All young children have some desire to play and interact with the world around them. Unfortunately, when a child is challenged by a disability, the standard avenues for interaction, learning and growth can become difficult, if not impossible, for him or her to use. However, the parents and educators of children with disabilities have not allowed such obstacles to become permanent in these children’s lives. Through the design and use of assistive technology for young children, educators and parents continue working to improve the possibilities for the children in their care.
Assistive technology, from the lowest of low tech to the cutting edge of high tech, is utilized by children everyday who face challenges, and it contributes greatly to the quality of their lives. The tools used and the benefits gained from them may appear surprisingly simple at times, while others are obviously life-changing. When a child’s life is changed for the better, though, the apparent size of the accomplishment matters little.
From low tech to high
For those who are new to assistive technology, perhaps the most widely known single piece of equipment is the iPad. While the iPad is certainly cutting edge, and beneficial in a variety of ways, it might be surprising to discover just how broad a range assistive technology covers. Assistive technology is really any tool that assists in learning and interaction.
Children with developmental and learning disabilities can have trouble with the simplest of tasks. Holding a pencil or a paintbrush, or sitting up to interact with peers, can prevent challenges. Low tech improvements to standard classroom items can benefit these children greatly. Special handles on utensils and writing and drawing implements, or specially designed props for sitting, are all considered assistive technology, although perhaps the most basic kind.
Sometimes children need just the slightest adjustments to everyday items to make them usable, adjustments that can improve their experience greatly.
The most interesting developments, and perhaps the most significantly life-changing, have occurred in the area of high tech tools. As mentioned before, the iPad has become the standard bearer to the outside world for what assistive technology can do, but other tools existed before that helped children learn and interact.
What makes the iPad so interesting and useful, however, is how quickly it can be customized to the individual needs of a child, and how well it can integrate so many of the previous assistive technology tools into one small, portable package. Developers are constantly pushing the bar in creating applications, and children facing learning difficulties are likely to have a continuous stream of innovative technology at their fingertips, all of which should translate into an ever-improving learning experience.
Adults lead the way
As amazing as assistive technology can be, children will only gain the full benefit of such tools with the help of the adults around them. Both those closest to the child, like parents or guardians, and the educators teaching the child, must understand the basics of the technology in use. Training and education on new technologies is just as necessary for the adults as it is for the children. Without such support, children can easily become lost in incomprehensible tech, to the benefit of no one.
Match to environment and situation
As amazing as technology is, it is not a one-stop solution. It is not enough to throw an iPad into the hands of a child with learning disabilities and expect miracles. Each child and his or her situation is unique, and this must be accounted for if educators and parents hope to get the best results.
Specialists in the education of children with learning disabilities are trained to recognize the ideal tools for each child, and parents should seek the help of such experts to determine what the best assistive technology tools for their child will be.
Challenges that once seemed insurmountable for children with learning disabilities are overcome every day with assistive technology. Of course, some things remain the same. These children still face enormous obstacles, and likely always will. However, the tools at their disposal, to both help them learn and to help them interact with the world around them, are improving daily. The possibilities are encouraging, and there is reason to hope that assistive technology will only continue to improve.