Wow! SPEAKaLEGEND by ToyTalk is an innovative introduction to social interaction for kids. So many times, kids that have difficulties socially don’t know what it means to have an exchange or volley in conversation. The app takes the form of a quest in which you interact with 9 different creatures in order to find and unlock the unicorn. Every exchange with the creatures is reinforcing and gently encourages kids to continue voicing what they think. Initially, there is no heavy duty pressure to make sense, and the app has fantastic word recognition features as well as guided questions that allow a 2 way conversation with the mythological being in front of you. Being on topic is not initially an issue either. Although receptive language is invaluable for play, the really positive aspect of this app is that it isn’t just beneficial to elicit speech. Because it is cartoon-like, the pressure for eye contact is off, and you are free to respond any way you wish. Once a student is comfortable you can gradually grade the contact to a partner/teacher to explore interactions in more depth with the characters on screen. Demands are gradually increased to stay on topic and expand conversation. And also, because the app responds to phonation, breath control or working on facilitation and integrating postural control for functional movement can also be a goal. The storyline is motivating and sophisticated, and kids rise to the occasion for the chance to interact.
On opening, you do need to register and agree to ToyTalk’s terms of agreement before playing. Data collection of recordings and/or photos is used to improve the overall function of the app itself – meaning if someone brings up the “toy fairy” there will be a response in place in the future. Your information and privacy are protected. Once on, you begin your hunt for the unicorn by visiting other creatures such as Bigfoot, a fairy, Minotaur, and a jack-a-lope in any order you would like, giving some control to the student to make decisions.
Each of the beasts teaches a lesson or helps students stay motivated by earning stars as points. The Sphinx asks riddles which are fun…”What can be broken before being used?” Eggs! The mermaid speaks in rhyme, and the jack-a-lope talks about rules and manners. Finishing the hunt takes about 2 hours, but if you should leave finished or unfinished, you may have to revisit some of the creatures to keep your points up. This is a nice feature in that you can then collect data on memory of conversations and changes in responses. The Unicorn is pretty spectacular, and a nice guy to boot! I can’t tell you how thrilling it is to meet him. Replay value is high, as responses vary slightly every time you open the app. The technology is really cutting edge, and it is exciting to see apps like this being brought in the classroom.
Jo Booth has been an Occupational Therapist for over 30 years, and currently works in Pediatrics with early intervention. She sees kids newly diagnosed on the spectrum as well as medically fragile kids. She loves to move, explore and play everyday; so that "her kids" grow up to be healthy independent learners.