When I heard that there was a new learning app about money that was specifically designed for children with autism spectrum disorders, I knew I wanted to review it. This is the kind of practical learning I need to do more of with Quentin, in order to prepare him for the real world.
Prerequisites for this app is that the child needs to have basic math skills such as 1-to-1 correspondence, counting up to 100, and numeral identification. So while the app is labeled “4+” in the app store, children with developmental delays (or typically-developing children, for that matter) might not be ready to use this until they are probably about 6 or 7 years old.
Basically, the app has seven learning sequences for the user to go through, preferably in order. They are:
- Identifying bills and coins
- How much to pay when shown a price total (visual)
- How much to pay when told a price total (aural)
- Checking how much money they have
- Working out how much money to hand over
- Paying for items
- Calculating if they have enough money to pay for items
Other features include two mini-games in the app to be used as a reward or break; data tracking for teachers/ therapists/ parents; support for multiple users; and customizable design for each user. Dollar Up uses error-less learning, which means that a user is never told that they are wrong, but is prompted along the way to have successes. (I have always liked that style of learning – for any user!)
The app includes the ability to use different national currencies, but it is clear that this is a British-made app because of the voice over and language used. (We would not typically use the words, “Brilliant!” or “Well done!” to encourage our users here in the U.S… but we get the idea.)
The app teaches the “dollar up” technique, which is essentially about knowing how much an item costs and then rounding up to the nearest dollar in order to pay. This technique is apparently a common approach to teaching developmentally disabled individuals who don’t have the cognitive ability to understand counting change. By using the “dollar up” method, they can be empowered to become their own shoppers, thereby increasing independence.
To get a good sense of what the app looks like, the developers have created a video:
At first, I was wholly unimpressed. The first few levels of this app mimic what is essentially called “discrete trials” using a token economy in ABA therapy. This does not make good use of the medium of the touchscreen to do what is ordinarily done with the child in school. Any teacher can set up currency and have the child identify coins or bills, have them work with a token economy, and then reward them. What’s the point of buying an iPad app for that? In addition, it came off as too school-like for Quentin. He would never be motivated to learn about our money system on his own in his free time if it looked like school work. (It might not appear that way to every child, but since Quentin attends a school that does ABA discrete trials every day, he would definitely feel that way.) Yes, there is a clean design without a lot of distractions; but this also translates to “boring.” Even people with ASD’s want to learn in a fun atmosphere; I wish app developers for special needs kids understood that, too.
The app redeemed itself to me in the later levels, however. When you start exchanging money for actual goods on screen, it gets a bit more exciting. It still feels school-like, but I could see how a teacher might prefer using this app over actual currency because there are store items involved that she/ he might not have on hand.
I would recommend this app to teachers and therapists attempting to teach about money to children in discrete trials. The data tracking could be quite useful, and I think the graphics in the later levels really do make it useful practicing money exchange for goods. However, I would not recommend it for home-based free-play time on the iPad, as I doubt a child would naturally gravitate to an app that lacks that “fun” appeal. The only way a child might go through the levels with this app at home is if you set the iPad on guided access while an adult monitors.
For either situation, the real reward should definitely be going to a store with a pocketful of money to experience Dollar Up in real life!