For most children, smartphones are a chance to play games, watch funny YouTube videos and catch up on their favorite animations. However, for about 17% of children aged 3 – 17 years in the USA with developmental disabilities, a cell phone offers new experiences. A cell phone for special needs provides the opportunity for the child to connect with society and engage in different activities.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, smartphones proved to be valuable in helping children with developmental disabilities learn online with the assistance of parents or caregivers. With the challenge of limited social interaction due to mandatory lockdowns and social distancing to minimize the risk of transmission, parents found that cell phones helped their special needs children learn and interact with family and friends. Smartphones are beneficial for encouraging children with intellectual and sensory disabilities to perform daily activities.
With the evolution of technology and the progressive growth of assistive technology, a cell phone for special needs is a powerful tool to leverage.
What is a disability-friendly phone?
Technology is continuously evolving which ensures that it is adapting to meet the user’s needs. Taking into account that every child and their circumstances are different, parents can use this to decide on the technology they are comfortable using and which would be useful for their child’s abilities and needs.
When it comes to choosing a disability-friendly phone, the features may look different because of the disabilities that defer from child to child. For example, an auditory impaired child would find close captioning and subtitles helpful whereas a visually impaired child would find voice activation useful.
A disability-friendly phone may include the following accessibility features:
– Adjustable text size and style
– Color conversion (contrast and correction)
– Screen size
– Touch screen
– Voice activation
– Hearing aid support
- Emergency support
- Parental control options
- Reminders and alarms
- Adaptive functionality
A good disability-friendly phone is one that meets the needs of the child and assists with parental support.
Tips for choosing and using a phone for a child with disabilities / special needs
When choosing a cell phone for a special needs child, it is vital to pick one that supports the child’s needs. In addition, it should allow for a parent or caregiver to mentor and monitor the child.
To get started, here are six essential and practical tips to know:
Consider getting an iPhone, because it has more relevant features than Android
With an estimated 6.6 billion people owning a smartphone, you will most likely find most phones run on Android or iOS. While both have excellent accessibility features, iPhone takes the lead with its uniform and simple interface, a wide range of accessibility features, and apps dedicated to helping children with special needs.
When it comes to a cell phone for special needs that caters to people with disabilities, Apple’s iPhone is considered more popular as a survey showed that about 18.5% of people with visual disabilities preferred it for its accessibility settings and superior mobile platform. In addition, iPhones and iPads have been integral in helping people/children with ADHD and other learning disabilities with apps that are accessible and user-friendly.
We should mention, however, that iPhones are expensive, so it can be difficult for some parents to afford them. Alternatively, you can buy an older model (10+), at a discount or a refurbished iPhone as it still has the functionalities needed.
We recommend the iPhone for its noteworthy accessibility features over its Android counterpart that are helpful for special needs children. Remember that the best choice is one that meets your child’s needs and fits in your budget.
Set up safety controls from the phone’s settings
To further ensure your child’s safety and regulate their screen time, you can use the phone’s safety control settings. Apple products like iPhones and iPads, have safety controls such as content & privacy restrictions, prevent iTunes & App Store purchases, restrict the use of built-in apps or features with additional expanded protections for children’s safety, and more. Parental controls on Android include restricted access to Apps & Games, Music, Movies, TV, and Books, in-app purchases, and set age limits.
Safety controls are set up depending on the cell phone’s capabilities.
Set up parental control apps
With the introduction of a cell phone for a special needs child, it is the parent’s responsibility to teach them the phone functionalities, associated social and phone etiquette and equally monitor phone activity. Special needs children are usually the victims of cyberbullying and predators, suffer from undue influence, or can be scammed into sharing private information.
In addition, smartphones can be both addictive and a distraction so cutting back on screen time can be a tough transition for the child. To manage the situation from the beginning, it’s important to install parental control apps that help monitor and protect the child.
Parental control apps like MMGuardian are expertly-designed and AI-powered to protect your special needs child and give you parental control to ensure your child’s safety is a priority. MMGuardian comes with features such as:
- Time Limits to define usage time blocks and lockdowns except for emergencies
- Location tracking to locate your child
- Web filtering and safe browsing to block web access to inappropriate content
- Message monitoring to read and track social media messages
- Safety alerts when messages contain trigger categories such as suicidal thoughts, violence, pornography, and more.
- Call and SMS blocking to protect your child from bullying and blocking unwanted contacts
What’s more, is MMGuardian’s patented anti-tamper technology prevents children from uninstalling the app. The platform helps parents monitor and assist their special needs children as they navigate owning and using a cell phone.
Delete unnecessary apps and prevent the download of other apps
We recommend when getting a cell phone for a special needs child that it is essential to delete and disable unnecessary apps like YouTube, Facebook, Facetime, and more which usually come pre-installed on the device. This helps minimize screen time and limit access to inappropriate content.
Parents can use MMGuardian’s App Control feature to disable the App Store to automatically set newly installed apps to be blocked. Furthermore, you’ll receive an alert when a new app is installed and can decide whether to leave it blocked, to allow it but with usage restrictions or to allow the app to be used at any time.
Patiently teach your child how to use the phone
For special needs children, learning a new skill can be a tough journey. As a parent, you will need to patiently teach your child the phone functionalities and the correct social skills to use it. For example, explaining that they can’t call friends in the middle of the night or reply to messages from strangers.
It is also important to explain to the child the responsibilities that come with a cell phone and the rules that govern its use.
Consult with your child’s therapist
Pondering the decision to introduce a cell phone to your special needs child? We recommend that you talk to your child’s therapist. They are trained professionals who know your child’s needs and abilities and can offer advice, insights, and even suggestions on when and how to introduce technology to your child.
What to beware of?
We have talked about the merits of a cell phone for special needs and how it can be useful in helping the child with educational support, learning independence, and social interactions. As we know, technology equally comes with a dark side and for special needs children, this can be challenging to navigate.
As a parent, you need to let your child know of the possible dangers that they can face while using a cell phone, and the warning signs to look out for. Your role is also to create guidelines and boundaries on cell phone use and to monitor your child’s phone activity.
Some of the dangers special needs children will face are:
- Cyberbullying where a report shows that 14.5% of children between the ages of 9 and 12 have been cyberbullied over mediums like text messages and social media.
- Predators are known to mostly target children. An FBI report shows that more than 50% of their victims are aged 12 to 15 and 89% of victims are contacted by online predators through chat rooms and instant messaging. Online predators like to groom children and then use peer pressure to get whatever they want.
- Too much screen time can cause sleep problems, overly stimulating for sensory disabilities, behavioral problems, and declining mental health. This can be resolved using parental control apps, limiting screen time, and encouraging participation in other activities.
These dangers are why parents must monitor their children’s cell phone activity to protect them from the negative behavior and actions of others.
Ultimately the decision to get a cell phone for a special needs child is up to you as a parent, the benefit your child will derive from it, and what safety measures you can install to ensure responsible use.
When setting up parental controls, MMGuardian is the go-to platform that parents use to keep their children safe with alerts and detailed reports of messages, web browsing, and phone call activity that enable you to see the big picture or dive into specific areas of interest or concern. The software gives parents the ability to protect and monitor the cell phone for special needs they give their child.
If you use MMGuardian, you can get a cell phone for special needs for your child and know that they are in safe hands.
To get started with MMGuardian and receive a 14-day free trial, click here.
Consider also joining our Facebook group “Tech-Savvy Parenting” to discuss raising kids in the 21st century with other parents.