Tuesday, November 13, 2012

REVIEW: TOBY Playpad by Autism West

TOBY Playpad by Autism West
($94.99 at time of review, iPad only)

What is TOBY Playpad?
FYI this is an Australian app and some vocabulary and pronunciations are different from American English- See Developer's Notes for plans to address this. 

TOBY Playpad, by Autism West, is a comprehensive program SPECIFICALLY developed for children with autism, after years of research.   It is an incredible resource for a parent (or perhaps a new educator) who needs to know how to teach a child with autism - as it literally walks you through what to do and say, step by step, as you and your child progress through the program.  TOBY stands for Therapy Outcomes By You, and this is definitely an accurate acronym- you will become both your child's guide and active partner when using TOBY Playpad. I'll let you read more about the TOBY Playpad program here

Research based
Created by autism specialists and specialists in related fields
Very comprehensive - covers a variety of learning tasks on and off the iPad in four learning domains: (imitation, language, sensory, social )
Helpful in teaching your child to attend
Likely useful for children with other speech and language delays
"Real World" activities in different settings to cement what your child has learned on the iPad
Engaging; fun; no negative reinforcement used
Consistent rewards- always the same length; rewards can be accessed separately in case you need access to them at another time.
Gives you a snapshot of your child's strengths and weaknesses
Allows you to upload progress to a server as a "back up" if your data gets lost
No expertise needed- the app will guide you through each step of learning
Help guide within the app & online help forum

What I love about TOBY Playpad

TOBY was developed specifically for children with autism.

All of the tasks were developed with the input of specialists who work with autistic children, and are based on years of research.  TOBY Playpad focuses on four main areas of learning - Imitation, Language, Sensory, and Social. The first three activities have tasks to be completed both on and off of the iPad; the Social tasks are solely off the iPad (NET- Natural Environment Tasks).  There are a variety of tasks such as copying drawings of shapes on the iPad screen, matching up like images on the iPad, matching up like objects in real life, receptive vocabulary tasks, expressive vocabulary tasks, matching colors, imitating actions such as put on hat, imitating CVC words, working on eye gaze while singing a song, making noises with homemade musical instruments,  and much more.  There are even tutorial activities for iPad skills such as dragging and pointing (the pointing tutorial does not distinguish between isolated or non isolated finger touches).

Fine Motor Imitation, Basic


working on gaining attention and sharing a gaze during a moment of fun

TOBY uses modeling, prompts and positive reinforcement to help your child learn.
Toby introduces new words and concepts through the use of modeling and/or prompts.  I really like how TOBY Playpad does not use negative reinforcement by labeling the incorrect item when chosen. When an error is made, the object chosen in error simply shows a red No symbol, and a verbal prompt is given, i.e. "No, Try Again."  Then if the next attempt is wrong, both a verbal and visual prompt will be used - a prompt such as "Try this one" is spoken, while the correct object flashes and an illustrated hand points to the correct answer.  The verbal and visual prompts will continue if the user keeps making an error, however you will notice a written guide for the facilitator in the upper right hand corner : "Prompt: Hand Over Hand".  The facilitator should prompt the child and guide him to the correct answer for positive reinforcement - the name of the item will be spoken and verbal praise/reward token given before moving on to the next item.

Being introduced to a new word; below he chooses incorrectly, and then is rewarded for a correct choice.

TOBY works on imitation skills.

Action with Objects: NET Activity (Getting Dressed: Hats)

Copying, Drawings Activity

Oral Imitation, Consonants task

TOBY teaches you how to teach!

The activities included in TOBY Playpad are outlined for you and also include tips on how to prompt and reinforce during each activity, so there is no level of guessing.  There are also lists of what common materials you should have available. In addition, there is a guide that you can access from within the app.  There are sections for troubleshooting as well.  If needed, there is an online forum too. There are some resources on the TOBY Playpad website also, including printable templates and materials lists: http://tobyplaypad.com/resources/
Each activity is laid out step by step, with tips on how to prompt and reinforce.

TOBY is fun!

My own kiddos are verbal and actually ask to play TOBY- The handful of  kiddos I've used it with seemed to enjoy the predictability and structure of the program; we have been using the program over the past month or so.  The fireworks reward, hands down has been the most popular, although all the reward games get chosen.  FYI, there are tips within the app on how to keep your child motivated when using TOBY Playpad too.

TOBY fosters learning across environments...

