Turkish. You can quickly add your own words and record audio for any other language.

More about Special Numbers

June 9, 2018 - Beverley Dean MBE

Bev with her son William and his iPad

Just over a month ago, an envelope came through the door. This was certainly no ordinary envelope as it had 'On Her Majesty's Service' stamped across the top and 'Cabinet Office' across the bottom. A million thoughts ran through Bev and Colin's heads as to what it could be, but never in their wildest dreams could they have imagined what the letter inside would say.

So, without further ado, we are delighted to tell you that Bev has been appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the Queen's Birthday Honours List 2018! She has been awarded the MBE for her services to exports in educational technology for people with learning disabilities.

This has certainly been a hard secret to keep and we are thrilled we are able to finally tell you all. We're not sure for how much longer Bev would have been able to keep this a secret!

These past few weeks have been overwhelming to say the least. To think how far Special iApps has come since 2011 is remarkable. Our apps are now in many different languages and are transforming the lives of children all around the world. We are incredibly happy that all of Bev's hard work is being recognised in such an extraordinary way.

We still can't quite believe this is all happening, but could not be more proud of Bev being honoured with an MBE. It is going to take some time for this all to sink in, that's for sure. So for now, we await an invitation from The Palace, with a date for the Investiture. In the meantime, we need to add hat shopping to our agenda!

Official Notice of Appointment

June 3, 2018 - Special Words & Special Stories on Android

Using Special Words on Android

Free updates to Special Words and Special Stories for Android are now available on Google Play. These fix a few problems including:

  • Sound-related crashes on a small number of devices
  • Inability to copy some profiles in Special Words
  • Non-random shuffling of cards in Special Words

We recommend all Android users update to the new versions. Thanks to those who have reported issues - we encourage anyone who has a problem with any of our apps to let us know.

Update on Android now

Tell us about a problem

May 29, 2018 - World Bedwetting Day

Bedwetting is an issue we all face with our children and to mark such a hurdle, today is World Bedwetting Day. Did you know that it is now officially recognised as a medical condition from 5 years of age? It can have lots of different causes and it is certainly not your child's fault. These things just happen!

Child using Special Words for Toilet Training

This year's World Bedwetting Day focuses on empowering parents. If you're thinking about toilet training your child or are currently tackling this big milestone, we have some special tips that could make the process that little bit easier for you and your little one.

If your child is already familiar with our apps, great! If not, don't worry. They are simply designed and easily configured to suit your child's specific needs. Special Stories and Special Words are going to become your best friends during this process! We have special toilet training add-ons that can be downloaded into both apps. Details of how to do this at the bottom of this blog.

Special Stories and Special Words focus on communication, understanding and learning, three areas which are a big part of being able to toilet train with success. Children need to learn a whole new set of skills that are unfamiliar to them. They need to communicate their needs be telling you they need to go while understanding the necessary steps to using the toilet.

By playing with the six different activities Special Words has to offer, your child can become familiar with the images and words associated with toilet training. They will come to recognise each object and over time be able to communicate the words to you as you are toilet training. With Special Stories, you can create a "how to..." of using the toilet. By putting together a sequence of actions, they will learn what the routine and process is of using the toilet. With both apps, you are able to personalise the images, words and audio to something your child will find recognisable and can easily understand. You could take photos of your bathroom; the toilet, the sink, the soap, etc, and use them within the app or record your voice saying the words to add extra familiarity to the activities.

Toilet Training with Special Words Toilet Training with Special Stories

It is important to remember to not rush into this big step and that things won't be successful on the first try, or even the twentieth! Toilet training takes time and patience but by preparing your child for this change by using our apps, things will hopefully run that little bit more smoothly.

Let us know over on our Facebook, Instagram or Twitter pages if you have used our apps for toilet training. We'd love to know if you had success, how you personalised the apps to help your child and most importantly how your child found the whole process.

Good luck!

