Smart technology is ubiquitous. It is a daily part of our lives and the lives of children with special needs. Myriad apps touting educational benefits, near limitless content on electronic devices and intensive marketing efforts have lead many to hope, if not wholly believe, that smart technology will make children and adolescents smarter.
As parents and educators, we have survived the transition to an exciting brave new mobile world and are left with many unanswered questions about how effective a role and how dominant a role these devices should play in the quest for positive learning outcomes. Research into these questions is just beginning!
While we await more information and wrestle with our own views and emotions regarding the pros and cons of technology, we can all agree on one thing: technology, with all of its allure, is certainly here to stay. Now, each day, we must make efforts to strive for thoughtful use of technology. Below are several guidelines I use as a speech-language pathologist with my students at ECLC — and as a mother to my children at home — to thoughtfully integrate technology use with established learning practices.
- Remember, when it comes to learning speech skills, there is no substitute for learning through authentic communicative experiences. Communication is, above all, a social exchange between two or more people, and communication is inherently motivated by various purposes. No app or form of electronic communication can replicate the richness of face-to-face communication.
- Consider enhancing screen time by joining your child. The vast majority of apps are closed set: the content, sentence structure and use of language remains fixed. Remember when children were little and we shared joint attention on a block tower or other toy? Share attention on the device and participate in conversational exchanges about the content you are viewing. Communication between two people is open set– meaning there are limitless ways to incorporate content, sentence structure or use of language. For young children, continue to follow this maxim: Be your child’s favorite toy!
- If you want your child to use a certain app you find educational, consider using guided access to lock that app. If an app is not intrinsically rewarding, students will swipe out of it, usually very quickly.
- Refrain, as much as possible, from use of smart technology in the community unless your child is using devices for augmentative or alternative communication. Allow children and adolescents the opportunity to engage in multi-sensory experiences that help them form the gestalts and language of their natural environments. Also, keep children available for meaningful communication experiences to happen!
- Reading books on a tablet seems benign enough, right? While reading books on a tablet would be preferable to many other ways to spend time on the iPad, keep in mind that research favors reading tangible books. The eyes move differently while reading a page versus reading a screen, and memory for details, sequencing and temporal understanding is greater when reading a book!
- A great benefit of technology is for reference–to deepen understanding. Images, tutorials, articles, maps, sounds–can all be used to make a point. Many students in therapy request using the iPad to support their communication, particularly by using pictures and the calendar to provide visual cues. Use technology to augment, not replace learning.
- For earlier communicators, milieu teaching techniques can be interestingly applied to technology. Learn how to throw a wrench to your child’s predictable technology use by trying out the following: set the tablet in guided access mode, set the language to a foreign language, change the password, darken the screen, move a favorite app into a different folder, put the case on backward, give an incorrect charger… Will your child communicate that there is a problem that needs to be addressed? You can help your child learn through these opportunities.
- Be mindful of posture with technology use. Consider using stands to prompt improved posture when seated. Encourage children and adolescents to lie on their stomachs (prone) or propped up on a pillow.
- Many students like apps, music and videos at full volume. Consider apps like Volume Sanity to set a maximum volume. Avoid listening to headphones in the car or on the bus. Sound delivered to the ears from personal listening devices at high decibels for extended time can cause permanent noise-induced hearing loss.
- When spending time together or when working on homework or other more complex cognitive tasks, place devices in another room. Refrain from allowing them to intrude frequently on family time. Research shows that multitasking with devices disrupts the brain’s ability to think deeply during complex problem solving tasks.
- It is imperative to power down prior to bedtime because of the stimulating effects the light has on the eyes and the brain. For a restful sleep and increased likelihood of students being rested and available for learning at school the next day, devices should not be in the room at night.
- Determine the primary purpose of technology use. Categorize technology use by leisure, creation, education, motivation or reference. Instead of allowing for copious or unlimited leisure time, encourage using apps like GarageBand, Pic Collage, Dragon Dictation, Clicker and Minecraft to create. Use TED-Ed, SkunkBear, Brainpop, Youtube tutorials for learning. If your child is very motivated by tablets, try having her receive the tablet as a reward for working on a target skill, be it academic or functional.
Written by Laura Koch, Speech Language Pathologist