Toca Boca’s apps are different to many apps that are currently on the market, and target a similar demographic; as there are no winners or losers, spoken words, text or in-app ads, all of which help to provide a calm and stress free environment for children with autism to play in. There is also a lack of structure that enables them to experience communication and language, social skills, and repetitive and inflexible behaviors as and wish they choose to, there is no pressure, the app is all based upon play and what the child wants to do.
All of the apps are brightly colored and simplistic in design.
Shannon Rosa who is the co-founder and senior editor at the Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism, blogger, writer and mother to Leo, a 14-year-old with autism, was able to answer some of our questions related to the use of Toca Boca apps. Our interview with Shannon can be read below.
A friend who was an early iPads and apps enthusiast told me about Toca Boca apps. She is a speech therapist (SLP) and had been spending a lot of time evaluating which apps were most appropriate for — and most enjoyed by — her autistic clients. She also was sensitive to my software production background (at Electronic Arts and The Learning Company) and knew I wouldn’t have much patience for badly designed apps.
Leo’s first Toca Boca app, the one recommended by my friend, was Toca Tea party. Leo had just turned eleven at the time.
How did he respond and engage with the app?
I was skeptical because Leo had never really been interested in pretend tea parties before, but the app was about much more than that — about setting the table and cleaning the dishes afterward, and getting to pretend to eat yummy cake. He really enjoyed doing all those things in the fanciful, intuitively designed Toca Boca fashion.
What do you feel are the benefits of him using these apps?
I think the apps are useful because they let Leo play the way he wants to, and do so independently. Autistic kids’ lives tend to be highly scheduled, which can lead to less free time than their non-autistic peers. They also are too often put in “play” environments where everything is actually not play, but instead is therapeutic or social or otherwise for “building skills.” We need to remember to let autistic kids play, and have free time. A blog post by Cynthia Kim, The Importance of Play, can be read here.
What is his favourite Toca Boca app?
It definitely varies. He was a Toca Band fan for a long, long time, because he loves music and rhythm, and the app lets him experiment with sound textures, tempos, and layers. And he still loves making colorful, wacky hairstyles with Toca Salon. Lately, though, he’s been having fun driving all over the countryside of Toca Cars.
How do you feel generally about the use of apps and the iPad in teaching children with autism social and communication skills?
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