Learning Together....in the real world

As many of us may have experienced, a child can be a superstar at identifying items on a computer task, or in the speech therapy room, but then struggle with doing so in real life.  TOBY Playpad teaches skills both on the iPad and off, using simple materials and items from the real world.  The wonderful thing about this program is that it actually teaches you skills that can transfer to any environment.  Once you start to go through the program and experience different NET (Natural Environment Tasks) activities, you will see how you can create similar opportunities for learning through everyday activities using the techniques planned out in TOBY.  Many of the images I have included are our own activities using principles outlined in TOBY.  We are especially excited because these NET activities have fit right in with our Autism program funded here through our Regional Center, RDI (Relationship Development Intervention). You will see that TOBY Playpad actually takes the best components from a variety of methods (I see elements that line up with RDI, floor time, ABA for example), to give you a very well rounded, comprehensive home program that will likely compliment whatever program you are doing elsewhere.


How do I know this will work?

You don't know. This is not a miracle cure, nor will it be the right fit for everyone, but there are several steps you can take beforehand to give your child the best shot at succeeding with TOBY Playpad.  I can say that I have used this with my own two (verbal) children on the spectrum, and a handful of nonverbal preschoolers, and was excited to see them all interested and engaged in the program, with at least some successes for all.  However, I had in mind who might be a good fit before even introducing the program to them.   

Here is a questionnaire to help you determine whether TOBY Playpad might be a good fit for your child:  
and here is a link to the light version to trial with your child: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/toby-playpad-lite/id566484707?mt=8

Be committed. TOBY Playpad will require time and commitment on the part of the parent (or educator) implementing it.  Some of the tasks are more independent, but almost all will require your input or facilitation.  If you are prepared to put in the time for this program, and have taken the steps to ensure it was the right fit, my hope is you will be as pleased with the outcome as I have been.  That said, you can see fit to use the parts of the program that fit your child's needs as well as your lifestyle. 

You can also get in touch with TOBY Playpad.  TOBY Playpad welcomes feedback from you and is happy to answer questions/ troubleshoot.  Developer comment: we have support available for anyone experiencing any problems with the Lite or Full Version – thetobyproject@gmail.com

Wish List ( I always have one)
 I have probably scrutinized this app more than any before -  If someone asked me to pick just one "Autism App" - excluding essential AAC apps for communication for a moment - this would be the one I would recommend first.   So I am nitpicky not because there is anything wrong with this app - in fact I see this app as very valuable to the autism community.  I have a couple of ideas for options that I feel would benefit more children globally and that would better adapt the program for use in a therapy setting as well.

Voice recording
My first wish would be a way to address the differences in vocabulary and pronunciation, as some of the items are markedly different - a stroller is a "pram" for example.  This is especially true for many of the clothing items.  For example, a swimsuit, from what I can make out of the Australian accent, is called "bathers" .  A tshirt is called singlet. Flip flops are thongs, etc.  The pronunciation for leggings is really different, as well as for items in the Household Objects set, such as radio.  On the upside, my 5 year old now can identify and label foods such as a sultana! (I will let my fellow North Americans go look that one up).  Anyhow, if I were given the option to record over the vocabulary item with the American equivalent, that would be fabulous.  In fact so as to not to be selfish in wanting an American version, recording would allow access for anyone with the ability to read in Australian English.  This would be ideal for parents to work with their child in their home language, or for working with students who are second language learners. Developer Response: Record button – we’re working on how a record button can be incorporated as there have been several requests for language translations J  This might be a little way off due to resource limitations but it’s definitely on our wish list too J

Written labels
 A written prompt option would also be super for noisy classrooms when completing some of the iPad tasks. I know a quiet environment is ideal, but that is often not the reality in a school setting.  For loud classrooms,  instead of relying on the voice instructions/replay button when an instruction is missed*, the facilitator could announce what to find "Find _____ " etc.  (*Just to be clear, there is currently a "replay" button available to users when instructions are missed- I have found this very useful for occasional interruptions/ unexpected noises).  Having a written label option would also be a work-around for an English-speaking facilitator working with a student whose language is not English. The facilitator could read the label and voice the word for the child in his language.  Also thinking ahead - a written label option would allow a child to work on reading, using the vocabulary already familiar to the child through using TOBY Playpad! This could also be a way to expand use of TOBY to other children with other learning difficulties.   Developer response:       Written labels – we’ll take this to the team, the thing we’ll need to problem solve it that the written word is potentially a prompt for the child, so we would need to be very careful when and how this is used. We want to ensure that the child is able to pay attention to the auditory word before they pay attention to the written word.  But great food for thought in terms of how to make more advanced options available once skills were achieved J

