Using iPads and Other Devices for Executive Functioning

Colourful jigsaw piecesFor some students, learning to organise themselves can be a struggle. Students with ASD, ADHD, Acquired Brain Injury and other learning disabilities often discover that secondary school can be daunting and challenging with so many classes, teachers, rooms and spaces. They have to juggle lessons, homework, specific tasks, collaborative projects, appointments, sports and cultural events. Remembering people’s names, the roles they play and their significance can create tension and anxiety. Forgetting important times, days, appointments and sessions can result in embarrassment and frustration.

sonos_ipad_horizHow can we promote devices to be used for students so that they can be productive and not forget what they need to do at school and at home or in other situations and environments?

The iPad offers a growing number of tools to help students plan and organise their day. They can then stay on task and remember what they need to do and therefore accomplish more with confidence. This helps to alleviate stress and decrease anxiety.

There are numerous Apps that can be customized to meet specific needs. This may include Apps to set alarms, timetable lessons, schedule appointments, set reminders, organise homework, create agendas, set up folders, color code events and tag items. Note taking is made less burdensome using handwriting and/or voice recognition. By using the camera and a microphone built into the device, students can gainfully employ various powerful features in an ever expanding range of Apps. From simple notes to audio visual notes used by individual students or streamed so that many students can participate in a class, lesson, lecture or tutorial are all possible.

All of the following Apps are available on the iPad. Some are also available on iPhones and iPod Touch models. Others are available for Android devices, Windows 7 as well as on Mac OS, MS Windows and Linux operating system based computers and tablets. Either search the App name and proceed to the developer’s web site or go straight to the Apple store, Android marketplace or OS for the desired device.

Note Taking and Sharing

Evernote is free. It syncs with a Mac computer, iPhone and iPad as well as other popular hand held devices and tablets. Students can use their iPhone or iPad to take a picture, record a note, send a PDF, or just store notes and documents on a device. All notes and items are immediately available to them on any other computer/device with Evernote installed. Cost: Free

OneNote does not use all of the functions and features of the iPad very well, but is another free App that can be gainfully used by educators and students. It does not have an extensive list of features (yet). Cost: Free

Other similar Apps for taking and storing/sharing notes:
Outline – OneNote Notebook Reader; Organize for iPad; Dropkick for iPad

Write Pad provides hand writing recognition. It provides a number of options including handwriting recognition by writing notes with a user’s finger or a stylus, spell checking, executive shorthand and change of character recognition. It is $9.99 and worth the expenditure for students who are not familiar with keyboarding, the QWERTY layout or find typing arduous or difficult.

Noteability is a note-taking app that provides a number of different options. Students can type (using the virtual keyboard or external wireless/Bluetooth keyboard), insert a figure or insert a web clip or a photograph or picture. Lectures and classes can be recorded as well.

Other useful Note Taking Apps that all have different features and functionality may include:
Jotter (Handwriting Notepad) ; PhotoNote Lite; Jot! Whiteboard Free; Note Hub; Sundry Notes; Skitch; TagPad; FieldNotesLT ; Notes Plus; MindMash or WebNotes – ideal for social network linking.

Data Storage

DropBox is a free service that lets users store and retrieve all of their photos, docs, and videos from anywhere they have a computer or device. After Dropbox is installed onto users’ computers or iPads, any file they save to their Dropbox will automatically save to all of their computer accounts in Dropbox including iPhone and iPad as well as the central Dropbox website. With the Dropbox app, students can take everything that matters to them on the go knowing that data is safely stored and available in multiple environments. Students as well as educators and parents can read their documents or flip through their albums at any time in any space. They can choose to save photos or videos to their Dropbox and share them with friends. Even if devices are misplaced, lost or stolen stuff is always safe on Dropbox.
Cost: Free

Other storage Apps or remote access Apps to stored data:
SpiderOak; FileApp; LogMeIn (all free); Elements for Dropbox;

To-Do and Reminder Apps

Nudge is a quick note to remember something for tomorrow. Mundane yet important items might include remembering to bring biros or pens to school, sports clothes or bathers or to return a permission note. Once set up, it reminds the user by and until you Nudging the student. It persists until it is turned off.

Other To-Dos and Reminders:
(Do It) Tomorrow; To Do’s; SpringPad; Check Off; PaperDesk; ToodleDo;

Planning and Organisation

CourseNotes Students can easily color codes their notebooks and add their teachers. CourseNotes lets them take notes during classes and helps keep them organised by subject and class meeting. They are able to review their notes later and search through multiple class meetings and notes simultaneously. They can keep a To-Do list by marking notes as To-Do items, or track them as assignments by providing due dates. It is available for iPads and MAC OS computers. Cost: Currently $7.99.
Other useful Apps:
Idea Sketch; A-Lists; School App; myHomework; Awesome Lists; aNote Lite;

PDF Readers and Web Resource Readers

Portable touchscreen devicesIAnnotate allows students to receive PDF files, potentially from an article they are reading and take notes or highlight an important fact and of course assist a student in corrections. It is a very practical and universally useful App to keep a user’s notes organized, with the ability to make corrections or add notes.

