An Introductory Guide To Tablets for SEN Children

Getting an iPad or tablet for your child is just the first step. You also need accessories, including those to protect the device, and apps suited to your child to help them educationally.

In terms of protection, screens are easily scratched and shattered. Using a screen protector film is a good way to protect against scratches. Gravity and a sleek aerodynamic shape and size increase the probability that at some point it will be dropped from a height onto a hard surface. There may be a hairline fracture or crack before all of a sudden the screen shatters and needs replacing.  It’s best from the onset to get a protective case for the device before use. There is a wide variety of cases on the market and the level of protection you need will depend upon your child.

As well as being a touch device, a tablet can be very effectively used with a stylus pen, to introduce how to hold a pencil or pen and develop handwriting skills. Stylus pens are available cheaply in a variety of shapes and sizes from chunky crayon-like to fine-tipped. These don’t need batteries or wires, work with any app, and are especially useful with letter-forming and handwriting apps. If in doubt it’s best to talk to an OT (occupational therapist) and also the school SENCO (Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator) as there may be a variety of styles used in schools to support children who struggle with holding a pen.

To help children who are hearing impaired, and for group working, an external speaker is really useful. It is worth spending at least £20 on speakers because cheaper models are often distorted or no louder than the device’s built-in speaker.

Children with profound physical disabilities can benefit hugely from an iPad, although they may not be able to use a touch screen, if they are provided with one or two external switches. To use switches designed for PC’s with a tablet you may need to employ a switch interface box. iOS has built in support for switches, and for best results look for apps that specifically cater for switches.

For help with progressing to using a real keyboard, and to avoid onscreen keyboards obscuring apps, consider getting a wireless keyboard. Some children who can’t write succeed with using a keyboard, and the tactile feedback from a real one can be a real benefit.

Having one device that is used for both learning and leisure can be problematic for some children. We like many families that we meet have more than one device and select one depending upon activity. William uses his iPad largely for educational purposes and the apps that installed are appropriate for his use. William does have one movie downloaded to his device and watches snippets as a reward or downtime if we are out and about. However for recreational use he uses his brother’s iPad mini and they watch movies together. We’ve opted for 2 devices and they differ in shape, size and cover. I’ve talked to others that also have two devices and use different covers, the red is for work, blue is for leisure. An alternative is 2 covers with one device. Some have found that this works, as their children learn visually so they see the cover and associate the activities.  If you have one family device at home, then you may be able to obtain a second specifically for educational purposes for a child with special educational needs or who is disabled through a grant.

Then there are the apps. Children with Special Educational Needs are like any other child. You need to find the things that they love doing as that’s when they learn best and you need to be moving towards a goal. When choosing an app from the many of thousands out there keep things simple. There are two key questions:

  1. What do they like? All children have specific interests, likes and dislikes. You need to take these into account since if your child is put off by the theme, character, sound, or even the activity then it’s not the right choice.
  1. What are their outcomes (goals)? What do you want your child to achieve? If it’s counting from 1 to 10 then you need a counting app. But you may start counting 1 to 3 and then progress up. However if your child can count 1 to 10 then they don’t need this type of app unless you are working on counting backwards from 10 to 1.

Remember that as they progress review the apps that they use. Keep a favourite app. Everyone enjoys downtime with a favorite activity. This may be a game or an educational activity.

Finding suitable apps is like finding a needle in a haystack. Ask your friends and professionals supporting your child as they may be able to recommend. But this is where good app review sites come in. It’s a moving target as new apps come on board all of the time and are continually updated. So when you update your apps always check out what’s new.

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