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Pure Friendship for Individuals with Special Needs
Russ Ewell

10 Special Technology Tips for Exceptional Kids

Well, we busted out of class

Had to get away from those fools

We learned more from a 3-minute record, baby

Than we ever learned in school

                                                                         -Bruce Springsteen, No Surrender 

Parents of children with special needs tend to be tireless revolutionaries.   Perhaps more than any other group of parents they explore,  experiment, and invent.  They do this to bust their kids out of the limiting conventions of the traditional classroom. They discover and innovate because of the scarcity of ideas about how to develop the potential of their children.    The educational system is familiar  with demanding parents,  but this is a new breed.   These are inventive parents.   They create communities, methodologies, and chart paths for their kids to make progress regardless of the traditional limits defined by those who know the diagnosis but not their children.  They do not defy science, but embrace it, and make it work for them.   They leave a trail of progress, success, and even breakthrough.  They hope researchers turn their anecdotes into evidence, and lay ground for a future where special education is revolutionized. The purpose of my writing is to make certain these revolutionary parents are utilizing the transformational technologies  available to them today.  I believe everyone of us can nurture and develop our inner Tony Stark and become ‘mechanics’ of transformation who ‘fix things’ that limit the quality of our children's lives. Let’s not keep Tony Stark waiting.   Here are 10 ways to jump into the deep end of the pool.

1. Invest

Few financial investments yield the return technology provides.   Parents typically invest based on the grades of ABCD,  but special needs parents should think AIED (Assist, Include, Educate, and Develop).   When investing our money we should ask ourselves will this assist, include, educate, or develop my child.   Technology provides incredible leverage to achieve high levels of AIED.

2. Study

Before we buy we should study our children.   This is something I learned from my wife and a host of parenting books.   A great many technology purchases fail to deliver on their potential, because those doing the buying failed to study their children.  We might want our child to embrace the iPad (hi-tech), but they may prefer a Communication Book (low tech).   Read more on these  assistive technologies here.

3.  Select

One of the biggest mistakes parents make is purchasing technology for themselves rather than their kids.  The second greatest mistake is thinking it has to have electricity flowing through circuits to be technology.  For the purposes of this article, we will focus on hi-tech, so here is a list from novice to expert levels of technology.   I would suggest starting with number 1, and then after mastery move to the next form of technology.
  1. Leap Frog - cost effective introductory device
  2. Chrome Browser - free apps and runs on the computer you already own
  3. Retired Smartphone - start with free apps on Apple or Android
  4. Tablet - when they are ready to own their first technology
  5. Notebook or Chromebook - when they need technology for school/work
  6. Other:  Chromebox, Desktop, Television, or Game Console

4. Integration

Technology becomes useful when it is seamlessly integrated into every aspect of our lives.  Before we make a purchase we should communicate with schools and programs serving our children.  When everyone agrees on the benefit and use of a particular technology, then you are actually ready to make a purchase.

5. Software

There are four significant choices when it comes to software:
  1. Windows - too complex on the desktop and too limited on mobile devices
  2. Android - cost effective and growing, but some of the best apps are still missing
  3. Chrome - this is the future and can be a delight.   Search the Chrome store to make sure you can find what you want before purchasing hardware.
  4. Apple - the most mature set of apps on tablets and phones.  The simplest experience on notebooks and desktops.  You will pay for it over and over again.  My personal recommendation for those getting started is to save money, build for the future, and chose the Android/Chrome combination (exceptions for those using AAC - Apple remains best).

6. Communication and Safety

A fundamental purpose of all technology purchases should be communication and safety.  Make certain whatever they use is capable of helping them connect to people, as well as keep themselves safe.

7. Education and Entertainment

Education and entertainment are increasingly becoming one.  The device you purchase will at some point support games, music, movies, books, and educational apps.   Balance education and entertainment use by setting  limits.

8. Technical Support

The greater the use of technology the more we need support.   There are three possible solutions.  1) Don’t buy anything you can’t learn how to fix  2) Develop a network of friends with the skills to help you fix almost any problem 3) Set aside enough money to pay for a technical support when you purchase your technology.

9. Finances

Technology can become expensive.   There are a few things we can do to keep the cost down.
  1. Buy Android/Chrome not Apple and  save incredible amounts of money.
  2. Purchase wireless technology using the new monthly plans.
  3. Purchase insurance because it is a matter of when not if your child will break the device.
  4. Learn to work Amazon or E-bay so you can resell old tech to fund the purchase of new tech

10. Fun

Albert Einstein is credited with having said,  “I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.”  This is a good thing to keep in mind when using technology.  Enjoy the time with your child and consider progress a serendipity upon which your satisfaction does not depend. No one article can do justice to the topic of Special Technology for Exceptional Children, but my hope is this will get our minds churning with ideas and possibilities.

Top Photo Credit: Brad Flickinger

WRITTEN ON December 19, 2013 BY:

Russ Ewell