Readability turns any web page into a clean view for reading now or later on a computer, Smartphone, or tablet. One of the most functional and useful tools for saving web content with ideal universal design features.

Doceri is a very useful tool for presentations and lessons. Through the Doceri Remote iPad app and Doceri Desktop software, educators and students can control a computer (Mac OS or MS Windows), easily launch any document or application, and annotate them at any time. Users can save drawings and play them back in the future allowing even better presentations to be created from existing MS PowerPoint or Keynote slideshows. If required as a whiteboard, you can create any handwritten/drawn content on any background of your choice. And with additional room control hardware, Doceri can even be used as the remote control for projectors, DVD players, and all other audiovisual devices in your room.

Other Apps to work remotely and assist in accessing and recoding data:
Pocket; Instapaper; Instapaper Pro; Clearly (an online resource); iReader extension; (Android)


Alarm clockSetting an alarm or multiple alarms is so simple yet it can prove to be very effective for students who are stressed or forgetful or who tend to panic. Often students with ASD are easily distracted or dwell on certain events or objects and become disoriented during the day. To avoid compromising the student in missing classes or appointments, they can set 3 or 5 minute warnings to alert themselves to critical times and events in the day. Some more sophisticated alarms can be programmed across days or weeks and allow for repeated schedules. The Calendar App (packaged with an iOS device and MAC OS computers) can also be used very effectively as well as other scheduling programs.

Some Apps will also provide additional important information such as displaying live, local weather conditions and temperature that alerts students when they wake up so that they can dress appropriately.

Alarm Clock; Timer+ ; Giant Timer; KitchenPad Timer; Bug Me – Stickers Pro; Nightstand Central for iPad; Alarmed ~ Reminders, Timers, Alarm Clock; Sir Alarm Clock and Alert!

Note Taking Apps using Voice

Sound noteInstead of having to write or make a note, students can use of the many voice based Apps. They allow the user to record information by simply speaking and then recording it. Different Apps provide greater scope by allowing the user to save voice recordings in folders, tag them, share and store them online. Others can add notes (Audio Note) and or handwriting recognition as well.

Students are able to quickly record ideas, voice memos, voice email, dictation, lists, meetings, classes, or entire lectures. These Apps cater to professional, educational, and personal use and are very hand in class situations, presentations, tutorials and lectures. Educators can use them in meetings to record agenda items and discussions. Students can use them to develop and record ideas, essay and project ideas, comments and information. It saves typing, writing and avoids the production of text with spelling and grammar errors and checking. Students can simply talk and write more explicit notes later – editing and embellishing them if they desire.

Pearson eTextOn an iPhone 4s Siri can be used very effectively as well. An interesting article has been written about the 20 ways that students can gainfully employ and exploit the many benefits of SIRI.

AudioNote; SoundNote; Dragon Dictation; HT Recorder; QuickVoice; Evernote Peek; Pearson eText; MobileNoter; Voice Recorder for iPad; iTalk; Scribble Pro; Audio Memos Free; Omni Focus for iPad;

Text to Speech Apps (TTS)

Although there is text to speech now built in to the latter iOS on Apple devices (i.e. iPod Touch, iPhone and iPads), there are some specific Apps that will voice text on an iPad. Some Apps offer superior voices yet others provide extra functionality. These may cater to students who require or desire text to be voiced back to them from Apps, notes, web sites and documents.

Some options include: iSpeech TTS; SpeakText Free

Reference Apps

These Apps provide opportunities for referencing information on the go. They cater to students who enjoy conducting research with more portable devices as they move from one environment or space to another. They can cut and paste their data into other note taking Apps or store in Evernote or Dropbox Apps.

Dictionary! For iPad; Dictionary.Com (a dictionary and thesaurus), Wikipanion; Wikipedia Mobile; Dragon Search; Barefoot Atlas; Merriam Webster Dictionary; World Book – This Day in History; Science Glossary; ExoPlanet; My World Atlas – Lite

OCR Apps (Optical Character Recognition)

These are very useful Apps that will translate printed text (from signs, posters, books, magazines, journals, novels, exam questions, instruction, printed FAQS etc) into text that can be voiced (using TTS), saved, stored, shared, copied and pasted into any other App. Some have greater accuracy with some requiring Internet access in order to operate. My current favourite is Perfect OCR.

OCR pro screenshotOptions include: Perfect OCR; Mobile OCR; OCR Pro; CamScanner; Image to Text; Genius Scan – PDF Scanner; JotNot; TextGrabber; Prizmo ;

PDF Apps

As PDF is a common and almost ubiquitous standard on computers and devices and universally used in education. It is necessary to have a useful and applicable PDF reader App as well as the iBook App to access documents with speech output (TTS), annotating tools and other editing features.


