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By: Keren Melamed and Noa Nitzan
The breakthroughs in mobile technology are impacting just about everyone – including children and adults with disabilities. We quickly realized that, for children with disabilities, the iPad is the tool that can change many aspects of their lives and the lives of their family members.
It began with a gut feeling, supported by our knowledge and experience with technology and with the deep understanding that we have of the needs of our children on a day-to-day basis. We believed that the iPad had the potential to cause a sea change in the quality of life of children with disabilities. And so we began to use the iPad in a variety of ways: as a tool for alternative communication, as a learning tool, and most importantly as a tool that allowed for everyone to play a game together.
Playing with the iPad
We have found that children who have a difficult time playing and entertaining themselves because of low motivation and/or motor difficulties, cognitive difficulties, etc., can easily and independently occupy themselves with the iPad. The reasons for this include: ease of use, the intuitive way in which the iPad operates, the fact that it is mobile and easily transported, the verbal and visual feedback, the high quality graphics, among others. In addition to these factors, an equally important characteristic is the iPad’s popularity and availability in Israel and all over the world. We have already seen that families are more inclined to and excited about using the iPad as a tool for their children with disabilities because it is normative and not a “special” tool. And, most importantly: the benefit that the children receive from achieving new levels of independence.
Ronny is 5 years old and has Cerebral Palsy. Because of her motor difficulties, it is challenging for her to play independently and complete her daily tasks- she requires constant help from those around her. Despite these difficulties, Ronny has very high learning potential. She speaks and expresses herself clearly. The gap between her cognitive ability and her physical ability is quite large and is what prompted the staff to suggest the iPad to help her bridge that gap. She knows what games she wants to play and she can find them on the iPad and operate them independently. Beyond that, Ronny now plays games that used to be beyond her reach such as with dolls or role-playing games like doctor and patient, or doing puzzles. The iPad has served as motivation for Ronny to do other activities that are difficult for her such as walking with a walker.
The iPad at Home
Many parents tell us about the changes they have seen at home since their children have begun using the iPad. According to the mother of Itamar, an 11 year old who attends the Special Education School at Beit Issie Shapiro: “Itamar has been using the iPad for almost 3 years, and it is safe to say that the iPad is way more than just a machine. It is his mouth, his speaker, his friend, his most beloved object. Itamar uses the iPad both to communicate with his family and friends at school, as well as to play games during his free time. Over time, we have witnessed beautiful dialogue between Itamar and his younger brothers. He now expresses his feelings towards them and they respond to him. He is able to share his experiences from school and ask about theirs. Itamar’s use of the iPad serves as the basis for his entire relationship with the family, and we have no doubt that it is going to continue to serve him well in all aspects of his life.”
Technology is already doing wonderful things for children with disabilities. We can’t wait to see what the future holds!
Keren Melamed and Noa Nitzan aree Occupational Therapists at Beit Issie Shapiro in Ra’anana Israel. Beit Issie Shapiro is Israel’s leading organization in the field of disabilities and is always on the cutting-edge, innovating new therapies and solutions for children with disabilities such as the use of iPads as a therapeutic and recreational tool. Watch this video to learn more about their iPad Project.