Customizable Rewards
I would love to see the option to include a personal video or photo illustrating a favorite toy or activity - when a reward is reached a portion of the video would play or a timer would indicate how long to play with the child's preferred item.  The built in rewards are really fun and the kiddos I have used them with have enjoyed them.  However I have worked with children in the past who need something more personal to them in order to be motivated. My youngest took to the idea of playing with castle blocks after completing his TOBY time.  It would be wonderful to have an image of us playing the castle blocks to access when the reward has been reached. Developer Response: Customisable Rewards – this is also on our wishlist J

Customizable Lists of Vocabulary to Target
I would love to have access to a list of all vocabulary used and an option to turn words on/off to focus on the child's strengths and/or weaknesses.  This would be useful for a therapy setting - for example a speech provider could focus on vocabulary within TOBY Playpad to address a specific speech and language goal.
Developer Response: Customisable Vocab List – this is something we can add to our wish list.

Specific data scoring and emailing of work samples
I would LOVE specific data, such as scores showing exact items correct, correct with prompt, or incorrect. This addition would be incredibly useful for data tracking purposes.  Right now TOBY Playpad gives an excellent overview of your child's strengths and weaknesses, but including specific data could allow an I.E.P. member to use TOBY Playpad to show specific progress toward goals met.  Developer's Response: Specific data – yes, that has been the feedback and we’re working on adding this element to TOBY 2 (which targets later developing skills).  Once it’s tested in this setting we might be able to transfer it across to TOBY 1.  We didn’t want to burden families with inputting too often, but parents are asking for more rather than less data collection J

Option for more users
TOBY currently allows 3 users.  I created profiles for each of my children and used the third profile for my students. You could also use the second or third profile as a "test" profile to figure out how TOBY Playpad works. Obviously in my case the third profile's data is not accurate, as it is a conglomerate of several students' work.  I would love to see the option to purchase additional profiles as needed.
Developer Response: More user options – the team are working on this as well J

FYI : As the code for TOBY Playpad expires within 7 days, the winner must redeem his/her code within 24 hours of the Rafflecopter ending.  After 24 hours if the winner has not been in touch, the code will be given out again.  Sorry, it would just be such a shame to see this code go unused. 
a Rafflecopter giveaway  (ENDED)


  1. I learned from TOBY Playpad that you can create your child's curriculum and TOBY will generate activities for you when you have completed a step. I would like this app for my son who was diagnosed with autism to help with his fine motor skills and even his socialization skills. I think this app would be great for him!

  2. I learned that with TOBY you can track your child's progress very easily. I also learned that the app is designed to be used on the iPad for short periods of time and then you should also use activities in the child's natural environment. I would love to win this app to use with one of my students. Thanks for the giveaway!

  3. I learned that based on the TOBY Playpad's suitability questionnaire, my daughter would benefit from this app! I like that you can adjust the difficulty level and choose goals, and that it will select follow-up activities for you. My daughter, who is on the spectrum, loves her iPad and could really benefit from an app that helps her with imitation and play skills.

  4. I learned that TOBY teaches concepts in a very systematical fashion, and provides users with explicit instructions. I learned that it allows you to easily track progress. I would like this app to use with an autistic student at school.

  5. I have been to the Toby website many times! This looks like a great app. Today I hit up the FAQ tab. I was surprised that Apple takes 30.00 off the top. Such a shame for a not for profit organization! I would love to use this app with some of my Autistic students!

  6. I learned that you can adjust the levels and goals, track their progress and there are free downloadable PDF worksheets to use as well. I would use this app with my autistic son to help him with his fine motor skills and his socialization skills! This app would be an awesome tool to add to his therapy sessions as well as his time at home with us. Shame on Apple for taking 1/3 of the price!

  7. I learned that Autism West is a not-for-profit organization and that 80% of the moneys raised to pay for intervention and support programs for children and adults with an autism spectrum disorder. I am hoping to win to use with little ones I work with who are on the Autism spectrum.

  8. It's a fabulous app and seems to be created by a very committed and educated team of professionals. Its a great and detailed website too.

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