Dr C P Ravikumar

Assistive Tools: Technology to Engage Children with Disabilities
Children with disabilities, both physical and mental, often face an uphill climb, when it comes to their education as well as their overall development as individuals. In an effort to make learning and social interactions easier for them, technology has been leveraged in many ways to give these children a voice in their learning and make it more engaging and personalized for their unique needs. The Assistive Technologies that support the education of children with learning disabilities, is indeed a boon, for the children as well as their caregivers.

1. Text to Speech Assist Tools
Children suffering from any condition that impedes the ability to read properly, ranging from visual impairments to dyslexia, autism and Attention Deficiency Hyperactivity Disorders (ADHD) or children with intellectual disabilities, can make use of text to speech tools. These scan text and read words aloud in an automated synthetic voice, made to sound as life like as possible, to help with both social and academic interactions.

2. Audiobooks
Audiobooks, on popular platforms like Audible have made reading more enjoyable and engaging for children with dyslexia as it paints a visual picture. Students can follow along with the written text, which makes it easier for them to learn and recall.

3. Game based tools to engage
Gaming companies learnt that the advent of motion sensing gaming consoles, opened up new avenues to engage children with both physical and developmental disabilities. Motion Controlled Video Games (MCVG) developed Serious Game versions, with companies like Nintendo and Kinect taking the lead. Wii sports games, Dance Dance Revolution and the Sonic PlayStation Eye Toy, introduced a fun way to motivate children to practice task specific movements and also helps to improve balance and is an enjoyable alternative to traditional physiotherapy or occupational therapy.

4. Virtual Reality or Augmented Reality Technology
Virtual Reality and immersive reality technologies have played an important role in neurorehabilitation, especially in spinal cord injuries. It usually involves a computer system, laptop, tablet or phone with a headset, making it easily portable and accessible in a homecare and hospital-based setting. Individuals can engage and practice motions, expressions and physical therapy in a calm environment or a game simulation to make the process more engaging. It can even simulate traditional classroom environments for children with learning disabilities, enabling improved concentration as distractions are removed.

5. Talking Calculators and Math Simulation Software
Children with dyscalculia or fine motor skill disabilities find options like Math Talk and Talking Calculators useful. With voice to text function, it helps students to set up electronic visualizations of math concepts, eliminating the pen and paper model that may be difficult or impossible for some kids.

6. Electronic Worksheets
These make great options for testing and evaluations of children with special needs, as it incorporates multiple choice questions, audio and video questions, to make learning more engaging. Free versions like Google Forms are available.

7. Assisted Listening Devices
Children with multiple disabilities, like language and developmental delays, sensory-neural hearing loss, articulation disorders, may use assisted listening devices to augment the way sound reaches them. This can be in addition to hearing aids and cochlear implants, and it comprises of a microphone, transmission technology and a device to channel the sound to the patient’s ears. This technology varies from FM (Radiofrequencies) to Sound Field speaker systems for classrooms to enhance communication with the speaker.

8. Language Software and Graphic Organizers
There are many visual learning tools that can help children who have difficulties with written expression, to organize their train of thought. These can be applied to academics or to life lessons, and they make it easier for the child to sequence thoughts and ideas, and so easier to memorize and repeat. This is especially useful for dysgraphia and helps to bridge the gap between children with disabilities and education.
In addition to interactive surfaces like touchscreens, tools like the Live Scribe Echo Smart Pen there are many language editing software like Microsoft Tell Me feature (voice to action or text) and Microsoft Immersive Reader, and Ghotit, which with their inbuilt AI enabled algorithms and predictive text makes writing more convenient.

9. Wearable monitoring devices for children prone to Seizures
There are many monitoring wearable devices on the market that are able to detect abnormal movements in individuals prone to seizures and when attached to smart phones , are able to trigger alarms to signal for help and even send messages to a care giver with a GPS location , so that individuals can get emergency care without delay. The most popular ones are Embrace Smart watch and Smart Monitor bracelets.
The implementation of this technology can hopefully help with the growth and overall development of a child with disabilities, empowering them with tailor made solutions, ensuring that their learning is not just confined to classrooms!

Disclaimer: The content given is not intended to be a form of medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please consult your physician for any questions or before changing or starting medications or therapies.
Picture of Dr C P Ravikumar

Dr C P Ravikumar

Aster CMI Hospital, Bangalore