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  • Writer's pictureJohn Roberts

The Origins of Show Me #2 - A Parent's Perspective

I first noticed my son Joseph being ignored by his peers at a second birthday party :-(

Already, by the age of two, his learning disability meant that he couldn't join in their play and couldn't communicate with them.

Joseph will be 16 later this month and should be arranging a party with his friends. But he won't be, as Joseph doesn't really have any friends. Though he's surrounded by many people who love him dearly, he still lacks the skills to build friendships. In fact, he lacks many of the life skills he'll need to lead an independent life, so we will continue to support and help him to lead his best life as he develops into adulthood.

Joseph, however, does have a key skill. Put a touchscreen device in his hands and he's away into a world he can understand that provides him with both entertainment and learning opportunities.

Most, if not all, of Joseph's peers in special schools share this love of touchscreen devices for the reason Apple explained when they first launched the iPad - "you already know how to use it". They're intuitive and predictable, unlike people, so provide a perfect environment to explore for kids with SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disabilities).

A key part of special education is finding motivators for SEND kids to want to engage and communicate, like the "Attention Autism" intervention model designed by Gina Davies and adopted by many special schools. Touchscreen devices and apps are huge motivators for SEND kids, so would seem to be an ideal tool to help in their learning. Surely they could be used in school and particularly at home, where busy parents (particularly in recent times) are desperate to find meaningful educational activities for their children with learning disabilities.

But this is where it stumbles. Over the years, we have encountered significant problems in deciding what to use and how to use it with Joseph, including:

  • What devices should we use?

Having drowned and broken at least 10 (some "premium") devices, we have settled on commonly available lower cost options for Joseph. And we are not alone in struggling with the cost of regularly having to replace expensive kit that wasn't designed for rugged use by kids with learning difficulties. Parents would really welcome advise on the best devices to use and, perhaps, creative funding options.

  • What apps should we use?

Through the years we have been provided with multiple long lists of educational programmes and apps to use, but limited guidance on which ones to use with Joseph. Worse, they are often available only on devices we don't have. And some of the more sophisticated apps, such as those for communications, come with hefty price tags (including one for £130 that Joseph could never use).

  • Even if we can find appropriate apps, how should we use them?

Whilst "best practices" in the use of technology in mainstream education are developing apace, there is no common approach in special schools. Most schools do their absolute best with the resources and technology staff they have and can afford. But with no common approach, schools and parents lack resources to help them decide what to use, when and how.

Watching Joseph (and his peers) use touchscreens and apps, shows us that he has cognitive ability that would be unknown to us if he had no access to these intuitive devices.

Surely the community involved in creating and using these touchscreen devices and apps for, and within, special education could work more closely together to improve their use in SEND learning.

This is the goal of Show Me Community Interest Company. If we can just start the journey to improve the way we work, perhaps Joseph and his peers can learn to better communicate and build friendships to celebrate their birthdays together.

Show Me CIC is a not-for-profit organisation that is raising funds to help kick start its activities. If you would like to help us on the way, please visit our GoFundMe campaign here, or here for other ways to join in.

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