Reviewed by Mary

The Social Express

The Social Express by The Language Express Inc. is an app for children and young adults with social learning challenges; it is primarily aimed at Elementary School -aged children. It is available for the iPad, Mac and PC.

The app consists of a series of short animated videos about a group of friends – Emma, Zack, Katie, Sam and Sunny (Emma’s dog). During each video you see the characters interacting with each other and you get to help choose what they will say or do next. After you make a choice you get to see the consequences of that choice. Although kids will naturally try to pick the “right” choice it is useful also to have them see what happens when you make the wrong choice. The app is designed to be used with an adult rather than independently. It works best if you stop and discuss what is going on in the videos, and talk about what happens if you choose the various options.

The app is divided into 2 levels. Level 1 is for younger children or those who have difficulty understanding social interactions. Level 2 is useful for children who understand social rules but have difficulty applying them in real life. You have to work your way through the lessons in order to unlock the next lesson. These are the subjects included in the 2 levels:

Level 1: What Are They thinking? Being With The Group. Pick The Feeling. Using the DPS (Digital Problem Solver). What’s Next? What Are They Doing? Saying The Right Thing. Unlocking The Clubhouse – this is a reinforcing activity, where the child is shown 2 pictures or movies clips and has to pick the one that correctly illustrates the hidden social clue.

Level 2: Watch What I Do. Using our Friend Files. Thinking about Your Friend. Using The DPS. What is Their Plan? What does That Mean? Having A Conversation. Unlocking The Clubhouse.

To give you an idea of what is included in each level, I will describe a little from one lesson of each level:

Level 1 – What Are They Doing? In this video Zach and Emma are taking turns acting out various actions and guessing what was acted out. In one scene you have to choose between Zach brushing his teeth and eating a hamburger, another time between playing a guitar and playing the drums. This lesson is teaching the child to look at the person who is talking, so that you can read their body language.

Level 2 – Having a conversation. This video has a series of short scenes, in each scene one of the friends is talking and the other has to decide how to respond. In one scene Emma is talking about her dog Sunny and you have to decide whether Zach should respond with “how old is she?” or “are you going to the movies?” If you pick the correct response the conversation carries on, if not Emma gets mad that he is changing the subject then you get to try again with the correct response

The app comes with a series of printables -I recommend you download and print these before starting to use the app. You can print these directly from the Mac or PC version or from the iPad using an Air Print printer. If you have the iPad version and no Air Print printer the developer will send you a PDF to allow you to print them. The printables include character profiles, a list of the Hidden Social Keys, coping strategies, and feelings cards. Each of the printable has space to add your own ideas too.

The DPS is an iPhone app that Social Express has just released (in April 2012). It works on recognizing feelings and choosing coping strategies for them. The child can flip through the feelings cards and pick how they are feeling, then see the suggested coping strategies for that feeling. You can customise it by adding your own extra feeling cards and your own coping strategies. It is available on the app store for $2.99.My DPS - The Language Express, Inc If you don’t have the DPS or don’t have an iPhone or iTouch to use it on, you can use the printables to make 2 booklets that you can use in place of the DPS. I would recommend printing out the feelings cards, then using the coping strategies cards as a starting point to decide which strategies help your child for each feeling. Next write on the back of each feelings card what coping strategies help for that situation (adding any of your own that work for your child too). Once you are happy with your child’s personalized list of feelings and associated coping strategies, then laminate the cards and put a ring through them, making your own durable version of the DPS.

Things I would like to see changed: at the moment the “how are they feeling” section is just a match the facial expressions game, I would like to see this changed to matching the expression to the name of the feeling e.g. mad, sad, angry, frustrated. I would like to see the DPS available as an app – I just heard that they are hoping to have it in the app store for both Android and iTouch later this month. I would also like to see the price point of the app lower than $89.99 which is out of reach for many families, at the moment it is on sale for $44.99 – which is much more affordable.

This program is very well done- it has high quality graphics and animation. My 8 year-old found it very engaging – he really wanted to watch all the videos and help solve the questions. The ideas behind it – the “hidden social cues” are simple basic rules for social interactions but ones that some children (both on the Autism Spectrum and off of it) need a lot of help learning. This program isn’t a magic fix for social problems, but it is a good place to start. To make the most of this program you need to invest time in it, sitting down with your child, watching the videos together and discussing them. Then, just as importantly, you need to create a plan and continue working on using these skills and implementing them in real life situations. If you are a parent with a child who struggles socially and needs help learning these rules, and you are willing to invest the required time and energy, then I would recommend you strongly consider buying this program. There is a free lite version you can buy to see if it is a good fit for your child. If you are just going to watch the videos and nothing else, then it probably isn’t worth spending $90 on.

You can watch a video preview of the app here .

Category: Special Needs
Requirements: Compatible with iPad. Requires iOS 5.0 or later.
Cost: $89.99 (1.52 MB) The Social Express - The Language Express, Inc

Free lite version The Social Express Lite - The Language Express, Inc

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