Today, like never before in our history, technology is a blessing for individuals with special needs. From tablets to smartphones, from apps to DVDs, there is no shortage of tools to help your child in his daily and academic success. As helpful it they can be, technology does come with some drawbacks for a disabled child. So, before you begin downloading all of the free apps you find pinned on Pinterest, get educated first.
Why technology may be a challenge for neurodiverse and disabled children
- Children with cognitive delays need additional assistance in understanding the functionality of technology.
- Some children may become fixated with technology, making separating the child from technology a challenge within the family.
- Children with fine motor delays may have difficulty with manipulating technology.
- Some technology is just too fragile for some children, such as those with hypertonia or those who are bent on throwing objects to the ground.
A word about my experience with technology
While I consider myself to be pretty tech-savvy, it is important for you to know that I’m not an AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) therapist, nor do I claim to be. By all means, talk with your child’s therapists about the best piece of technology for your child in terms of communication and overall academic success. The tips I share below are some of the best take-aways I’ve learned both by being in the classroom and by being a mother to a disabled child.
Suggestions for using technology with a disabled child
- Be aware of obsessions. My son is crazy about technology. As soon as my husband heads in the door, he’s searching his pocket for his smartphone. When he sees a laptop or any kind of portable screen device, no matter where we are, he will stop at nothing to get it. This poses a huge problem for us because he becomes upset and aggressive until he gets it. While he has learned to scroll using a pointer finger because of this piece of technology, some days I wonder if having one around is better or worse for him. For this reason, we haven’t purchased a tablet yet – even though we know there are many possible communication outcomes. We also try to hide the smartphone and keep the laptops in other rooms. We only pull them out when we have a purpose for it. If this sounds like your child, consider purchasing the technology and only using it for communication purposes (or whatever other purpose that piece was originally intended for your child). For instance, don’t show your child all of the music and video apps that can be downloaded for use with the tablet until you know your child can limit his use of technology. If you’re purchasing it for communication, only teach him/ show him the communication app. This is my plan for when I purchase a tablet. In the meantime, we’re using PECS as a stepping stone to understanding that he can point and communicate in that way.
- Consult an AAC specialist or SLP therapist. Talk about your goals for communication for your child with specialists in the field. It’s just impossible to ignore the vast variety of choices (and reasonably priced, too!) we have today in terms of technology. While some communications systems like PECS are a good starting place, the reality is, your child will stand-out less in his peer group if he’s using common technology like a tablet. If your ultimate goal is to get your child to carry around a handheld device to communicate with the rest of the world, ask your child’s therapists where you can begin to get him there successfully. Sometimes, you can start with technology right away, or, as in my son’s case, exploring different methods that lead up to its use.
- Educate yourself. As a parent, you need to be on top of what’s available today. You are likely your child’s best advocate. Therapists are very busy dealing with many clients’ needs – sometimes they don’t have the time to do the research. And, things have changed drastically since they last left school. You may have to do the legwork for them. In the resources below, I list a few places to begin.
- Television as technology. Although television now seems like a dinosaur, there is definitely a positive in terms of using it for learning purposes. I limit TV usage to about 1 to 1 ½ hours per day with my son (not consecutive). It’s the only way I can get him to stay in his stander without fussing (and he needs to be in there as per his doctor’s recommendation for “as long as he can tolerate”). If TV keeps him calm, I might as well make it a learning experience. That’s when I pop in some educational videos. He absolutely loves Signing Time – and even “asks” for the one he wants when I give him the choice between two. While he enjoys ½ hour of Signing Time, I rush to get a 30-minute meal ready in the kitchen. Win-win.
Please note that some of the links below are affiliate links. This means that if you choose to purchase through these links, I get a little commission, at no extra cost to you. Thanks for the support.
Inov8 – A locally-run consulting business that offers services to families and schools “to integrate highly effective assistive technology tools into their lives”. This is my go-to place for the latest apps and pieces of technology. I have also attended a couple of seminars where Andrea Prupas shared specific tips for parents. You will find that this is a one-stop-shop for all things tech for special needs. Look at this link that Andrea has prepared for parents for an extensive and detailed list of apps for kids with special needs.
Moms with Apps – Website with tons of information for making choices about apps.
Apps for Children with Special Needs – Website with even more information about apps.
HelpKidzLearn – Website and shop for apps for kids. Some are free and can be used with a switch.
Proloquo2go – App I’ve seen in action. It “enables people to talk using symbols or typed text in a natural-sounding voice that suits their age and character.” A life-saver for so many families. You can make the screen selections as simple and as complex as needed. Can use real photos taken with the tablet.
Apps for Literacy, Writing and Language:
Scene Speak – App where you can create your own ebook, add your own voice, and comprehension questions. Good for kids who cannot read to self.
Special Words – App for matching photo to photo, word to word, word to pic. Can add your own voice. Best for kids who learn to read visually.
Kid’s Journal – FREE app for kids just beginning to write. Includes a calendar, weather, mood, location.
Abilipad – An advanced writing app that helps with sentence structure. For kids who are good with sight-words but have a reading disability. Can add photos.
Read&Write for Google Docs – Writing made easier by Google Docs. Watch video for how this works.
MouthWorks – App for kids with oral motor difficulties and who need a visual prompt.
Apps for Fine Motor Skill-building:
Pic Collage – FREE app. Helps with fine motor practice as you have to cut-out images with finger, then paste. You can add words to make it a language-based activity as well.
Ready to Print – App that acts like a worksheet to help kids learn to write/ print. It was developed by an OT for kids with fine motor difficulties.
App for Social Stories:
Pictello – App that helps you create visual stories and talking books. Great for social stories.
Singing Time – Rachel Coleman has created an empire of educational signing videos. Everyone who comes into our home while one of the DVDs are playing, will stop and sign right along with her.
Accessories for Techonolgy for Children with Special Needs
iPad Mounting System – This is on our wishlist (after getting an iPad first!) This clamp is HUGE for kids who like to toss items on the floor. Can be clamped to chair, table, adaptive equipment. It’s genius!
BigTalk Accessories – Many uses for these items for kids who are non-verbal. Can record own voice, a song, a phrase.
iPad Wireless Switch – Interacts wirelessly with iPad. For kids who cannot use a mouse, but can tap to get input. Here is a list of switch accessible apps by this same company.
What questions/concerns do you have about technology?