Mum of SEND teen shares the positive impact of tech on her child

Tech offers great opportunities for children to develop their skills and for some children, it can become a more powerful tool to break down barriers experienced in the real life. Sarah, mum to Amber who has autism, shares the important role the online world plays in her child’s daily life.

Exploring real-world online

Amber spends a lot of time learning about subjects she’s passionate about on the internet. She’ll read up about mindfulness, history, dogs, art or anything she’s really interested in at the time. Spending time reading about these topics has really helped lower her anxiety.

Breaking down barriers through online gaming

In everyday life, Amber finds making friends a challenge but through playing games such as Minecraft on her Xbox, she has been able to connect with others and have those important social interactions, helping her develop friendships and the social skills that you need in everyday life.

Combating lockdown challenges with tech

During the pandemic, technology has been really great for Amber. Particularly with FaceTime, she can still feel connected to her grandparents. Amber has an older brother who also has SEND who left for university in September. At home, Amber and her brother have limited conversation but since he left for university they have had regular and lengthy conversations via FaceTime, which has been really lovely to watch.

Amber doesn’t often respond well to direct demands. If I was to say to Amber ‘It’s time to get up for school’, it might not go down too well. However, if you use something like Alexa and do an announcement into her bedroom, she responds really well to the indirect demand and therefore I don’t have to say anything and she instantly gets up and comes downstairs. For her mental health, we’ll ask Amber to walk the dog each day and again she’ll respond well to instructions from Alexa which says ‘the dog needs to be walked in 5 minutes’.

Smart use of tech to reduce anxiety

You have to make sure children are safe on the internet but in my opinion, there’s lots and lots of positives. We’ve used the internet for years. Pre-COVID we’d always go abroad on holiday, so from when Amber was very young, we would use the internet to Google the airport – what the inside of the aeroplane looks like, what airline we’re going with, where we’re staying – it’s all this preparation work that is absolutely key for the majority of autistic young people. It helps to reduce anxiety as they don’t cope well with change and transition. This can be used for lots of situations, such as when a child is transitioning to a new school.

The positive impact of digital learning

During the pandemic, Amber has used Google Classrooms and responded really well – she’s actually doing a lot better through online learning as she’s able to focus a lot more. The school day can be a long day for Amber, cutting out the travel to and from school has reduced Amber’s anxiety and for the majority of the subjects, she studies Amber has really engaged well. It’s been a really positive experience for us.

Importance of building digital resilience

I totally accept that Amber may be more vulnerable online due to her autism but taking the internet away is not an option. My approach is to keep as involved as possible in what she does and encourage her to develop digital resilience.

Sarah Aldridge is co-director of Autism Apprentice and mum to Trinity School and College pupil Amber. Amber has autism, PTSD and high anxiety. Having an online life has helped Amber tremendously – both academically and with lowering her anxiety. Autism creates a barrier for Amber which means she struggles with face to face interaction but the screen reduces her anxiety and makes her feel safe.

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