SEN Motivation and technology
How to use technology well is a dilemma facing most families today. Our kids get so absorbed in technology and it’s a habit that can easily get out of control. Ending screen time can cause meltdowns in all children – special needs kids don’t have the monopoly here.
If your child finds screens particularly rewarding, there are several points to consider.
Why does your child happily interact with a screen when they find the rest of the world so difficult?
Probably because they find the rest of the world so unpredictable, uncontrollable and difficult to engage with. An iPad is designed for the most accessible user experience possible. It also does what it is told and allows visual learners access to a world of information on specialist subjects. These devices have given voice to millions of non-verbal people and access to very visual learning for people who can struggle so much with processing language.
Also, looking to the future, technology might open up many areas for our children, socially and in the world of work, so it’s something we should embrace…carefully.
Are they getting a healthy technology snack?
Are they watching science experiments or people hitting each other over the head? Are they playing a link up game where they and their sibling/friend have to solve a problem together, or are they playing with strangers on the net? There’s a very big difference!
There are so many high quality, non-violent games and learning sites that can enrich our children’s learning and development. With close monitoring, tech time can be kept as a healthy tech snack.
Screen time and overstimulation
Input is still input and kids prone to overload can still overload on technology. You know your child best: do they meltdown after 30 minutes on the device but not 15? If so, 15 minutes might be their threshold. Kids with developmental issues tend to like certainty and consistency. A definite time allowance with strict times and timers will also build a routine, which will help your child give up their device happily. Avoiding meltdowns is essential to happy family use of technology. If tech time is causing problems in your household, try a technology timetable.
Here is an example of a device time chart with ability to ‘roll over‘ their 15 minutes per day if need be. You could also incorporate an hour long
Technology time as a social time
Curling up together with a tablet might not sound as cosy as curling up with a book but it might be an activity that your child will happily share with you. Two-player games or solving puzzles together can be opportunities for developing cycles of interaction (see Chapter 2, Join me in my world), especially when interaction is something your child is really struggling with.
Minecraft, Monument Valley, Pokémon GO, learning games and autism apps can all be high quality experiences that you can share with your child or your child can share with their friends or siblings.
Projects such as making animations are now easy using devices with movie-making apps, for example, Stop Motion Studio.
Sharing interests in some games can also be a form of social ‘capital’. Many ASC kids could hold a conversation on Minecraft but would really struggle on many other topics. Games can give a social ‘in’ to some conversations and social groups.
Want to learn more?
Minecraft (PC and most devices)
Minecraft changed our world as it gave our son a shared interest with many of his peers. We also learned a LOT about mods! We now have family programming projects and it’s a big part of our family life. We also have a fair few movie projects. The kids do need help to set up and run these.
Technology can be a source of conflict as well as a blessing and we do have to heavily monitor when and how the kids are using it. We have needed really clear boundaries and time limits with timers. Technology has many possibilities as well as pitfalls and if used in the right way can open up a lot of opportunities for our kids.
Recommended resources (not free!)
Avokiddo Emotions (iOS)
Playful way to work through understanding emotions and cause and effect. Try to predict the animal’s response to each item to help develop emotional awareness.
Toca Boca Shop (iOS)
Turn-taking fun! Two-player communication action. Amazing how bringing an iPad into a game can pique the interest of reluctant role players.
Touch Autism Apps (iOS)
From turn-taking to manners and telling jokes: delightful, effective resources.
T-Rex Toothbrush Timer (iOS)
Excellent, simple way to teach and encourage thorough teeth brushing.
Puppet Pals (iOS)
This one is very much what you make of it; excellent potential for speech and language and role play. Would need skilled supervision but could be amazingly useful.
Draw a Stickman (iOS)
Motivates children to work on their drawing/ fine motor skills. Children can draw with finger so do not have to navigate a pen to get results. The first two episodes are imaginative and gentle. The third episode, ‘Epic’, can be a little rougher (fighting and fire starting) and involves less drawing.
