Technology Gives a Voice to Special Needs Kids

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When used correctly, tech devices are great for kids with varied abilities.

Kingston, 9, loves video games, baseball and reading. The smart boy, who at age 4 had limited verbal ability and delayed fine and gross motor skills, is much more advanced today.

At first, Kingston’s parents had no idea what was going on with him. They worked hard to get an official diagnosis when Kingston was little, but none was ever precisely made. Frustrated, the family turned to ABC Pediatric Therapy in West Chester. It was a great decision — and a technological one, too.

At ABC, Kingston began physical therapy and speech practice and also started using special needs apps and learning programs designed for a tablet. With a balanced amount of tech time, and often with his parents coaching him along, using apps to address his individual needs became a winning endeavor.

APPS & MORE

There are numerous apps available today that make a positive impact on special needs children. Apps can be used for developing hand-eye coordination, problem solving skills, speech, reading and more.

“Children have access to iPads, tablets, and Alternative Augmentative Communication (AAC) devices to use for educational games and communication devices,” says Speech Language Pathology therapists from ABC Pediatric Therapy. “Computers, tablets and Smartboards are used in classrooms as well,” Reed says. “Over the years, the technology, speed and amount of picture symbols has become clearer and more user-friendly. We have technology like the Interactive Metronome program and therapeutic listening to work on a child’s regulation, sensory, motor planning, attention and executive functions,” they add.

Kingston’s progression from age 4 to now is basically night and day. He pronounces words better and expresses himself. His motor skills have improved tremendously, and his self esteem is high.

“Before starting at ABC, my son was so far behind I honestly did not think he would ever be age appropriate,” says his dad, John. “He was extremely behind in all his milestones when we started ABC. Now, you would never know he was ever delayed for such a long time.”

According to Linda Wnek, senior director of the Perlman Center at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, technology has made a massive impact on many special needs children and families.

“Technology has changed lives,” says Wnek. “Children that have no verbal ability to talk can interact with friends and families with augmentative communication,” she says.

Along with helping children progress in speech ability, technology helps children with physical disabilities, too.

“Those who are dependent on others can move around independently in power wheelchairs,” Wnek continues. “Technology can be used to support computer use for children who are unable to use their hands,” she adds.

Recreation and wellness is now possible for many children who couldn’t participate in years past. Numerous hi- and lo-tech adaptations can be made to accommodate day-to-day needs.

TALK IT UP

Technology can introduce new skills and provide a new “voice” to children with communication issues.

“Exposing your child to as much language as you can is always a positive,” says SLP therapists. “Make sure they hear the names of objects and actions (i.e., “Look! That little boy is swinging”), and interact with them as much as you can. The best way to teach language is by modeling it!” they add.

Online games or board games are especially beneficial when mom or dad are involved because it facilitates language through engagement with an adult. Playing a game or using a math app together is key for communication development.

ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGY

Kingston needed and continues to use therapies he learned through ABC Therapists. For other special needs kids, an assistive device such as an alternative keyboard or even audio books may be helpful.

“Currently, I use Alternative Augmentative Communication (AAC) devices to help some children communicate and decrease frustrations when they are not understood or unable to communicate wants and needs,” says SLP therapists.

The term AAC means alternative ways of communicating by using devices to help children communicate with others if using speech is not their primary way of communicating. It’s done with a hi-tech approach — such as speech-generating devices — or with a low-tech approach — using devices with recorded messages, or simply with photos and sign language.

“I use certain iPad apps to work on speech sounds in a more engaging way; flipping through pictures instead of using paper cards to target sounds,” says SLP therapists.

Computer games can be used to work on turn taking, initiating conversation, topic maintenance, and asking questions, they suggest.

According to Wnek, there are different forms of technology that are more beneficial than others, depending on the special needs child.

“For a child who cannot move around independently, some form of mobility may be most valuable, especially for the very young child,” she says.

“Once a young child has the ability to actively explore, there is a positive impact on his overall cognitive development. For the child who cannot speak, having a highly customized communication device gives him a ‘voice.’ That’s difficult to top.”

Amanda Hayward is editor of this publication. She is from Cincinnati, Ohio, a military wife and mom of two. If you don't see her writing for Cincinnati Family, you'll find her running, juggling kids, teaching group fitness classes and cooking up healthy recipes.

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