Penny Vanderplank is an independent communication specialist and the proud founder of esSENtial learning, an organization that offers a high quality, professional service for children with communication difficulties. Penny partners with families to create custom programs to improve the communicative repertoires of children with communication difficulties. Her work has led her to the development of a unique spelling app we think you should know about.
Why are you so committed to helping children with autism?
I had a growing aspiration to pursue a career working with children with autism and communication difficulties since my son Harry was diagnosed with autism and severe language delay.
Harry’s diagnosis brought about a mixture of emotions. Will he ever talk? What does the future hold for him? It was around the time of his diagnosis that I decided I wanted to learn more about autism so I could help Harry as he got older. I enrolled on a BSc degree course in Autism Studies and Behavioural Science and graduated with a First-class honours last year. I am now half way through a Masters in Autism Research. I set up my company esSENtial learning to help children like Harry with their communication and education.
Tell Us About SENspeller
What is the purpose of this app?
Through my learning I recognised the characteristics of autism in Harry and implemented strategies to support his learning and development. Harry is a very visual learner and relies heavily on visual cues to aid his learning. He is overstimulated by certain stimuli, causing distress at times. Harry has a fascination with letters and as he is a keen user of his iPad I wanted to find a spelling app that was low arousal and that was personal to him.
What I found however, was that whilst there are numerous spelling apps out there they weren’t catered to Harry’s needs. For example, there would be a blue cartoon cat with a red ribbon on its head. Although Harry would ‘match’ the letters we were unsure if he knew the picture related to an actual cat.
So, I decided to design my own iPad app for Harry which I could ensure was low arousal and could be adapted to make it personal to him.
What makes SENspeller unique?
SENspeller is a unique and innovative app targeted at the parents and teachers of children with special educational needs particularly those with non-verbal autism.
Who is the ideal user?
SENspellers principle focus is to assist children like Harry to recognise words and spell them correctly in an environment that can be customised to suit each child’s individual requirements.
How does the app work?
SENspeller has 3 distinct stages of spelling development, and as a parent you can monitor each child’s progress through the stages. This helps to ensure your child is learning to spell rather than simple letter matching.
- Screenshot of portal into the different categories and stages in the personal SENspeller app.
- In the first stage the letters of the word are shadowed so it should be relatively simple for your child to match each correct letter to the corresponding letter. In stage 1 the letters can be dragged and dropped in any order.
- In stage 2 there are no shadowed letters, therefore your child must drag and drop each letter to the correct space AND in the correct order.
- In stage 3, as well as the letters required to spell the word there is also an array of other letters. In stage 3 your child must drag and drop the correct letters in the correct order to successfully spell the word. We advise you do not move a child onto the next stage unless they are competent in the current stage.
- SENspeller makes the learning experience personal to your child as it allows you to upload your own personal pictures and record your own voice. This ensures that your child can make those all-important literal connections between the word they are trying to learn and the real-life object. For example, the word ‘cat’ would be associated with a real-life picture of their pet cat.
- SENspeller has the capacity to work with 10 children progressing through different topics and stages, giving each child a unique learning experience.
What are some other unique characteristics of the app?
- It is also sensory friendly and low arousal. All writing is black on a white background, with no loud music or moving pictures.
- The app has the capability to store 200 words at any one time. By giving you the ability to edit topics and words, more complex words can be added and learned as a child progresses through their educational stages.
Is it available on Apple and Android devices?
It is currently available to download on an iPad for £2.99.
We have plans to develop SENspeller on Android and a new app called SENreader is currently being designed.
What is your greatest wish for SENspeller?
Harry has enjoyed learning to spell with SENspeller and my greatest wish is for the app to be used within special education schools as a spelling resource.
What’s next for your organization?
We’re taking on more families and esSENtial learning is continuing to grow. We have plans in place to incorporate SENspeller within our personalised curriculum.
For more information:
- Watch a video to see SENspeller being used
- Download the app in the App Store
- Go to the esSENtial learning website
- Find Set Up Tutorials on YouTube
- Follow @esSENtial_Learn on Twitter
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