Lightbot Hour of Code (iOS and PC) and Scratch (PC)
Scratch is a free programming language and online community where you can create your own interactive stories, games, and animations. It’s incredibly visual and user friendly. Anyone can learn to use this tool, you really can just follow a tutorial until your child gets the basics. Lightbox is also an excellent, accessible programming tool for kids.
Recommended reading (fiction)
Stuart, K., A Boy Made of Blocks (Sphere, 2016). This is a fictional account of a father bonding with his autistic son through Minecraft. The author is the father of a boy with ASC and this story will resonate with parents of kids on the spectrum.
An extract from
Autism spectrum condition and Asperger syndrome. What to do when you don’t know what to do!
A practical early intervention toolkit for families
Written by Josie Edwards
Illustrated by Jerry Carter
First published 2017 by MadeByEducators Ltd, London
The difference between US and UK book covers.
We are about to publish our first book here at MadeByEducators, it’s not a fiction blockbuster but we still wanted to make the cover as noticeable as possible in both countries as hopefully it could be a great deal of help to a very particular set of parents.
We researched the difference between US and UK book markets by looking as US and UK amazon pages’ side by side. Having looked at a LOT of book covers here is a summary of our own conclusions on the difference.
Greater realism, cover indicated the contents of the book
Characters more likely to be shown on cover
Stronger colours, criticised as ‘more garish’
Use of paintings possibly to indicate investment in cover as artist must be have been commissioned
All the space on the book cover is used
More abstract concepts. Content of the book’s theme suggested but not obviously
Characters unlikely to be shown on the cover leaving it to the imagination of the reader
Subtle use of colours, criticised as ‘dull’
Unlikely to be a painting and does not have to appear costly to have produced
More likely to have a great deal of negative space
After researching I have gone back to look at our cover design and it is considerably more on the UK side!
iReact aims to help children become aware of their emotional states and to develop some awareness of how their emotions are felt within their bodies. This tool also offer a range of activities to help children to cope with their emotions with a view to these strategies becoming independent of the app. A short tutorial supporting the use of this app is available when first opening the app, and then within settings.
The beta versions were then tested in schools and families and updated over four rounds. This current version is the result of an year long research program involving several London based schools and families.
Your feedback would be a valuable part of this research, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
iPads in schools are a controversial topic, and rightly so. There is enormous potential for tailoring and enhancing learning especially for SEN students but there is also potential for distractions and exposing kids to too much 'hyper', input.
I visit different schools working with classes every week and have seen iPads used in a wide variety of ways. There is some real innovation but teachers have so little time to explore the medium that sometimes its a missed opportunity.
Do, use high quality apps (e.g. Explain everything, Stop Motion Studio) to help kids to create and record projects.
Do tap into the child's interests if they have them, e.g. teach geography by mapping out the school using minecraft. Or have the programming app Hopscotch as a reward app for independent learning time (golden time).
For SEN, when appropriate teach kids who struggle with writing to speak clearly to Siri to research a topic.
For SEN, Do teach use of dragon dictation alongside teaching writing and typing.
Do, use high quality visual educational games that adapt to the child's ability and are entertaining enough to motivate.
Its Ok to use the iPad as part of a reward system so long as the games are high educational/ creative quality.
Some additional things to consider (especially SEN kids), with tech in the mainstream classroom.
1:3 mainstream classrooms support a child on the Autistic Sprctrum and the use varies widely. One of the reasons we set up MBE was to create visual, motivating, learning resources that would be accessible for children with Special Educational Needs. When I see iPads being used inappropriately in the classroom it does break my heart just a lttle.
1. iPads are NOT ideal for a sensory break. iPads are a rich sensory experience and a good distraction and reward at times but do distinguish between Adrenalin games and other. Games get a bad rep. Its not just fighting games, there are a LOT of chase games out there (anything with rush or run at the end of the title), these games are designed to trigger fight or flight response which impedes learning. Your SEN child will not learn from this experience and it is likely to raise their anxiety levels.
