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The benefits of educational technology for students with special needs

Fifty years ago, schools excluded nearly 1.8 million children with special needs because they had neither the means nor the desire to integrate them into a traditional setting. It wasn’t until the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 — later renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act — that these kids were finally welcome in schools across the U.S.

While this legislation did provide more opportunities for special needs children to receive an education, there were no materials or infrastructure available to accommodate them.

Special education has come a long way since then, and with it, new innovations in technology. Now, the impact of technology on students with learning differences is impossible to ignore. More than 6 million special needs kids attend traditional schools, with 95% of them spending at least part of their day in a classroom. Meanwhile, 63% spend 80% of their day in a stereotypical school.

So, how does technology help students with special needs? There’s virtually no limit to what technology and innovation can do to support these students. The following benefits are just a few ways technology creates a more inclusive learning environment for kids everywhere.

Simplifies Communication

In the past, teachers might have labeled kids who were unable to effectively communicate as shy, introverted, or problematic. Now, assistive technology for special needs is giving these students a voice. Augmentative communication helps students with speech problems interact with picture charts and computers.

Word-prediction technologies, tablets, smartboards, and similar technologies also lessen the emphasis on special needs students using something that implies they’re different. In other words, using this technology allows them to blend in while also encouraging them to speak up and stand out. It also allows students to learn in a way better suited to their brain and learning style.

Promotes Engagement

Ed-tech for students with special needs can also promote engagement.

In the traditional physical classroom, adaptive computing devices like e-readers and text-to-speech technologies can present information in new ways to cater to every learning style. Meanwhile, remote classrooms can use individualized lessons and pre-recorded videos to help special needs students learn at their own pace.

Once they get a good grasp of the lesson, they’ll feel empowered to interact with their peers and teachers.

Versatile, portable technology is creating a more interactive learning experience for special needs students, too. Recent innovations now allow students to take their assistive devices from the classroom to the playground will little to no effort. Plus, since their peers are using similar-looking technology, these kids don’t stand out.

Subsequently, teachers can better integrate special needs students and incorporate more interactive activities into their curriculum.

Enables Independence

Since technologies like cell phones and tablets are highly portable, they allow special needs students a new sense of freedom. Now, these kids can take their assistive devices all over school without sacrificing comprehension or communication skills.

Of course, teachers and parents must help their students develop a working knowledge of these devices. However, once they understand the logistics, they’ll be more likely to make their own decisions and go wherever they want, whenever they want to.

Once students have gained their independence, teachers can accurately monitor their progress by assigning group projects. For instance, if an instructor wants to teach their students about project management, she might let them plan a birthday party for one student and assign roles to the others. If their special needs student wants to test their independence, they may reach their own conclusion without others’ help or maybe even lead the group in discussing decorations, gifts, and preparations.

Reduces Anxiety

Promoting independence in the classroom with education technology will inevitably reduce anxiety in special needs students. When word-processing, spellchecking, grammatical tools, and video and recording technology allow them to keep up with the rest of the class and work independently, they’ll let go of any fear or guilt about holding their peers up.

In turn, this independence will boost their confidence and minimize classroom-related stress.

Tech can also increase autonomy so that  students with special needs don’t feel like a teacher is singling them out or completely neglecting them. For instance, instead of asking students to work out a math problem on the whiteboard, instructors can use a website or app to collect everyones’ answers. Then, they can discuss each student’s response without naming names. Eventually, this approach can reduce anxiety related to uncertainty, judgment from peers, and time-sensitive pressure to finish first.

Empowering the Next Generation

Most teachers are eager to use tech in the classroom because it improves the quality of education outcomes for students and themselves. However, many educators still lack access to existing technological infrastructure and adequate materials. These instructors rely on tools and devices intended for early childhood education to teach special needs students instead. Of course, these materials don’t satisfy the curriculum or empower kids.

Fortunately, new tech is on the way, and each new innovation helps special needs students embrace their potential and achieve more than they ever thought possible. One day, these kids will grow up to develop even better tech for the next generation of pupils. Thus, empowering one generation will empower the next.

About the Author

Ginger Abbot special education

 

Ginger Abbot is an education and lifestyle writer with a passion for learning. Read more of her work on Classrooms.com, where she serves as Editor when she’s not freelancing.

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