Options include:
Adobe Reader; PDF Reader Pro Edition for iPad; PDF Notes; iPDF Reader; iPDFs; iPDF Viewer; iPDF Editor; iAnnotate PDF;

QR Codes

QR Reader screenshotQR Codes are used significantly in advertising and marketing. The QR code (Quick Response Code) consists of black modules or square dots that are arranged in a square pattern, usually on a white background. The information encoded can be made up of four standardized kinds ("modes") of data (numeric, alphanumeric, byte/binary, Kanji), or through supported extensions, virtually any kind of data. They can be generated to link to critical data on a server, (i.e. MS Word file, PDF, resource) or to web links on Intranets or web sites. Students simply scan the QR code and they are directed to that specific resource. It saves typing, spelling and entering strings of complicated text that can be misinterpreted, recorded or entered.

Options include: QR Scanner; QR Coder; QR Reader for iPhone; ScanMyDoc; Qrafter – QR Code Reader and Generator; Scan; SemaCode

Social Networking

Skype; Twitter; TextPlus 4; TextPro Lite;

Ambience screenshot


Garageband icon

iStopMotion for iPad; GarageBand; Songsterr Plus; Explain Everything;

Well Being

Ambience; Over Come Exam Nerves; Meditation 4 Inner Wisdom; Relax and Sleep Well

Assessing and Choosing Apps

Learning in Hand App RubricIt is in identifying and choosing the features and functions that will accommodate each student. Just finding an App and providing it is not a one size fits all solution. Taking the time and effort to locate and trial Apps is usually necessary.

There is an educational rubric available for evaluating and documenting useful Apps. From this site educators can freely download a PDF file. It is an ideal resource for educators and parents.


The executive system is a theorized cognitive system in psychology that controls and manages other cognitive processes. It is responsible for processes that are sometimes referred to as the executive function, executive functions, executive skills, supervisory attentional system, or cognitive control. These functions are largely carried out by prefrontal areas of the frontal lobe.
Executive function is an umbrella term for cognitive processes such as planning, working memory, attention, problem solving, verbal reasoning, inhibition, mental flexibility, multi-tasking, initiation and monitoring of actions.
[Source: ]

In education, when applied to students who exhibit or have been tested, it is important to consider and use the UDL framework checkpoints that guide appropriate goal-setting, support planning and strategy development, facilitate managing information and resources, and enhance the capacity for monitoring progress with students.

It is critical to scaffold organising and planning for each individual student so that he or she can become more proficient. The challenges often related to poor executive functioning may include one or more of the following:

Brain lobes

  • poor memory
  • thought organization
  • time management
  • task initiation and completion
  • inability to follow or remember timetables and schedules
  • poor note taking skills

Apps on the iPad (and some starting to appear on Android and other devices) assist students, educators, therapists and parents in accommodating needs of students in their daily planning and organisation.

Apps for mind-mapping with strong visual supports and help with thought organization cater directly to some students. Applications for iPod and iPads can apply to any setting or environment, by using recording systems for note taking. Apps exist that help facilitate the management of information and resources, together with calendar & file organisation Apps to offer support for overall organisation with To-Dos and reminder alerts. By cleverly introducing Apps that offer hand writing recognition, voice recording and voice recognition, educators can engage and assist students who are reluctant participants.


These may be due to a number of reasons. Some students suffer from poor or underdeveloped audio or visual processing. Others are just forgetful or are stressed and anxious. Some students with ASD live in their own world and are unbothered by mainstream rules and expectations. They often respond to technology and great gains have been made by introducing iPads and tablets as many respond favourably. In other instances, these devices do not engage some students who are reluctant to appear different, if their peers are not using them in class.

Every school and environment has different characteristics and properties. Every student is different. Every student is unique. But – every person deserves to be provided opportunities so as to maximise his or her talents, skills and potential. Equity and inclusion are the keys and independence and empowerment are the goals.

Technology is rapidly developing, changing and new tools, systems and devices are emerging. Obsolescence is ever present and keeping up with trends can disappoint and frustrate educators. The iPad has excited educators of all ages and has made incremental steps into encroaching upon traditional computing. Allow time to experiment and explore Apps, trial them and see how your students respond. They can really surprise you at times! Give them a chance. You’ll learn with them.

Other Web Links and Useful References:
ADDucation and Adducation videos
Autism Spectrum Australia
Apps and Autism
Weally Wonderful Apps V3
Autism Apps (from the Apple Store)

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About Gerry Kennedy

Gerry Kennedy is an Independent Information and Inclusive Technology Consultant, working in private practice in Melbourne, Australia. He has specialised in the areas of special needs, rehabilitation and assistive technology support in education and employment for over 27 years. A teacher of 31 years, he currently works at East Burwood SDS school part time, as an ICT Teacher.

Gerry has had experience working in all states in Australia and Territories. He advises from Early Education and Pre-school through to secondary schools, having lectured to TAFE and University to under and post graduates. He frequently publishes articles and software reviews on numerous web sites and in journals and magazines.

Gerry promotes leading practice in the implementation and deployment of innovative ICT and Inclusive Technology in education and training. He consults, trains and advises parents, therapists, and other education and therapy related professionals as well as school personnel in how best to utilise and harness the features and functions of mainstream and specialised software as well as assistive device implementation.

8 Responses to Using iPads and Other Devices for Executive Functioning

  1. Keep on writing, great job!

    my webpage … Brain Injury Network

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