2. Technology can be very distracting, for many spectrum kids technology is one of the few things that they can access without a battle. It's also the most interesting thing in the room, which for a child with single channel attention means that they are unlikely to be able to focus on anything other than that iPad on the table.
If they are not in use it is best that iPads are out of site. Also a child may focus better if they have a visual timetable which shows exactly when their turn is so that they can relax that it will happen, but just later.
3. Are you using your iPad mostly as a reward system? I am seeing this FAR too much especially with SEN. iPads and SEN are a great match, but not if its to babysit rater than educate. If you have temple run, subway surfers or any other non educational app on your iPads then give yourself a hard stare! There are plenty of 'reward', fun games out there that have REAL educational/ creative value. No to temple run at golden time, YES to Monument Valley at golden time!
3. Spectrum kids have their passions and interests just like everyone else, their interests can be much more intense but also much more motivation for the child. Technology gives these children access to their special interest topics and working with this may give them the skills which one day will allow them a more independent future. The technology is there for them and we as educators need to ensure they have a rich diet and learn to manage their use of technology to give themselves a brighter future.
This week had the pleasure of visiting an 'outstanding', secondary school, and was shown around by a very lovely year 8 student who pointed out all of the things that she was particularly proud of around her school.
When asked about the use of iPads in school her face lit up as she said, we are ALL going to get an iPad this year, one each!
This was an excellent school, whose buildings were in desperate need of work, the whole site, like most state secondary schools needed a shot of money. Given the cost, and that this was the day after a report on the potential for technology to be disruptive in schools was released I really did pause for thought.
I'm a massive fan of appropriate use of technology in schools, but the idea of every child having an iPad strikes even me as utter madness! Its nothing like the image I have of the use of iPads in schools and has enormous potential to harm learning.
The primary schools that I am in and out of have an excellent grasp of appropriate, targeted use of technology. There might be 8 iPads for a class, which are used in small group work to target particular skills or to support particular project work.
Secondary schools have been slower to grasp the changes in technology. I had assumed best practice in secondary schools would involve class sets which could be booked out by a teacher for a particular lesson. This lesson would have been carefully designed around a learning objective and the iPad would be used for part of the lesson to help with a particular activity.
Anyone who works with kids or has their own knows that for some kids if there is a device around its all that they are interested in. It can be a real distraction and should be hidden away unless it is an integral part of a lesson.
The potential of touch screen devices to support and personalise learning is huge, it would be such a shame to waste the opportunity on costly distractions.
As a parent I know the difficulties around sitting down and 'learning', times tables with my kids. As a teacher I know just how important it is!
Fluency in times tables are the basic building blocks of mathematical skills and make a huge amount of difference in a child's speed and confidence with maths.
Here are MadeByEducators top tips for mastering times tables.
1. Keep it fun!
There is nothing like being board to shut down the learning process. They learn twice as fast if you can turn it into a fun game, try to avoid competition with others but getting a child to compete with their own last score can really help a child to feel like they are making progress! This also means never try when they are hungry or tired!
2. Learn your child's time tables level!
As a general rule kids first learn their 2, 10 and 5 times tables at around age 6 or 7 and then move onto 3's, 4's, and 8's, later not getting to the trickier 6's, 7's and 8's until age 8 or 9 with 11's and 12's being a bit of an extra.
3. Don't move on too far too fast!
Make sure they have mastered the earlier times tables before starting a new one (see stages above). It could leave them quite confused.
4. Try to make it visual.
If you have the time (which we all do right!!), keep a visual record of progress e.g. tick off the tables as they are mastered! You could break this down furthte by using the stages above e.g. 2x2, 2x10, 2x5 before moving on to 2x3, 2x4, 2x8 etc.
5. Mix it up
Learning by rote does have its uses (and there are some great songs to help!) but we are working towards fluency for individual sums so do make sure that you mix sums up, e.g. 2x6 followed by 2x3.
6. Know when to quit!
A fun few minutes in the car every day beat a half hour slog which can really turn a child off learning. Try to stop just before it get too much!
