We live in an age of technology that is breaking at the seams. Communication has never been so easy. When it comes to children who are learning and developing communication, technology steps in and has a big influence on that too.
Face-to-face human interaction is certainly the preferred method of teaching children language skills, but communication is more than just talking. Learning to listen, body language, reading and writing are all forms of communication.
Improving a child’s speech and language skills with technology
Technology can help improve speech and language skills. It’s not how you learn. though. Children acquire language skills quite easily, all on their own. You don’t necessarily need any teaching or training. According to the Linguistic Society of America, the way children acquire language is through interactionnot only with their parents and other adults but also with other children.
Typical children growing up in typical homes, surrounded by conversation, will pick up the language that is used around them. Technology can add to it. For example, touchscreen tablets. There are many apps available to help with speech and language development.
Therapy Source recommends the following as the top 10:
- Articulation Station.
- Talk therapy.
- Understanding keywords.
- Let’s be Social: Development of Social Skills.
- Sensory CineVox.
- Word Vault / Word Vault Pro.
- Speech FlipBook – Articulation and apraxia.
- voice tutor
- 4 in 1 speech therapy
Of course, as with all technology, parents are urged to keep track of children’s screen time, even when it comes to learning apps.
Another form of technology to help with communication is video chat. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) considers video chat separate from their daily screen time recommendations. Video chat can help a child form social connections. It is different from apps as the child can have a conversation. They talk and someone answers. It is an important part of developing language skills. You can also play a game or read together.
How children with delays or special needs can benefit from technology
Not all children are the same. They do not always learn in the same way, or even at the same speed. There is nothing wrong with this, and technology can be very beneficial in helping you communicate. Human interaction isn’t always easy for kids who learn differently, have physical disabilities, or have executive function deficits.
Assistive technology (AT) is often used to help children with communication difficulties.. Whether talking, listening, watching or writing. For this reason, there are many different forms of assistive technology. The Assistive Technology Industry Association defines these different forms as:
- Low technology: communication boards made of cardboard or fuzzy felt.
- High technology: special purpose computers.
- Hardware: prosthetics, mounting systems and positioning devices.
- computer hardware: switches, keyboards and special pointing devices.
- PC Software: screen readers and communication programs.
- Inclusive or specialized learning materials and curriculum aids.
- Specialized curriculum software.
- Electronic devices, wheelchairs, walkers, braces, educational software, electric lifts, pen holders, gaze and head trackers, and much more.
Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)
CAA stands for all the ways someone communicates besides speaking. This is a specific type of assistive technology. Anyone who has speech and language problems can use AAC; This is not specifically for children. Augmentative means to add to someone’s speech. Alternative means to use instead of speech.
There are quite a few different forms of CAA; Not everyone uses technology. For example:
- gestures and facial expressions
- He drew
- Spell words by pointing to the letters
- Point to pictures or written words.
“No-tech” or “low-tech” forms of AAC would be considered.
“High-tech” forms of AAC include, but are not limited to:
- touch screen devices; iPads, tablets
- Computers with talking software
Pros and cons of using technology for communication
Some advantages of using technology are:
- It can be exciting for children and motivating for them.
- You can prepare children for the future use of technology.
- It can encourage spontaneous learning.
- You can provide instant access to information.
Some disadvantages of using technology are:
- It can discourage creativity.
- It can take away from real life socializing.
- It can be a distraction for some children.
- It can cause frustration if a child doesn’t understand.
- Bad connection problems.
How to balance technology and human interaction
Typical communication needs two people. If a child uses technology as their main source of learning that skill, they may miss out on that important contact. Ideally, young children should have human interaction to learn communication skills. Technology provides additional help on top of that.
Managing a child’s screen time can be challenging for families. Kids are never too young for screen time, nor are they too young for a screen time plan. AACAP asks parents to consider the following guidelines. Of course, all family structures are different, so guidelines may differ.
- Birth-18 months: Limited to video chat. An aunt, uncle or grandparents, for example.
- 18-24 months: adding educational programming.
- Ages 2-5: Try to limit non-educational technology use to no more than 60 minutes per day. Weekends may look different and time could be extended to 3 hours per day.
- Over 6 years old: encourage healthy habits and limit activities that include screens.
- When the family is together, playing games, eating, or on a day trip, for example, trying to have all screens off is a good idea.
- Parents should try to keep up with parental controls on all technology.
- Screens should never take the place of a babysitter or be used to solve problems. Children can often have seizures to get their way, but parents are encouraged to look for healthy alternatives to technology during these times.
- Screens must be off [ideally] no later than 30 minutes before bedtime.
Sources: Linguistic Society of America, Therapy Source, Assistive Technology Industry Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, AACAP