Special needs children represent a significant portion of the public school population. As of 2013-14, there were 6.5 million children and young adults ages 3-21 who were receiving these services in the United States. Although they have to overcome challenges their peers don’t, these kids can and do thrive, especially as educational technology has improved.
In the past, special needs kids typically didn’t have a chance at a level playing field when it came to education. Different learning styles and needs often meant that bright and capable kids got left behind because their needs couldn’t be met or understood. Today, the millions of children in the United States have more opportunities than ever, thanks to tech that is helping to ensure all children have access to a great education.
Let’s take a look at four ways technology is helping to give special needs children the tools they need to succeed.
- More Personalized Learning
There are so many different disabilities that can affect a child’s education that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Assistive technology can help give every child the tools they need to succeed, but earlier technology did not offer the same kind of personalization we have access to today.
Assistive technology like alternative keyboards, voice recognition, touchscreens, and eye-tracking software have become more powerful and customizable. One example of evolving technology changing lives is the migration of eye-tracking technology from a single device to wireless access, allowing the software to be used anywhere with Internet access. Many devices now come equipped with customizable settings to assist special-needs students, making assistive technology more accessible to students who need it. Students’ unique needs can now be fully met in schools across the country.
- Aiding Collaboration
Group work can be a struggle in special needs classrooms, where communication is often difficult. However, students benefit greatly from collaboration with their peers, and technology can help to make this a possibility for special needs students.
Some teachers have used Google Slides to create a new Q&A format. Instead of prompting questions during the discussion, students submit questions and answers through their keyboards which are addressed at the end of the presentation. This encourages every student to participate, regardless of confidence or comfort speaking in front of others and improves the diversity of the discussions.
- Improved Parental and Community Support
Being the parent of a special needs child can be lonely and difficult. Parents often have to fight for their children to get the resources they need. Prior to the popularity of social media and communities online, finding support and assistance or just a someone to listen could be challenging.
Today, these tools have empowered parents to get advice and help from people who have been through the same processes or have legal knowledge that applies to the education system. There are tons of resources online for every step of the process of parenting a special needs child, and parents can find niche communities and forums that support all kinds of diagnoses.
- Assistance Through Big Data
Big data has been revolutionizing the way businesses in nearly every industry operate. Instead of making assumptions about business strategy, companies are turning to the data to gain insight and answers.
This technology could easily be applied to special needs education to provide the right assistance for students. Instead of making assumptions about what students need, data could pinpoint exactly where teachers’ focus should be. Google discovered this discrepancy between expectations and reality when their Project Oxygen found that technical ability was the least important of 8 traits for managers. Busting these kinds of assumptions could help special needs students in a big way.
Using Technology to Encourage All Students
Kids with special needs deserve the same chances as students in mainstream classrooms. While some children are still unable to get the education they deserve, we’re moving toward a world of greater educational equality. We can use technology to encourage all students to learn and get on a path toward a fulfilling and productive adult life.