9 ways to make devices more usable for kids with special needs

One-size-fits-all might be fine for some things, but that's not always the case when it comes to technology—especially if you have a child with special needs. Fortunately, you can tweak most tablets, phones, and computers to make them work better for your child. Whether your kid has vision, hearing, attention, or communication issues, different settings can reduce frustration and improve the experience.

Don't be afraid to experiment. Even when you make changes, you can always go back to the default setting. And remember, although this may be a new world and language to you, kids typically take to tech devices faster than parents, so let them test things out. As you're learning, check the website for your device or YouTube for tutorials to help you navigate and learn about the variety of options for your device.


Here are a few tips to get you started:

1. Use accessibility settings (all devices, all operating systems).

Accessibility settings are specifically designed for people with special needs. There are settings that narrate commands for kids with hearing loss, invert colors for kids with vision issues, provide dictation for kids with dyslexia, and more. Look in the Settings folder on your device for different options. In iOS, you can create an accessibility shortcut to quickly change settings.

2. Enable restrictions (iOS).

Find Restrictions by going to Settings/General. You can create a passcode (which is different from the password that unlocks your phone) that blocks access to different features including the Safari browser, the camera, FaceTime, the iTunes Store, the iBooks Store, in-app purchases, Siri, and more.

3. Set up restricted profiles (Android).

On Android devices, you can create individual user profiles, restricting or allowing access to different features for different people. Go to Settings -> Device -> Users to add a new profile.

4. Lock rotation (most devices).

This is a handy setting that reduces frustration, especially when you're sharing a device with your kid. You can lock the mode you prefer so you can view your device only in portrait or landscape mode. In iOS, portrait orientation is located in the Control Center.

5. Mute (all devices).

If your child is noise-sensitive, you can mute the volume.

7. Use a key guard (all devices).

These clear or colored plastic overlays have openings for each icon on the screen of a communication app such as Proloquo2go. These are helpful for kids who may have difficulty with motor skills. Colored key guards are available for kids with low vision. You can order customized key guards for different devices and apps.

8. Limit options (all devices).

Try not to overload your child's computer with too many apps. On the Mac, Simple Finder displays only three folders (enable it by going to Parental Controls). On other iOS devices, you can enable Guided Access (find it in Accessibility Settings), which temporarily disables everything but the app your kid is using. In Android's restricted user profile, you can allow access to a small number of apps.

9. Organize apps (all devices).

To help your child stay organized, both iOS and Android let you add apps into separate folders and label them, for example, as games, books, or math. In iOS, hold your finger over the app you want to put into a folder; when it jiggles, drag it on top of another app you want to put into the same folder and let go. It's a similar process on Android devices.

Originally posted on Common Sense Media.

You might also like:

I felt lost as a new mother, but babywearing helped me find myself again

I wish someone had told me before how special wearing your baby can be, even when you have no idea how to do it.

My first baby and I were alone in our Brooklyn apartment during a particularly cold spring with yet another day of no plans. My husband was back at work after a mere three weeks of parental leave (what a joke!) and all my friends were busy with their childless lives—which kept them too busy to stop by or check in (making me, at times, feel jealous).

It was another day in which I would wait for baby to fall asleep for nap number one so I could shower and get ready to attempt to get out of the house together to do something, anything really, so I wouldn't feel the walls of the apartment close in on me by the time the second nap rolled around. I would pack all the diapers and toys and pacifiers and pump and bottles into a ginormous stroller that was already too heavy to push without a baby in it .

Then I would spend so much time figuring out where we could go with said stroller, because I wanted to avoid places with steps or narrow doors (I couldn't lift the stroller by myself and I was too embarrassed to ask strangers for help—also hi, New Yorkers, please help new moms when you see them huffing and puffing up the subway stairs, okay?). Then I would obsess about the weather, was it too cold to bring the baby out? And by the time I thought I had our adventure planned, the baby would wake up, I would still be in my PJs and it was time to pump yet again.

Slowly, but surely, and mostly thanks to sleep deprivation and isolation, I began to detest this whole new mom life. I've always been a social butterfly. I moved to New York because I craved that non-stop energy the city has and in the years before having my baby I amassed new friends I made through my daily adventures. I would never stop. I would walk everywhere just to take in the scenery and was always on the move.

Now I had this ball and chain attached to me, I thought, that didn't even allow me to make it out of the door to walk the dog. This sucks, I would think regularly, followed by maybe I'm not meant to be a mom after all.

Keep reading Show less

Every week, we stock the Motherly Shop with innovative and fresh products from brands we feel good about. We want to be certain you don't miss anything, so to keep you in the loop, we're providing a cheat sheet.

So, what's new this week?

Meri Meri: Decor and gifts that bring the wonder of childhood to life

We could not be more excited to bring the magic of Meri Meri to the Motherly Shop. For over 30 years, their playful line of party products, decorations, children's toys and stationery have brought magic to celebrations and spaces all over the world. Staring as a kitchen table endeavor with some scissors, pens and glitter in Los Angeles in 1985, Meri Meri (founder Meredithe Stuart-Smith's childhood nickname) has evolved from a little network of mamas working from home to a team of 200 dreaming up beautiful, well-crafted products that make any day feel special.

We've stocked The Motherly Shop with everything from Halloween must-haves to instant-heirloom gifts kiddos will adore. Whether you're throwing a party or just trying to make the everyday feel a little more special, we've got you covered.

Not sure where to start? Here's what we're adding to our cart:

Keep reading Show less

The American Academy of Pediatrics says that newborns, especially, do not need a bath every day. While parents should make sure the diaper region of a baby is clean, until a baby learns how to crawl around and truly get messy, a daily bath is unnecessary.

So, why do we feel like kids should bathe every day?

Keep reading Show less
Learn + Play