Getting Started with AT for Cognition

By Tony Gentry, PhD OTR/L FAOTA

Apple’s iPhone and iPad (and iPod Touch), and the growing catalog of Android and Microsoft phones and tablets, are remarkably versatile and agile tools that have taken the consumer world by storm.   Within the disability community, it has become clear that these devices can be readily customized and adapted to address cognitive-behavioral challenges. Because they are so portable, they can be used as behavioral supports at home, at school, at work and in the community.

Because these devices can do so much, it can be challenging to figure out what to do first. The following guidelines are based on nearly two decades of community-based mobile technology research and practice. They are not intended as strict rules, but as suggestions for ways to get the most from these products.

Remembering to Do Things

The very first Palm Pilot PDAs came with to do list apps and calendars with reminder alarms, giving them a distinct advantage over paper-based scheduling products. Setting an alarm for daily tasks can be a game-changer for people with memory or attention challenges, and current devices offer a wide range of tools for doing just that.   Apple products include a Calendar that allows alarms to be tagged to everyday events; the iPhone and iPod Touch also offer a versatile Clock app that allows you to choose a customized reminder sound for each task (including one particularly insistent reminder that only turns off when you tap the screen). Android tablets include Google Calendar, and Microsoft tablets include a tablet version of Outlook, both of which incorporate reminder alarms. All of these products feature note-taking apps that allow for the creation of to do lists. There are hundreds of add-on apps available, offering variants on these onboard calendars. For Apple products, the online iTunes Store is where you will find them. For Android products, search the online Google Play store.

Task-Sequencing & Wayfinding

People who have difficulty learning to complete multi-step tasks independently (morning grooming tasks, complex job skills, etc.) can use these devices as task coaches.   Some people only need a step-by-step written task list, or a list that includes a picture prompt. CanPlan is a versatile iOS app that allows creation of supportive task sequnces. Using your mobile device’s camera inside the app, you can create a step-by-step slide show or an instructional video, linked to an alarm reminder for just in time prompts. In addition to task-sequencing prompts, you can create videos for turn-by-turn routes through a building or across a campus, and create social stories to support interacting with others.

Stress Management

 Relaxation apps, art and music apps and many puzzle and game apps can help people relax in stressful situations. SimplyBeing, for instance, plays new age music and shows relaxing natural scenes, while Tactical Breathing Trainer and Breathe2Relax use simple video graphics to teach deep breathing relaxation methods.   Bloom and Seline HD are entrancing music apps, WURM and Meritum Paint are relaxing finger painting apps, and there are thousands of puzzle and game apps that may appeal.

Academics, Healthy Living and Beyond

 You may wish to use your portable computer as a homework tracker.   iHomework and iStudiez Pro provide comprehensive support for classwork, planning and reminders. Dictionaries, algebra helpers, astronomy maps and frog dissection simulations are just a few of the thousands of academic apps now available. You may also use your handheld device as a health coach. All Fitness, for instance, provides video-guided workouts, Sleep Cycle purports to track your sleep habits, and Lose it! is one of many calorie counting weight loss apps on the market.

Clearly, it is possible to build a personalized suite of supportive apps on your smartphone, ipod touch, ipad or tablet. I wish you luck as you do so, and would like to hear about your experiences.

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