Top tips for introducing assistive technology to young children

Lauren Hayes
Jul 3 · 6 min read

Assistive technology is a fantastic way to give children some independence who may otherwise need help to complete basic tasks. It can be daunting making that first step towards assistive technology especially if you are unfamiliar with the devices and their use. Rest assured, there are ways to easily phase it in to normal day-to-day life.

Tip 1: Keep everything fun!

Learning a new skill can be challenging and lead to fatigue, this can make the child reluctant to keep trying. By keeping everything fun and motivational you are more likely to get a better response from the child you are working with. Find out what motivates the child, this could be games, music or even rewards and incorporate this into the assistive technology.

Tip 2: Learn basic cause and effect

In order for a child to be able to use assistive technology effectively, they must be able to understand that if they do one thing another thing happens — cause and effect.

Switch adapted toys are great for learning this. Most toys work by pressing a button once to create the effect or by holding the button down to start the effect and releasing the button to stop it. It is best to use visually stimulating toys or toys which make a lot of sound. This WikiHow article talks you through how to switch adapt toys yourself.

Another great way to introduce cause and effect is to press a button to turn on a lamp. It is worth looking for sensory lighting or a lamp with a fun design to aid motivation. This is a pink castle lamp which I have used for one of my younger clients recently. Not only did this castle act as a night light, it became home for her Beauty and the Beast figures!

Tip 3: Encourage choice making

Making choices is a fundamental part of life, however this may be something as simple as deciding what to have for breakfast. It is advisable to start with symbol flash cards which you can hold up or lay on a table and allow the child to choose one. This could be an item or an activity, it is best to focus the choice making around things you know the child enjoys and is motivated by. Once this has been done you can move on to choice making using technology. The interface can be edited to be as simple or as complicated as needed, but you should start off with an interface which mirrors the flash cards you have been using. There are many ways in which a child can activate these devices including touch, switches and eye cameras. The activation method is entirely based on the child and can incorporate one or more methods.

Tip 4: Normalise the use of the technology

Children tend to not like looking different or doing different things from their peers. Fortunately recent technological advances have made assistive technology more mainstream and therefore more accepted in the home. Take smart speakers for example. Amazon and Google have revolutionised the way in which many of us control our homes and this is definitely something to take advantage of. Speaking to these smart speakers can be a novel experience for a young child and can introduce them to environmental control without the need of having unfamiliar devices. These smart speakers are also great as they can be utilised by the whole family, thus reiterating normality. These smart speakers can also be activated using a talker aid if the child is unable to use their own voice.

Assistive technology can be used in the classroom to aid with education. This is a time where a child using technology may stand out from their peers. It is a good idea to let other children use the technology; I understand that this contradicts most people’s initial thoughts! Allowing other children to use the technology under supervision is a good way to reduce the stigma surrounding it and encourage regular use.

Tip 5: Be persistent

Introducing new technology can be tricky especially for young children. At the start of the process you may find that it is quicker and easier not to use the assistive technology devices. This may be because you are a parent and you know what your child wants or needs or because the child prefers having things done for them. It is important to remember that not everyone will have spent enough time with the child to learn to understand them if they have limited speech or understand their needs and wants. As the child gets older, independence will become even more important so it is useful to get a good start when the child is still young. For example, you could tell the child that you are not starting an activity until they have asked for it using their device, or that they have to turn their own bedroom lamp off when they go to bed. The more practice the better the use.

Tip 6: Take it slow

It can be hard for anyone to get their head around new technology and children are no different. You may be tempted to put everything in-place at once. Don’t! Being overwhelmed with equipment will not help, start with the basics. For example, if you are wanting to install switches to control lighting around the home, start with just using the switches in the child’s bedroom. Once they have mastered the use of these switches, start to add in switches for other rooms. This principle works with other areas of assistive technology; when making choices, start with 2 options and slowly add other options in. This is not something that can be rushed, after-all it is providing a foundation for assistive technology to be used throughout life.

Meet Kit!

Kit is 11 years old, is an essential wheelchair user and is unable to communicate verbally, but above all he is a super cool and happy young boy!

Just before Kit was 2 years old, he met with a Speech and Language Therapist for the first time. This Therapist told Kit’s family that he was very capable of communicating, he just needed to do this using different methods. Kit started off communicating using eye pointing and hand signals. This involved holding up one hand for ‘yes’ and another for ‘no’, Kit could then look at the hand representing his answer, this allowed Kit to start making choices and continues to be used by Kit today.

This eye pointing using hand signals soon moved on to using eye pointing with printed prompts. Kit’s Mum displayed pictures of food in the kitchen and pictured of toys and activities in the play room, this advanced Kit’s choice making from just ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to now having multiple choices.

When Kit was just 3 and half years old he got his first communication aid. Since then Kit has used various different communication aids and has fairly recently settled on a Microsoft Surface Pro with Grid 3 software. Kit started off accessing his communication aids with switch scanning, using his head to press a switch. Kit has moved on to using his knee to activate the switch and this works very well and Kit is now a competent switch user.

Kit’s family have done their best to ensure Kit can communicate with his friends and family easily and quickly. Kit has recently started using WhatsApp and this has been fantastic for him. Kit’s Mum has created some pre-stored phrases for him to use when on WhatsApp, chatting or organising hanging out with friends — it is all about speed for Kit!

At this moment in time, Kit is working on using his eyes to control his communication aid using an Eyemobile Plus and will soon be visiting Special Effect to find out about assistive gaming!

We can’t wait to see what the future holds for Kit!

Access: technology north

Independent Assistive Technology Consultancy — Enabling independence for children with disabilities

Lauren Hayes

Written by

Assistive Technology Consultant working for Access: Technology North

Access: technology north

Independent Assistive Technology Consultancy — Enabling independence for children with disabilities

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