Toca Boca Birthday (and similarly related, Toca Boca Tea Party) is a cheap app that allows for digital pretend play rein-acting the social gathering of a birthday party. It's a fun way to practice the basic social skills needed at a birthday party and provides an opportunity to use language beyond "I want." My students and myself are super motivated to "eat" the cake and "open" the present. I even have students that bring in stuffed animals to join in and partake in "cake" eating. Most look forward to "blowing" out the candles the most (and often attempt to blow even though it is a touch that puts out the flame.)
I use this topical communication board while playing with this app to elicit lots of language! You can find the actual topical communication board here on boardmakerachieve.
For more information about the general use of the boards, visit here.
In general, I point to each icon/word as I speak to model the various phrases that can be spoken while using this app. The visuals can be used to help the student understand what I am trying to say, or can be a visual support to help prime them with the vocabulary required for the activity.
Some of the phrases I work on while using this app include: "I/you give plate," "I/you open present," "I/you give cake," "I/you eat cake," (different actions while using the app, which is why the single word utterance of "cake" from a student is not enough in this case!) "I/ you pour juice," "your/my turn."
This month, I started using video modeling. I took a video of me using the board to say the phrase I was targeting and then model the "reward" (which really depicts what the message intended to do). You can view an example of this type of video here:
Most of my students with autism are partially verbal. For them, the visuals help them vocalize without verbal cues from me on what language to use. Some of my students verbalize as I point to the icons, thereby allowing for more independence initiating communication. Others point to the icons on their own and vocalize or try to vocalize as they do. I also have students on my caseload who use voice output devices. They might use the visuals as a guide to keep them on track as they expanded utterances while they navigate multiple times across their device. For all of my students, the visuals add some longevity to the transient nature of verbal language.
For my students who are working on social skills, while using Toca Boca Birthday Party and TocaBoca Tea Party, we work on asking "Can I get you something?" rather than just dragging pieces of cake onto people's plate without asking. With TocaBoca Tea Party, we also work on describing which cake or plate we want using specific language such as "I'll have the pink plate" or "can I have the cake with the strawberries on top?" It can also be a great way to practice following directions (e.g. "put the chocolate cake with sprinkles on the blue plate.").
My students across the board have loved Toca Boca Birthday (and Tea Party). It is a refreshing new way to work on "pretend" play using a digital interface. Try them both! I find that there is a lot kids want to say while using these apps and tons of opportunity for social interaction!