Technology has a way of sliding from the sci-fi past to the present like Michael J Foxs’ Delorean in “Back to the Future.” Remember the sliding doors in Star Trek on the USS Enterprise? We take them for granted now. And every time I see someone unlock their phone and talk to someone, I expect to hear them say, “Beam me up Scotty.” Live streaming video mail day is coming -soon. Every sci-fi film I’ve ever watched has someone talking to other people from the TV screen and we all laughed, but today I heard that our IT department provides a standard webcam built in on all newly released laptop models.
I had a completely wide-eyed moment today and I had to share it with you. I saw our doctor waving a Dr. type “tricorder”. McCoy-Star Trek on my son’s chest. “What’s that?” I have asked. The doctor explained that it would “re-align the asynchronous electrical impulses so that the respiratory infection can clear up.”
“Seriously?” I thought to myself. This is real. My son thought it tickled and the doctor carried out the treatment until the levels on the front showed the body had been recalibrated. Just when you think you’ve mastered a lot, something new pops up and surprises you.
I am a specialist in assistive technology. I see new things coming out in the market all the time. I have been involved in research and development of neural network mapping to determine the combinations of electrical impulses and frequencies that make up hand, wrist and arm movements. There is current research on how to recreate these impulses in the “bionic” arm that replaces the one that was severed. This research will allow our human brain to operate a new appendage with the mind.
I was at a national convention this fall where I sat down and had an eye gaze unit wirelessly track my retina from four feet away. As I looked around, the cursor on the large flat computer screen moved in the same direction. The costs are huge, but the technology is there for someone who is severely disabled and wants to access life via a computer. I’m sure I saw Tom Cruise do that in a movie a few years ago.
There is no way one person can know everything about any niche in technology anymore. The world is becoming more and more specialized. We have specialized services in niche niches that are in the niche market of specialized companies. This can get really crazy. I have heard predictions that there will come a time when someone with my job in general assistive technology will not be able to become an assistive technology specialist anymore. They should focus on the sub-categories because the specialization will be very intense.
How does this apply to parents of children with disabilities? If you are a parent, you need to know a few things:
1. You should be comfortable knowing that you can’t learn everything.
Don’t put yourself through guilt and frustration over this fact. Get an overview of the services and equipment your child may need. Be prepared to say “I don’t know but I can find out.” That is my greatest expression. I’ve learned how to find a needle in a haystack on the Internet when it comes to AT. I spend a lot of my time researching equipment, treatments, therapies, or definitions and descriptions of medical disorders online. Get ready to see the Internet as your best friend. There is so much information out there that it is surprising.
Most people don’t like wasting time looking for information. They want it done for them. If you have a disabled child, start looking and asking. There are answers out there. I don’t even pretend to think or want to bully you into thinking I know everything. “Everything” changes every day. If I comment on occupational and physical therapy support, new treatments for seizures and ADHD with neurofeedback for children using computer games and slot car race tracks, virtual reality simulations on TV with Wii, and so on, we’ll be here for the next 2 years. – and by then 70% of what we know will be obsolete and new technology will take over.
2. There are new and limitless possibilities for children with disabilities.
Where we are headed is going to be amazing. Textbooks need to be rewritten on how we serve children because of the impact of technology on every aspect of education and the delivery of special needs services. If you are the parent of a young child today, the advancements in technology to support would be amazing. This is a good time to be alive. You have choices that no one before you had. There is technology to support your wonderful child. Take the time to browse search blogs, forums and pod casts that talk about technology in education, assistive technology and alternative medicine trends for neurofeedback. Technology related to alternative medicine is getting more and more respect over time and shows great promise as it becomes a hybrid in collaboration with traditional medicine and medicine.
I imagine by the time you’re reading this, I’ll have to write a second edition. It doesn’t matter. As long as I don’t expect to catch up, I can relax and find things that work. That’s what it’s like to serve kids with assistive technology. Find out what works to support children.