I have had my iPad nearly a year now and both my fine motor skills and short term memory have improved to different degrees.

For those of you that don’t know,  I have a rare form of Ataxia which includes extra involuntary muscle movements other than the usual intention tremor, so even at resting my hands and arms will move even when I wasn’t consciously trying to move them.  Intentional movement does make them more jerky so for example if I stretched arm out to reach something a few feet in front of me I might overshoot the target,  undershoot it or hit it exactly and send it flying! (the medical term for this is Dysmetria). on top of that when you manage to grab or grip the thing I also get an intention tremor especially if its something small (like a pen)  or heavy.

As you may be able to imagine this can make things like typing and using iPhones etc quite a challenge!  I have however discovered a few little tricks along the way,  mainly taught to me by online friends who have lived with similar difficulties much longer.  although I do feel these kinds of things should be taught to you by physio’s etc when you are diagnosed with such a condition rather than been left to figure things out yourself!!

When I got my iPad I wasn’t entirely sure how much use I’d get from it.  I knew I could manage Proloquo2go as within the app you can make the buttons as large as you need them to be and I knew I could manage typing in landscape mode cos of size of keyboard,  that was about it.  I didn’t know it was going to be such a large part of my daily life.

With the many apps that are now available most ranging from FREE to around £20 range,  it is easy to cheap to add programs that have really helped my to keep the remaining fine motor skills I have.  Most of these were all free or cheap (59p-£2.99).  I can’t find all prices as when I go back into app store it says ‘installed’ on mine where the price was!  Here are a few examples:

Finger Co-ordination (involving tracing or dragging objects to specific point) :  Drawing Pad, Art n Trace,  Angry Birds,  Art Studio,  Scrabble,  Lexulous,  Words with Friends, Bejeweled 2, Tangram Pro,  Blue Block,  Word Search, Slide It.

The Drawing Pad app has a lessons feature,  it draws a grey line and you trace over it with your finger to make the picture.. good for practising finger control.  I also used Art n Trace which can use any photo to trace.  I used it with some writing exercises.

First press camera icon to find picture you want to use then press the icon next to it (left photo)  resembling a pencil and paper and your picture is covered with a virtual sheet of tracing paper (right) for you to copy the drawing/shapes.  These could also be used for developing mouthstick skills as well as preserving finger control and hand co-ordination.

Another main area was my memory.  When I first downloaded Proloquo2go it was really slow to communicate with because I struggled to remember which category to find each word in.  I got around this by creating my own pages from scratch for the specific situations I would use it.  I always wanted it to get word prediction as at that time I could use the Lightwriter quicker where I just had to press one or two letters and the prediction would appear.   However I have found over the year my memory has improved and I find myself quickly moving between my own home page and the original one and knowing where I need to go to find the next word.

My current 'Home' page on iPad version of P2G

Other games I have used for memory are ‘Simon’ and matching pairs type games.  I recently added a few adventure style games to iPad which I had previously stopped playing, as by the time I got chance to go back on them I couldn’t remember where I had got up to.

Another app I love and has helped with memory and organising my day and activities myself  is ‘Taska’ for iPad where you simply create lists that you tick off when you have done it.

Taska app helps you create checklists for daily jobs or projects

An added bonus from been inspired to practice on the iPad everyday is I can now also manage a few apps on an iPhone.  Although the screen is much smaller my biggest issue was been able to text from it and use it as phone!  With the Tikinotes app which reduces a standard qwerty keyboard to 6 buttons and provides word prediction,  I can compose my messages easily on that and send it to SMS.  I find it easier to use the iPhone with the adapted T-bar stylus.

I found if I hold my arm upside down (using weight of other arm on it too)  and position the T bar so it goes down from middle of fingers I have more control. This makes texting manageable when my iPhone is not in the iMainGo case because its on charge or I wanted to use the photo/video features of the phone.

Another tip I have learnt is that by holding my arms closer to the centre of my body I have more control  for using thumbs when the iPhone is in the case (making it easier to grip)


All these things have helped in other area’s too for example control over arms for doing other jobs around the house and also with using the Wii and just managing things as simple as been able to make myself a drink of Tea without pouring boiling water over myself or get myself dressed.  I’d given up on wearing laced shoes and have loads of pull on tracksuit pants and fleeces and things that don’t need fastening as it was getting such a struggle.  I had gadgets for all types of fastenings but the best thing I have got out of using my iPad and iPhone is better control over my movements enabling me to remain independant for longer.

I would recommend it for other Ataxians especially if you need occasional help with speech now and again but don’t want to have to find thousands for dedicated devices or carry around a PC device and wait for windows to start and your anti-virus to update before you can get your sentence out!   There are many speech apps ranging from very simple type and speak for £1.19, with a simple word prediction for £14.99 or more extensive AAC apps for around the  £100 mark. It depends what you need from it.   Proloquo2go is the most customisable one at the moment with more features been added it can easily match the £5-7,000 devices for communication.

condensed version of P2G for iPhone

The thing I love about Proloquo2go is you can make it your own.  I originally chose this one as I knew I wanted to be able to use it on an iPhone,  as I don’t want to have to carry a larger device with me when I take my dog out just in case I need to ask where they moved the eggs to or what time the milk delivery is coming if I call in the shops.  So whilst my iPad is set up with much longer conversations in mind for things like appointments with doctors,  etc who only see you once and you need to explain quite a lot,  my iPhone is set up just for things I might need to say if I want to nip down to Asda for light bulbs or whatever else I might need.  And just in case I run into an old neighbour who knew my family (and is having difficulty understanding me)  I have a category within starters to tell people what I/we have been up to since they last saw us!

I also use the bar scanning app to add groceries to my online basket the switch to computer to put it through,  you can send entire order through on app but it involves been able to use the built-in iphone qwerty keyboard.  As well as using the Red-Eye remote app to create jumbo touchscreen TV remotes.

Red-Eye TV remote with giant buttons

Were they worth the money?  a resounding YES from me!!


3 thoughts on “iTherapy

  1. Great gadgets and apps : ) Really glad that they are helping you and that you have personalized them too.
    And yes – lexulous is a co-ordination exercise itself!

  2. I loved the descriptions on your article so much I went ahead and purchased an i pad for my autistic son after a year of hesitation.It sounds like it is the perfect companion for tavel with all the different games and apps.I was especially impressed with the P2go app that sounds perfect for our busy travel schedule.If you are interested in our travel stories I invite you to check our autistic travel blog

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