Communication and Computers for kids with special needs

A while ago I promised another parent that I would write a little bit about what I’ve learned regarding how to make computers accessible to young children with special needs. I don’t know too much as we haven’t spent too much time on this, but I though I’d write about what I know!

Making Computers Accessible to Kids with Severe Motor Impairments

* To allow kids to use switches with a compuer, a switch interface is needed. This plugs into the USB of the computer and allows the child to press the switch to “click” – instead of the mouse. It doesn’t allow them to move the cursor around – just to click – so it can only be used with software / sites that are cause & effect oriented where the child just presses the switch and something happens on the screen. Here is an example of a switch interface:

Don Jonston Switch Interface Pro 5.0

* If a child doesn’t have too much motor control, an arm support can be used. This will support his hand over the switch so all he has to do is press. Here’s an example:


* Kids who have more motor control can use a joystick. Here’s an example of a good joystick:

Roller 2 Joystick

This website has some other good joysticks that can be used.

Games that the child can play

* Start the child with simple cause and effect games. Some games have been especially created for children with special needs for use with switches and incorporates skills like scanning and sequencing. Here are a few examples:

One example of a good cause and effect game is Wheels on the Bus. This was created by SoftTouch. The child clicks on the mouse and something happens. A few other good cause and effect games were created by Linda Burkhart. RJ cooper also has a few. Judy Lynn also has some wonderful games for kids.

* There are some websites where a child can play and learn basic skills like the alphabet, cause and effect, etc:


PBS Kids

Fisher Price

Nick Jr

Sesame workshop



* At Target, Wal-mart, Best Buy, etc. there is a section for software games. If you go to the preschool section, there are many different choices of age appropriate games for our kids to play with. If they can use a joystick – fabulous! Without use of a joystick, you will have to play with them and help them navigate through the games. This website shows a great selection: Preschool Toddlers

We’ve used Reader Rabbit with Nathan, as well as Caillou and Jump Start.

Using the computer to teach communication skills

* Intellitools is another method that can be used to start teaching a child how to communicate, if the child is non-verbal. You can use pre-existing overlays or create your own. Speaking Dynamically Pro is another similar software that is easier to use for beginners.

* Here is some information that another mom posted that I think will be helpful here:



Dr. Janice Light webcasts:

Now if you take only 1 thing from this post, it should be this:

This presentation completely blew me away. It shows how she taught kids not just how to communicate but she helped them become fully literate using augmentative communication. She is a huge advocate of starting as early as possible with kids that have speech difficulties.

In the presentation she shows videos of a child with severe CP who becomes fully literate within 1 year of starting to use augmentative communication. I was blown away! It’s very inspiring.

This week will be my “communication” them week so I will post about the dynavox as well so you can see what an actual device looks like and how it works, as well as how we’ve customized it for Nathan.

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