About ten years ago, my family knew a boy I’ll call Evan. Evan had been born with cerebral palsy, which, now at age three, left him unable to walk. He also struggled to communicate and was quick to anger when inability to make himself understood left him frustrated.
Then Evan got an iPad. On it was a picture-based communication application. He quickly taught himself to touch the sequence of pictures that the iPad would then speak as, “I would like…to watch a movie…The Sound of Music.” For some reason, Evan loved The Sound of Music. And now he could ask to watch it. Evan also taught himself to read, or at least to recognize an ever-growing number of written words.
Evan’s potential shined when interacting with his iPad. His parents had suspected that Evan was “trapped” to a degree inside his body, and now for the first time, technology let Evan show the extent of his skills. The experience gave his family hope – a reason to continue challenging therapies and a reason to push Evan to keep expanding his skills. With Evan’s anger began to subside with his new ability to communicate.
This is an extreme story of how a simple piece of technology transformed the experience of a challenged child and, by extension, his entire family. Your child may not need the same technology. But if you have a child with health concerns, it may be worth exploring how technology can help manage the condition, grow your child’s skills or make life outside the condition easier. Here are just a couple uses you might consider:
1. Tech to Manage Your Child’s Condition
We all know how difficult it is to find and visit just the right specialist. Now, through programs like remote second opinions (e.g. the Online Second Opinion Program at Boston Children’s Hospital), you may be able to manage some of your specialty care online. This can include consulting with a top specialist in your child’s field, and may even include some of the follow-up care your child needs. Technologies also exist to help you and your child remember medications or others aspects of daily care. Finally, many hospitals use electronic records to collect patients’ information into a centralized resource, but applications also exist to help you keep track of this information yourself (e.g. CareZone and MyPHR). If your child’s condition requires primary care, a team of specialists, lab results, therapists and caregivers, and even emergency care, technology may be the only way to keep it all straight track of it.
2. Tech to Grow Your Child’s Skills
There are hundreds of education apps meant to teach math, reading and other school skills (e.g. Kahn Academy). There are also hundreds of apps meant to teach skills of daily living, communication, speech, social skills and more (e.g. TheSocialExpress and KloogSocialSkills). While it’s unlikely that any application can fully replace a human teacher, many of these tools can help reinforce your child’s learning outside a therapy setting. Technology may also assist your child’s ability to function in more traditional settings. For example, dictation software can help a child who cannot type or use a pencil to be successful in a writing class (e.g. Dragon). Other education software can provide options for independent study during school times during which traditional instruction isn’t appropriate.
3. Tech to Manage Daily Life
Assistive technologies are getting better every year – from wheelchairs and other devices that aid mobility, to technologies that enhance senses like hearing and eyesight, to tech that lets people with impairments do things around the house, these assistive (or “adaptive”) technologies make the impossible possible. Because adaptive and assistive technologies are specific to the conditions they support, instead of listing them here, consider a search for these terms along with your child’s condition or challenge.
Maybe most importantly, technology can provide entertainment, letting your child find enjoyment, just like any other kid. Search “adaptive gaming” to see tools that might help your child play online. Whether it’s games or movies or exploring interests like art or music, technology can let your challenged child just be a kid.