While one-on-one therapy is certainly beneficial, for some children, the process of developing social skills, manual dexterity, and educational competency presents much more of a challenge. Fortunately, the introduction of new and easy-to-use technological devices has created a quiet revolution in the field of special education. It was only a decade ago that the iPad—a portable interactive Internet device—was introduced to the public. Apple’s marketing people correctly predicted the iPad’s popularity, but they did not expect how uniquely appealing this device would be to children with autism, attention issues, physical challenges, and a host of other learning disabilities. Today, numerous tablets offer programs that can break through the barriers caused by psychological and physical challenges. To understand how you can optimize the use of these devices and select the best programs available, best-selling author and special education expert Barbara Albers Hill has written Breaking Through: Using Today’s Tablet Technology with Special Needs Children.
The book is divided into two parts. Part One provides the basics of using this new technology. First, it explains the many dimensions available in these machines—animation, color, speech, music, reading, and games. Then, it examines how the interactive nature of these elements combine to capture the attention of children and draw them into any given activity. The book explores a range of individual learning differences—such as ADHD, autism spectrum disorder, cerebral palsy, low vision, Down syndrome, language impairment, and traumatic brain injury—and explains which type of programs are best suited for each challenge. Included are tips on adapting the device to a child’s specific condition, as well as practical safety advice. Part One concludes by discussing proven ways in which the programs can be integrated into home and school environments. Part Two provides a consumer’s guide to available devices, attachments and software programs, making the book eminently helpful to both teachers and parents.
If used correctly, the tablet is a devise that can help develop new pathways in the brain and facilitate learning, socialization, and motor skills. While we may call it a breakthrough in therapy, you may call it nothing short of a miracle.
We all have wants and needs, of course, and we learn early on that their resolution brings comfort and relief. It’s a simple matter to ask for what you require or lobby for what you’d like to have. Can you imagine the frustration if most wishes went unmet because you were unable to give voice to them? Imagine further that you found social interaction to be highly irritating. You would weigh every human contact beforehand to assess whether its outcome would be worth your discomfort, and much of the time, you’d probably opt for the safe haven of solitude and silence.
Until recently, these scenarios described everyday life for countless special needs children. The best hope for dealing with their developmental challenges lay in research-based teaching methods and individualized therapies at the hands of skilled professionals. Naturally, families and teachers thrilled at every sign of progress their young charges displayed, but progress was often inconsistent and painfully slow. Then came tablet computers.
The iPad was introduced to the public in 2010 as “the next big thing” in technology. Instantly popular, iPads found their way into classrooms and therapeutic settings as an easy-to-use, highly portable alternative to the mouse-driven PC or Mac and the touchpad-driven laptop. What wasn’t expected was how instantly attractive these tablets would be to children with learning challenges, and how they could work magic to enable communication, socialization, and the acquisition of new skills. Very quickly, parents, teachers, and therapists began looking for ways to give their special needs youngsters access to this riveting new technology.
With the surprising discovery that tablet technology can break down social, physical, and academic barriers, the field of special education has undergone a quiet revolution. Whether a child’s learning differences are minimal or extreme, proper use of a tablet and the right applications (apps) can remove roadblocks, facilitate skill development, and improve quality of life—for both children and the adults who care for and teach them.
Today, there are numerous tablets available, along with software that can improve the focus, communication skills, and academic performance of children with developmental and physical challenges. Breaking Through: Using Educational Technology for Children with Special Needs has been written to clearly explain the ins and outs of these indispensible devices while helping you pair them with apps that match your child’s learning needs. Armed with this information, you’ll be able to comfortably put tablet technology to use to engage your child in learning, overcome academic barriers, and maximize sociability and educational outcome.
Breaking Through is divided into two sections. Part One is composed of four chapters that tell you everything you need to know about using tablet technology. Chapter 1 describes the many features that make tablets so appealing and engaging to a child, from sound and music to action and animation. You’ll learn how these elements work together to capture and retain a child’s attention, regardless of his learning style, keeping him riveted to and delighted by the activity at hand. The special needs associated with sensory, social, and physical difficulties are also discussed, as tablet technology creates a nonthreatening learning environment that can be modified and controlled to perfectly suit the primary problems accompanying each child’s challenges.
Chapter 2 explores the range of learning differences discussed in Breaking Through. Challenges such as autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, hearing impairment, vision impairment, intellectual disability, and traumatic brain injury are identified and described, as are the accompanying needs that lend themselves to technological intervention. The discussion includes the types of apps that can be helpful in each circumstance.
In Chapter 3, I offer suggestions regarding the best ways to introduce, explain, and use tablet technology at home and at school. Included is a helpful list of Do’s and Don’ts for parents, caregivers, and teachers.
Chapter 4 provides important information on adapting tablets and their apps to a child’s particular needs. You’ll be given a look at the types of add-ons and accessories available to extend a tablet’s lifespan while specially tailoring it to the sensory preferences and physical capabilities of its user. Part One concludes with a glance at future innovations in the use of tablet technology to help children with learning challenges.
Part Two of Breaking Through serves as a complete and concise consumer’s guide, providing specifics about tablets, add-ons, and apps. Depending on your child’s needs, the most useful apps and adaptive devices may sometimes be difficult to find, so helpful shopping tips are offered about where you can find apps, product reviews, online trials, and free downloads. Part Two also offers specific product recommendations for adaptive devices and software. The Resources list guides you to the best websites, app stores, and other sources of tablet technology, as well as organizations that offer support and grants for children with special needs. Finally, a helpful Glossary fills you in on terms that may be unfamiliar to you.
People who live and work with special needs children know that there are no shortcuts to understanding and resolving learning roadblocks. Therefore, even though Breaking Through is divided into handy chapters and sections, each focusing on a specific topic, I urge you to read the entire book rather than skipping to topics of particular interest. This will give you a fuller understanding of the many possibilities offered by tablet technology and the best way to put this technology to use. Later, when you want to use the book as a reference, its format will help you instantly locate the specific information you need.
Most parents, caregivers, and teachers of special needs children seek to “level the playing field”—to remove or lessen the impact of obstacles such as physical and neurological disabilities so that children can experience greater social and educational development. Today’s tablet technology is an ideal path to establishing this equality.
If a child can make greater academic or social strides via technology, he certainly deserves the chance to do so. Sometimes, though, the adults in his life find themselves fixed on a certain plan of action or are simply unaware of available resources for spurring this growth. It is for these individuals and others who live or work with challenged learners that Breaking Through has been written. My hope is that the information, suggestions, and product recommendations contained in its pages will make it an invaluable resource for everyone who seeks to lessen life’s challenges for special children.