Visual Attention TherAppy: More than meets the eye

Tactus Therapy continues to fill the void with their quality therapy apps.  They have recently shifted their apps’ focus from language to cognition–specifically, attention–skills.  Again, while there are apps in the App Store that we can use to target visual attention, a good number of them were made in a gaming context.  Many come with timers, putting temporal stress on a task and making one wish there were ways to toggle the countdown off.  Visual Attention TherAppy puts more options in the clinician (or user’s) hands, enabling one to create specific visual attention tasks and generate information about the user’s performance.

Tap the app’s icon on the iPad and it immediately shows you the main screen. On the upper right corner is the Settings button.  It was a good idea that we checked out Settings first because there were a number of crucial options in it:

  • Number of Trials At Each Level: 1-5, and 10. You want to have 3 trials of Letter in Symbols? Tap 3.
  • Number of Lines: The more lines, the more targets and foils. 
    • Fewest: 4 lines
    • Some: 5 lines
    • More: 6 lines
    • Most: 8 lines (this pretty much fills up the screen)
  • Spacing: Small, Medium, Large.  The number of lines depends on the spacing selected.  If Small is selected, the activity can have as much as 12 lines.  Choose Large spacing however, there will be 6 lines.
  • Signal:  specifically added for clients with neglect issues, this gives the clinician the option to have a Red, Yellow, or Flashing signal at the side of the screen to direct the client’s attention to. The toggle for a Left, Right, or No Signal is found in the main screen.
  • Default Email Address for Results: As with Tactus Therapy’s previous apps, one can enter the receipient’s email address to whom the results will be forwarded.
  • Child-Friendly Mode: toggle this button to turn it off or on.

There are two modes on the app’s main screen: Practice and Test. One can access all of the app’s levels in either mode. The difference between these modes is that in Practice, the client/user cannot move forward and skip targets: he/she must tap and select all targets before moving on to the next line. In Test mode, anything goes, and the user can tap at the targets in any order.  Visual attention skills are measured by how many targets were selected until the Done button is tapped or until all targets have been selected.  One other difference is that the Test mode takes note which quadrant of the screen the user missed targets in.  The Results page includes this information under “Location of Missed Targets.”

There are 10 levels to choose from, and these are arranged by difficulty:

  • Same Symbol
  • Same Letter
  • Symbol in Letters
  • Letter in Symbols
  • Symbol in Symbols and Letters
  • Letter in Letters and Symbols
  • Dissimilar Symbols
  • Similar Symbols
  • Dissimilar Letters
  • Similar Letters

At the bottom of the Level Selection page, one can opt to show 1 or 2 targets.

The task screen is monochromatic, the letter and symbol font in black and is approximately Arial font size 14 or 15. The header bar shows:

  • the Home button
  • the Timer: the clock starts when the user taps the first target
  • the Instructions: centered in the header bar is the target (ex: Touch Every C, Touch Every I and T)
  • the Counters
    • Targets Found / Total Targets
    • Trials / Total Trials
  • the Skip button (Practice Mode) or the Done button (Test Mode)

On Practice Mode, tapping on a correct letter/symbol makes a soft “whooshing” sound. Tap on a wrong letter/symbol, one hears a “thunk” sound. Turn the iPad’s sound off or decrease the volume if you do not wish to hear these sounds.

The Results page is shown in email format, with a brief description on how the client performed (time it took to accomplish tasks, date, spacing, number of targets found, total targets, number of lines). The results are shown in tables with the following information:

  • the Targets
  • the Time it took to finish each trial
  • Number Correct (including percent correct)
  • the Location of Missed Targets (top/bottom left/right)
  • Number of Wrong Targets

What we love about Visual Attention TherAppy:

  • responsive to finger taps, area-specific:  this is worth noting because a good amount of effort in app development goes into programming which areas in every screen should respond to taps (and what happens when that area is tapped). Whether the spacing is large or small, or the lines many or few, the app responds beautifully to touch.
  • font size: consider the app as a tool to help clients manage written word better and pay attention to smaller, finer details. The font size is just right for older children and adults (who may use reading glasses if necessary, of course).
  • provisions for individuals with neglect issues: this one’s a good plus. A colored and/or flashing line at the neglected side of the screen always comes in handy for certain cases.  What’s even more awesome is the app’s ability to report what quadrants were neglected!
  • high customizability: # of trials, # of lines, spacing, levels of difficulty are all within the clinician/user’s control. One needs a thick book full of similar paper-based activities in order to get as customized a visual attention task as possible. And even if one has electronic copies of such activities, printing these out takes time and uses up paper, leading us to our final point…
  • Earth-friendly! some of us undergo a certain amount of guilt (well, we do) when we use up a lot of paper for visual attention tasks only to throw them away afterwards. Small whiteboards solved this problem somewhat, though making the letters and symbols eats up time.  This app saves both natural and time resources.

Did we find anything we didn’t love about the app? Nope.  The app is fast and lightweight (less than 1 MB!), is highly specific in its role in its app-life, and costs only $10.00.  To get a feel of how the app works, get Visual Attention TherAppy Lite from the App Store.  This free version packs a one level activity and lets you try out its Practice and Test modes, put out 1 to 2 targets, and email results.

It is easy to take down an engaging app from the App Store and analyze how it can be used to target specific cognitive skills. Many do address sustained, alternating, even divided attention.  We knew we needed apps like these, but we also wanted highly specialized ones too.  At the back of our heads years ago, we wished for a better way to address visual attention and get measured results without using up so much time.  Seeing how Visual Attention TherAppy was designed to work, the bar is raised even further in therapy app development.  Visual Attention TherAppy is guaranteed to be one of those beautiful apps that, when you see it and try it out, will make you exclaim “Finally!”  We were this close to hugging it, to be honest.  Thanks for yet another amazing release, Tactus Therapy.

Price: $ 9.99 
Weight: 0.9 MB
Updated: 14 September 2012
Version: 1.01
Compatible with: iPad
Seller: Tactus Therapy Solutions, Ltd.
Target Population: children, adults
Awesome if you want to work on:
  • visual attention skills
Customer Ratings (iTunes): 4+ out of 5 stars
iSPeak App says: 4+ out of 5 smileys