5 Ways Parents Can Make Technology Work For Their Children With Special Needs

Girl playing on ipad

“Technology alone is not enough.  It’s technology married with the liberal arts, married with the humanities that yields us the result that makes our hearts sing.” – Steve Jobs

Technology correctly applied will make the heart sing.  This is particularly true for those with disabilities.  When successfully applied technology helps them overcome human limits.  The future grows brighter every day for those with disabilities because of the tremendous technological advances taking place.

Revolution in Mobile Technology

The current revolution in mobile technology has given us the touch interface with inexpensive apps on smartphones and tablets.  Almost everyday we hear a story of someone with a learning or intellectual disability using these tools to overcome.   Our family has experienced similar breakthrough moments, and I want more people to know this joy.

This is why I have decided to write a post whose aim is encouraging parents who are fearful about using technology to help their children with disabilities.  My goal is not a comprehensive ‘how to’ post, but a mind changing one capable of unlocking the great potential of parent and child alike.

5 Principles to Unlocking Potential

I want to convey 5 simple principles, which when practiced with unwavering consistency will yield results. So, let’s get started.

1. Fearless:

Parents of special needs children all experience fear when using technology to help their children. These 4 fears or a combination of them are most common.

  1. Fear of Technology – I don’t know what I’m doing
  2. Fear of Failure – People tell me I don’t know what I’m doing
  3. Fear of Finances  – I do know I can’t afford it
  4. Fear of Time – The research says my child is too old and it is too late

Living and working in Silicon Valley I can tell you these 4 fears are similar to what every entrepreneur faces.   Those who succeed do so in spite of their fears, because they believe every problem has a solution.  Parents of special needs children must adopt an entrepreneurial mindset, which I believe includes 4 responses to these 4 fears.

  1. Be a Learner – there is nothing we can’t learn over time
  2. Learn from Failure – every failure gets us closer to the answer
  3. Invest to Learn – the lessons we learn are worth the price we pay
  4. Prove them Wrong – this is what invention and innovation do

2. Explore:

Making technology like a tablet or smartphone work for your child does not require proficiency as much as curiosity.  Proficiency can be developed but not without sufficient motivation.  Curiosity provides the motivation.  Curiosity drives us to explore.

How can we unlock our natural curiosity?   I can share what has worked for me.   I begin by listening to every teacher, therapist, and outside observer of my children.  I listen for what they say is difficult to do or can’t be done.   Then I imagine how it could be done.  After that I begin to explore.

How do I explore?   There are eight things I try to do which have always paid off.

  1. Smile – enjoy looking for answers no one else has found
  2. Read – tackle the best research connected to the problem
  3. Identify – the type of problems you need the software to solve
  4. Search – spend time looking at every app possibility until you find 3-5
  5. Purchase – use a trial version or purchase 1-3 apps to experiment with
  6. Discuss – talk to teachers and therapist trying to solve similar problems
  7. Imitate – what works for others solving similar problems
  8. Work – stay at it celebrating every inch of progress and be patient

3. Engage:

The work of helping our children becomes difficult when they are bored by our solutions.   The parent researcher and entrepreneur must be resilient.   I can tell you a number of stories about working hard to develop solutions for our kids, only to have them show little or no interest.

This was frustrating until my wife and others pointed out my failure to engage. In the beginning I developed solutions I thought would work without understanding how to capture the attention of my children.

This taught me an important lesson.   No solution is effective if it fails to capture the attention of those we seek to help.   We have to work equally as hard to engage as we do to discover.

4. Study:

The beautiful thing about having special needs children is they make you a better parent to all your children and partner for those who teach them.   This was the benefit of learning to engage.  I realized my failure to engage was rooted in my failure to study my children.

What was missing from my solutions was missing from my parenting.  I needed to give my children the attention I wanted them to give my solutions.   This changed me.

I began paying attention to their every action.  What made them laugh or cry, smile or frown, bored or stimulated, focused or distracted?  Once I began answering questions like these my solutions became more captivating.

For instance, I first discovered my son might enjoy touch technology watching him tap the television screen.  This was before the iPad and Touch Technology went mainstream.  We were on the cutting edge when we put the HP TouchSmart to work opening new worlds up for his exploration and communication.  This happened because I learned how to give my attention and capture his.

When we study our children we learn how to create engaging solutions, and help educators and therapists with solutions make them more engaging for our child.

5. Discover:

Discussing discovery is difficult because people may assume I am advocating for overnight miracles. This is not the case.   My argument is for maximizing the quality of life for every adult and child with special needs.  In some cases this might mean one more word, another case might mean one more friend, and in rare cases a breakthrough.    Successful discovery means improving the quality of life for your child with special needs, and setting them up for better tomorrows.

Quick Talk AAC

Let me share what happened in my life as a result of the efforts we made.   My sons are both verbally challenged. I purchased every application I thought would help them for 17 years until I decided to end my frustration and develop my own.  Tapping into my personal experience as a technologist I developed a team of friends including engineers. We went to work on behalf of my kids as well as everyone who faces verbal challenges and developed Quick Talk AAC.

Quick Talk AAC is an Alternative Augmentative Software application running on  Android, iOS  and Amazon App Store.  We designed it to be mobile, flexible, and relatively inexpensive.   It has been tremendously successful and is used by people with variety of language limitations.   At 24.99 it is an affordable solution that has made AAC accessible to a generation of users unable to afford the applications priced in the hundreds of dollars.  We love the fact that what started as an effort to help my kids has helped people around the world.

Special Deal on Quick Talk AAC

I want to close by thanking Friendship Circle for their incredible service.  The spirit of this community is one I wish everyone could experience.  In honor of this work Digital Scribbler Inc. will be reducing the price of Quick Talk AAC to 99 cents thru January 20, 2014.  We hope this small token of our appreciation will help people everywhere to discover great solutions for their verbally challenged children.

Russ Ewell

Written on 2014/01/07 by:

Russ Ewell

Russ Ewell is CEO of Digital Scribbler and Founder of E-Soccer.  You can connect with Russ on TwitterLinkIn, or Google+