Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Why Can't You Be More Organized? - 10 Apps to help with Executive Functions

"Why can't you be more organized?"  I try not to say this to my 12 year old son every night, but I'm almost always thinking it.  His backpack and locker should have caution tape surrounding them (and don't get me started on his bedroom).  He brings home the book he needs, but forgets the worksheet.  Or he has the worksheet, but "that book must have fallen out of my backpack."  Does this sound familiar? 

Executive function is at the core of our battle with organization.  Executive functions are basically a set of mental processes that help us organize our experiences, information and actions.  Children and adults with a variety of special needs are impacted by poor executive functioning skills.  The National Center for Learning Disabilities outlines the ways these skills can affect learning.

In school, at home or in the workplace, we’re called on all day, every day, to self-regulate behavior. Executive function allows us to:
- Make plans 
- Keep track of time and finish work on time
- Keep track of more than one thing at once
- Meaningfully include past knowledge in discussions
- Evaluate ideas and reflect on our work
- Change our minds and make mid-course corrections while thinking, reading and writing
- Ask for help or seek more information when we need it 
- Engage in group dynamics 
-Wait to speak until we’re called on

A student may have problems with executive function when he or she has trouble: 
- Planning projects 
-Comprehending how much time a project will take to complete 
- Telling stories (verbally or in writing), struggling to communicate details in an organized, sequential manner 
-Memorizing and retrieving information from memory 
- Initiating activities or tasks, or generating ideas independently 
-Retaining information while doing something with it, for example, remembering a phone number while dialing

Luckily, there are several apps out there that can help with these skills.  I'm helping my son use these apps to find the one(s) that work best for him.  My hope is that they will help him gradually become more independent with his homework (and even daily life skills) as high school is lurking right around the corner.  If you'd like to give any of these apps a try, please support Smart Apps for Special Needs and click on the link provided.

 1.  Nudge - Reminders by Simple Tailor Software

Nudge - RemindersThis app is more detailed and customizable than the standard calendar app.  You can set up reminders for a specific time and have it repeat as needed.  There are a variety of sound effect choices to accompany your reminder ranging from soft to obnoxious.  I like this app because you can send a "nudge" to someone else.  "Find your lunch card" nudges come in handy at our house.  I find that my son responds better to an app reminder than "another mom lecture".  If the person you are nudging has the app, it goes right into their reminders and if they don't, they will receive an e-mail with the information.
(iPhone/iPad, $0.99)

2.  Plan It, Do It, Check It Off by I Get It, LLC

This is a To Do List app that uses real photos to represent what needs to be done.  You can choose from 26 pages of photos or customize by uploading your own photos.  You can add text to the pictures you upload and there is an audio recording option as well.  This is a great way to make lists for pre-readers.   You can add a check mark to the picture when the task is complete.  Create step by step "books" for activities like cleaning your room, getting ready for bed, completing a project and more.  There is even an option to send a PDF document of each list to email, so you can print it out.

(iPhone/iPad, $2.99)

3.  Toodledo - To Do List by Toodledo

This is one of the top productivity apps.  It has countless features including: tracking priority of tasks, assigning folders, flagging certain tasks, audible pop up alarms, start and stop timers and it can be synced with other devices.  This app would work best for adults or older students with multiple classes/projects. 

(iPhone/iPad, $0.99)

4.  Evernote by Evernote
This award winning, free app is great for note taking and so much more.  You can take notes, create to do lists, make audio recording reminders and organize your notes using tags and folders.  There are two Premium subscriptions with additional features that can be purchased for $5 monthly or $45 annually.  You can download the free version to all of your devices to get the most out of the app.  My kids have Evernote on their school laptops.  They find it simple to use and love that it saves automatically. 

You can see how Heather S. uses Evernote as a special education teacher here.
 (iPhone/iPad, FREE) 

5.  WritePad for iPad by Stan Miasnikov

WritePad for iPad
This app allows you to take notes in your own handwriting, which is then converted to digital text.  The Shorthand Editor lets you enter frequently used words or phrases that then auto fill into the text. 
It does take a little time for the software to adapt to your handwriting style.  You can translate documents into 16 other languages and it's compatible with other apps like Dropbox, Evernote, Google Drive, iCloud and more.  There is a less expensive version for $4.99, but this one has the best features.

(iPad only, $9.99)

6.  30/30 by Binary Hammer

Man, did I need this app in college!  This is time management at its finest and it's FREE.  Set up a list of tasks to accomplish and a length of time to complete them.  The timer will tell you when to move on to the next task.  I love that you can incorporate break times into tasks with this app.  It's a great way to break up a long evening of homework for children who can't sit and complete it all in one sitting.  The visual component is so important and will help kids "see" when they need to work faster or when it's almost break time.

(iPhone/iPad, FREE)

7.  My Homework Student Planner by Rodrigo Neri

Say goodbye to the paper planner/agenda.  This app designed for middle school through college students helps you track classes, homework, tests and projects.  It supports both block and traditional period schedules.  My kids' teachers have weekly lesson plans available online, but it's a lot of clicking to look at each one every night.  With this app, you can add all the information to one source at the beginning of each week.  I love that this app can grow with my kids, and they can take the responsibility of adding in the information for each of their classes.

(iPhone, iPad, FREE)

8.  Idea Sketch by Nosleep Software

This is another app for older students.  It allows you to create concept maps, flow charts and then converts it to a text outline.  It a fabulous resource for planning projects, making lists, developing outlines or creating charts.  You can import content from other apps, documents or emails and share "sketches" with others through email, or the cloud.  Try out the free version and upgrade to unlimited sketches with the paid version for $3.99.

(iPhone/iPad, Free)

9.  Functional Planning System by The Conover Company

The Functional Planning System utilizes video modeling to help children (and adults) create visual to do lists.  Choose from a video library through in app purchases or create your own videos and step by step sequences for tasks that need to be completed daily or in preparation for a new task.  This would be great for creating social stories in video form.  I found this app to be an amazing tool and can be used in so many different ways.

(iPhone/iPad, $4.99)

10.  Towers of HanOINK! by Platypus Ranch

All this list making and organization is great, but let's have some fun!  The app is based on the classic Towers of Hanoi game.  Remember that game with the 3 wooden rods and different sized discs?  You could only move one at a time and you couldn't put a larger one on top of a smaller one.  You can see a picture here.  This is that game in app form using different sized animals instead of discs.  there are two versions to play and 5 difficulty levels.  The objective is to move the animals from one stack to another with the fewest number of moves and in the shortest amount of time.  Your kids won't know it, but they will be developing planning and organizational skills while having fun.

(iPhone/iPad, $0.99)

Do you have a child or children who struggle with Executive functioning skills?  What apps or strategies have you found helpful?  We'd love to hear from you!

Sarah often adds things she has already completed to her to-do lists just for the satisfaction of checking it off.

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