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