School-readiness boosters for kids with learning and attention issues

Many aspects of school can be tricky for kids with special needs, but these tools can help

Published September 10, 2017 9:00PM (EDT)

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This article originally appeared on Common Sense Media.

Common Sense Media

For kids with special needs, the idea of heading back to school is both fun and fraught. Keeping up with academics, staying on top of tasks, and managing relationships each offer challenges and opportunities. Apps can help kids practice skills – from reading and math to making friends – in a supportive environment. Check out these tools to see which ones might help boost your kid's success, and explore our guide, which features even more resources.


Kid in Story Book Maker, 4+. Use this app to help prepare kids for all kinds of situations by placing a picture of your kid right in a virtual social setting. It's especially good for kids on the autism spectrum or with anxiety, but it's great for all kids who might benefit from a little preview of what's to come when they get to school.

Kiko's Thinking Time - Cognitive Training for Children's Brains, 4+. With this adaptive set of games and exercises, kids practice a variety of skills such as spatial reasoning, short-term memory, and focus. Developed with the help of neuroscientists and with research about executive function, it targets very specific skills in a kid-friendly way.

Dexteria Dots - Get in Touch with Math, 5+. Visual cues and adaptive activities make this unique math-practice app a good choice for a wide range of learners. Though it mostly deals with basic concepts, it can help kids build fluency as they move on to more complex math.

Morning Kids, 6+. This personalized task list helps kids with everyday routines such as getting ready for school or preparing for bed. Kids with attention issues or executive functioning challenges will love assigning their own pictures and sound effects to each activity and taking ownership of the process.


DragonBox Algebra 5+, 5+. This app presents algebraic concepts in a unique way and is good for a range of ages. Though it plays like a game, kids can begin to understand the abstract concept of "solving for x," which can be difficult for linear thinkers.

Dyslexia Quest, 7+. Visual memory and phonological awareness (understanding the sounds that make words) are critical for reading, and this app uses games to help assess where kids might be struggling in these areas. Not only do parents get detailed data, they also can use the app to help bolster those weaker areas.

Choiceworks Calendar, 8+. Creating a visual map of routines can help kids, especially those with executive function challenges, keep track of what they should do next. With personalization and various ways to view a schedule, kids can take more responsibility for what they need to do and ease anxiety they might have around changes and transitions.

If...The Emotional IQ Game, 8+. As kids play this adventure game, they'll get lots of positive messages and practice around social-emotional skills. Because the learning content is fully baked into the game, kids will have fun while they play through the story.


ModMath, 7+. ModMath helps kids input problems onto virtual graph paper and lines them up correctly, and it's especially helpful as math becomes more complicated and equations have more components. For kids with dysgraphia (writing challenges such as handwriting and getting ideas on paper) or other special needs that might make writing math problems difficult, this app can help eliminate errors that are a result of not being able to write the problem neatly by hand.

ConversationBuilderTeen, 13+. Featuring all kinds of tween-/teen-centered topics including sarcasm, bullying, and sex, kids can practice choosing appropriate responses with virtual peers. Parents can customize the topics and specifics of the conversations to really target the areas in which a kid needs to practice.

Popplet, 13+. For kids who have trouble getting started on projects or papers, this tool can help them make visual maps and organize their ideas. Kids can also use it to collaborate on projects with others and incorporate different kinds of media, which is helpful for visual learners.

Remember the Milk, 13+. Keeping track of assignments, after-school activities, and social engagements can be difficult, especially for kids with attention and executive function issues. This app helps kids break long-term projects into chunks, set alerts, and prioritize tasks to decrease the chances of getting overwhelmed.

By Christine Elgersma

MORE FROM Christine Elgersma

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Back-to-school Childcare Common Sense Media Education Kids Parenting School Special Needs Teens