Technology has a way of skidding from science fictions 'past into the present like Michael J Foxs' Delorean in "Back to the Future". Remember those sliding doors in Star Trek on the USS Enterprise? We take them for granted now. And every time I see someone flip open a cell phone and talk to someone, I expect to hear them say "Beam me up Scotty." The day of live streamed video mail is coming soon -very soon. Every science fiction movie I ever saw had someone talking to someone else from a TV screen and we all laughed, yet today I heard that our IT department is supplying built in web-cams standard on all newly issued laptop models.
I had a real wide-eyed moment today and I have to share it with you. I watched our doctor wave a Dr. McCoy-Star Trek-type "tricorder" over my sons chest. "What IS that?" I had asked. The doctor explained that it would "re-align the electrical impulses that were out of sync so his respiratory infection could heal."
"Seriously?" I thought to myself. This was real. My son thought it tickled and the doctor did the treatment until the levels on the front showed the body had re-calibrated. Just when you think you are getting a handle on things, something new pops up and surprises you.
I am a specialist in assistive technology. I see new things that come out on the market all the time. I have been following the research and development of mapping the neuro-network of the brain to pinpoint the combinations of impulses and electrical frequencies that make up hand, wrist and arm movements. There are studies right now on how to re-create these impulses in "bionic" arms that replace severed ones. The research will allow our human brain to operate the new appendage by thought.
I was at a national convention this fall where I sat and had an eye gaze unit wirelessly track my retina from four feet away. As I looked around, the cursor on a large flat computer screen moved in the same direction. The cost was huge, but the technology was there for someone who is severely disabled and wants to access life through a computer. I'm sure I saw Tom Cruise do that in a movie a couple of years ago.
There is no way any one person can know it all about any niche in technology anymore. The world is becoming more and more specialized. We have specialized services within specialized niches that are in specialized markets of specialized companies. It can get pretty crazy. I have heard predictions that there will come a time when a person with my job in general assistive technology will not be able to be an assistive technology specialist anymore. They will have to focus on a sub-category because the specialization will be so intense.
How does this apply to parents of children with disabilities? If you are a parent, You need to know a couple of things:
1. You should be comfortable in knowing that you can't learn it all.
Don't put yourself through guilt and frustration over this fact. Just 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 biggest phrase. I have learned how to find a needle in a haystack on the Internet when it comes to AT. I spend a great deal of my time online researching equipment, treatment, therapy or definitions and descriptions of medical disorders. Be ready to see the Internet as your best friend. There is so much information out there it is staggering.
Most people hate to waste time searching for information. They want it done for them. If you have a child with a disability, start searching and asking. There are answers out there. I don't even pretend to think or want to bluff you into thinking that I know all there is. "All there is" changes every day. If I were to comment on occupational and physical therapy supports, new treatment for seizures and ADHD with neurofeedback for children using computer games and slot car race tracks, simulating virtual reality on the TV with a Wii, and so on, we would be here for the next 2 years – and by then 70% of what we knew would be obsolete and new technologies would have taken over.
2. There are new and limitless possibilities for young children with disabilities.
Where we are headed is going to be amazing. The textbooks need to be re-written on how we serve children because of the impact of technology in every aspect of education and special needs service delivery. If you are a parent of a small child today, the advances in technology to support are going to be incredible. It is a good time to be alive. You have options no one had before you. There is technology to support your child that is amazing. Take some time to look search blogs, forums and pod casts that talk about technology in education, assistive technology and trends in alternative medicine for neurofeedback. The technology associated with alternative medicine is gaining more respect as time goes on and shows great promise as it becomes a hybrid in collaboration with traditional medicine and treatment.
I imagine by the time you read this, I'll need to be writing a second edition. That's OK. As long as I don't expect to ever catch up, I can relax and find the things that work. That is what serving children with assistive technology is all about anyway. Finding out what works to support kids.