Tablets as part of an Educational Toolbox
As a parent of a child with complex needs, I see the emergence of smartphones and tablets as providing a tool alongside all of the other traditional toys and books and everyday objects used daily and in play to stimulate our children. All these things support learning and development together and not in isolation. Education is a holistic experience happening throughout the day and in our toolbox is a range from pots and pans taken from the kitchen cupboard to 21st century technology: tablets and apps.
When William was born with Down syndrome in 2005, we read everything we could about his disability and actively engaged in early intervention programs. His additional learning disabilities led to us working with professionals from
Linking with other parents and professionals also gave us valuable hints and tips about bringing up a disabled child alongside an older sibling.
When I first discovered the iPad in early 2011, I thought “Wow!” and visualised all the opportunities for teaching children like William. For a child who has very poor fine motor skills, pencil, paper and objects pose additional learning challenges. With suitable apps, a tablet can circumvent these issues, allow a child to focus on learning, and to demonstrate what they know and can do.
Most typically developing children acquire these skills naturally, and often we don’t notice the transitions from one milestone to the next. However for children with special needs there are small steps between each developmental milestone and progress is at a much slower pace. There is also the need for scaffolding and extra support to develop even the most basic of skills and this can be over a much longer period if not several months and even years for some children. Progress varies widely from child to child.
There is an increasing body of evidence that suitably designed apps produce surprisingly rapid gains across the curriculum. As well as developing literacy, speech, writing and numeracy, they have been shown to improve underlying skills including hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills, attention and self-esteem.
When we received a grant-funded iPad for William, we were disappointed to find so many cluttered and distracting apps that he couldn’t use. This led my husband and I to develop a range of apps ourselves at Special iApps. To our amazement and delight, these are now being used to support children with SEN in many languages around the world as part of an educational toolbox at home and at school.