“I Love You, Alexa!” – Technology & the Child with Special Needs

“It’s not a faith in technology. It’s faith in people.”

– Steve Jobs

I was washing dishes one morning when I overheard T talking with our smart home assistant device, Alexa.

T: “Alexa… I love you.”

Alexa: “That’s nice of you to say.”

T: *Repeats over and over again* “Alexa…”

Alexa: “Sorry, I’m having trouble processing your request. If you continue to have issues, please contact support.”

Travis: “Alexa!”

Alexa: *shutting down noise*

It turns out that even an Artificial Intelligence being finds our little guy to be a handful!

When I look at the abundance of technology and the possibilities they present for T, I can’t help but compare it to what I had when I was his age. Personal computers were still a luxury. Nintendo was in its starting days. Betamax was on its way out. My family had a rotary phone.

Today’s technology opens up so many ways for children to learn, play, create, express themselves, and connect.

It also presents alternative options for children with special needs and their parents and educators.

T is a hands-on learner and we’ve started to incorporate different types of technology into his day-to-day life and they have benefited his growth:

Educational apps – Khan Academy Kids is a great free app that provides play-based learning activities that are short and range from alphabets and reading to numbers and counting. T and I do 2-3 activities in the morning and in the evening. ToDo Math and Interactive Telling Time are two other apps we’re playing with to build his interest and familiarity with math and telling time.

Creation apps – My hubby downloaded a bunch of free creation apps that T likes to play with that lets him pretend to be a baker by decorating cupcakes or to be a hair stylist by cutting pretend hair. T also likes digital drawing apps. It’s fun to see T’s imagination grow.

Communication apps – T’s Grammy and Grandad only see him once or twice a year, so they use FaceTime to keep in touch. When my Ma went overseas for four months recently, T chatted with her via Facebook Messenger.

Camera apps – T sneaks off with my phone from time to time and it’s fun to see the photos he takes. I often see them by surprise when I am on my commute to work. They bring big smiles to my face as I see the world through his eyes in snapshots of time.

Smart devices – T is comfortable and chatty with our Alexa smart home device, often asking her to play music, tell him the weather outside, and even to ask her to fart. It’s very amusing to see Alexa grow weary and tired of him.

It’s incredible how quickly kids figure out how tech works. As T gets older, I have no doubt he will dabble with video games (can’t wait to game with him), social media, and whatever comes after.

I look forward to introducing him to maker culture, such as robotics, that will allow him to build STEM skills. T loves to break things, tinker with them and to put things together. I am optimistic he will enjoy and do well in this area.

As with all technology, monitoring its use by little kids is important. I’m mindful but not overly obsessive about screen time recommendations.

I also expect the important conversations we’ll have one day about online safety, data privacy and how to navigate himself as a digital citizen.

But for now, I will enjoy the time we spend together playing, learning and having fun on Khan Academy Kids. We’re usually half sitting and half lying down on his bed, his head pressed against mine, my hand holding my phone away from his face, and his fingers tapping on the screen, following the instructions provided by the friendly digital teacher.

These moments illustrate that the human element in technology is so important, as we play, learn and grow together. As T’s profession of love to Alexa shows so well, the most impactful technology are those that enable meaningful human connection.

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