Instructions for downloading

May 14, 2018 - Rebecca Whitcombe joins Our Team

Rebecca Whitcombe

Today we are delighted to welcome Rebecca Whitcombe to the team at Special iApps. Rebecca has joined us on a 12-week internship as Digital and Social Media Coordinator.

Rebecca studied at Sunderland University, where she gained a First Class B.A. in Photography, Video & Digital Imaging and an MA with Distinction in Curating. She has previously contributed to a number of projects and exhibitions in the UK and abroad.

Rebecca's post is funded with the help of Creative Fuse North East, a partnership between the 5 universities in North East England and many organisations in the region, with the aim of driving innovation and growth.

April 18, 2018 - nasen Live! 2018

nasen Live!

Colin will be exhibiting for us at nasen Live! on July 6th, at the ICC in Birmingham, UK.

nasen (The National Association of Special Educational Needs) is a charity founded in 1992 to support teachers and other practitioners working with children who have special educational needs.

The annual conference is aimed at anyone working or supporting children and young people with SEND. Head over to Stand 38 for more Special iApps information, hands-on demos or just to say hello!

March 22, 2018 - World Down Syndrome Congress 2018

WDSC Glasgow 2018

The World Down Syndrome Congress, held every three years, takes place this year at the SEC in Glasgow, UK. It runs from 25th to 27th July, with over 1,000 delegates expected to attend.

The congress brings together people with Down syndrome, their families, and professionals working in areas including education and health. There will be a wide range of plenary sessions, workshops and presentations, and many opportunities for networking.

We are delighted that our proposals for two sessions at the conference have been accepted. Bev and Colin will be at the SEC for all 3 days of the congress, along with William (who will be celebrating his 13th birthday) and Joseph (now a medical student).

Here are the session details, with links to the abstracts:

Using apps at education centre Results from case study

Using iPads and other Tablets to Teach and Assess the Progress of Children with Down Syndrome and Other Learning Disabilities

Workshop on Thursday 26th July at 11:30am

Dr. Colin Dean, CTO, Special iApps
Julie Brown, Advisory Inclusion Teacher for County Durham


William shortly after being born Joe, Colin, William & Bev

Our Family Journey from Pregnancy to Teenage Years

Presentation on Friday 27th July at 2:40pm

Beverley Dean, CEO, Special iApps
Joseph Dean, Newcastle University Medical School

family photoAbstract

Registration for the Congress is now open, and discounted early bird rates apply until 30th April. Come and meet us, and many other delegates from around the world!

Register Now

March 19, 2018 - Special Stories Update

Today we've released an updated version of Special Stories for iPad and iPhone, with 2 main changes.

  • Support for Inverted Colours (Dark Mode)
Special Stories using Smart Invert Colours

This makes use of a feature that Apple introduced in iOS 11. Not all apps and websites support inverted colours, but where they do it can be helpful for children with poor vision or for those who simply prefer a dark background.

You can enable this (if your device is running iOS 11) in the Settings app, under General > Accessibility > Display Accommodations > Invert Colours. Simply turn on Smart Invert (not Classic Invert). Apple's Clock app has featured inverted colours since iOS 10, so you may recognise the similar appearance of Special Stories, as shown here.

If you'd like to be able to switch quickly in and out of inverted colour mode, set the Accessibility Shortcut in the Settings app to Smart Invert, and you can then turn the feature on and off just by triple-clicking the Home button. We suggest you disable Guided Access first, if you have associated that with triple-click.

Our website is now also compatible with inverted colours, and we will be working to support this in some of our other apps.

  • Child Safety Gate (Parental Lock)

You will be presented with the new Child Safety Gate whenever you tap the action button at the top left in the list of stories. It requires you to prove you are an adult, by performing a little calculation, and is just like the gate we introduced in Special Words last November.

This is a feature Apple has asked developers to add to apps for children, to prevent them accidentally getting to things they shouldn't. If you prefer not to use it, you can disable it in the app's settings.

With or without this, you still have the option to lock the app into the story you're reading, by pressing and holding the padlock button (top right in the screenshot above) for 3 seconds.

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