As a parent I do sometimes wonder if its best to be 'pushing', my kids as sometimes they need me as just mum. The biggest rule for me here is number 1, if its not fun for them, its not the right time to be trying!
I enjoyed BETT last week, it was lively, informative, some great talks and free sweets. What's not to love!
Well the lack of teachers was a little disheartening. I only found one stall which involved a tool made by teachers and run by teachers and they had been put in a corner where the wifi didn't work!
The most noticeable part of BETT was the presence of the MEGA systems, schools can spend enormous amounts of money committing to systems which claim that they will revolutionise teaching through analytics's.
Having worked in a very 'on it', school for over a decade I know how these systems will be received by staff, I have an idea how they will be implemented and have seen targeted interventions work. In the right hands, with the staffs will behind them these tools could work wonders. BUT...... its a very big commitment and hinges on a fair few ifs. I have seen a LOT of these initiatives binned after a couple of years as they are just too complex and require massive data entry from teachers who resent the process.
A single game based app, costing the school a few pounds with inbuilt whole class assessment is much less risk. Educational games on touch devices can much more engaging for the kids and can have very friendly user experience for the teachers and kids alike. It should also save the teacher marking time which frees them up to have more energy for the kids. As educators we want to make things that work for the kids and teachers rather than create work for the kids and teachers. MadeByEducators
Having been a state school teacher for over 13 years following a curriculum is almost hard-wired into my approach to app development. So much so that I have to really consciously hold back to allow the fun and spontaneity that a creative project needs.
Klatoo's Science Adventure is based on the NEW Science National Curriculum for KS1 Year 1. We felt it needed to be done and it was great fun to make. We had a bundle of willing testers from my sons friends, once we made lots of adaptation to the user experience they loved it!
There are probably lots of good reasons developers are not targeting specific areas of the UK curriculum. The system is in a state of dramatic flux and many of the recent changes are likely to be undone by a change of government etc. Its also not going to be the cash cow that broader audiences could be (e.g. US). We are not trying to take over the world, we just want to use technology to support the learning of kids, and are starting with what we know! If you are an educator using our apps we would love to know what you think email@example.com Klatoo should land in the next 7 days!
Downloads increased across our kids range, especially the school bulk downloads of Dino and Crazy Letters. We LOVE that schools use our apps!
The following Friday we were prepared to be replaced on the list, THANK YOU Apple, we were replaced with big Robo (6-8), which has so far had an even bigger impact on downloads.
A tiny Indie studio like ours has no advertising budget, no marketing experience, and no contacts in Apple or the media. Being featured is a boost, not just through downloads but also through knowing that visibility is a real possibility, and validation that we are on the right track!
The debate over technology being good or bad for kids is over for me. It was something that we as a family had to carefully consider given that we have two rather tech obsessed boys still in primary school!
Dick Hogg the artist and co-creator of Hohocum sums it up well in an interview
where he hopes that in a world where we put salt and sugar into all food his work is more like a plate of nice green vegetables. Having played Hohocum with my children I think he has the right idea. Playing the game with a teachers eye I could see exploitative play, problem solving and brilliant opportunities for collaborative play through gaming. Basically my boys had to work out what they had to do in the game and together they problem solved and even drew up maps to help them find the elusive Guano factory, (Bird poop to those who don't know!).
Minecraft Tuesday has become an institution at home and the boys plan in advance how to make the most of the supervised half hour each they get. Its incredibly social when played with friends or siblings and great social capital for shy children.
Monument Valley was a stunning family adventure that we explored together. Wondering around a serene work of art inspired by M C Escher is clearly a brilliant educational opportunity.
Technology comes in many flavours and is obviously best in moderation. Its something people feel strongly about as shown in kidcrafters talks on the subject. There is a world of difference between several hours on an adrenalin fuelled first person shoot-em-up and a 10 min healthy ed tech snack once or twice a day!
To me as an educator and a mother of a child with special educational needs the debate is over. Technology is going to be in our lives and in the classroom so lets just make sure our children learn to recognise the difference between the organic veg and the Mc D's.