Special Needs and the Digital Platform

special needs and the digital platform

Children with Special Needs have a unique way of viewing the world. While this can present with its fair share of challenges, a digital context can provide those that work with them an opportunity to increase engagement, develop independence and express their interests and passions in a way that empowers them to communicate more fluently with the world around them. 

With communication in mind, the first place to start is with individualizing their world by identifying who they are and what is important to them. Who are they, and how best do they like to learn? Simple tools such as iPad camera and movie maker record and encourage visual recognition of self and those who contribute to their daily interactions.  The simple act of being able to take a “selfie” is often met with delight and can become the foundation for interactive writing tools such as Bitsboard and Bookcreator. 

Once an engagement profile is established, appropriate tools and devices can be incorporated to strengthen and support their individualized learning goals. Many children with Special Needs (such as autism) are learning to speak, self-regulate their emotions, develop routines and engage in positive social interactions. A simple “selfie” of different facial expressions showing emotions such as, happy, sad, or angry will provide a personalised visual tool that can be used to label and understand emotions. When integrated with strategies such as those from The Zones of Regulation and the bitmoji app, support staff can help students to recognise which zone they are operating in on a daily basis. Visuals are an important aspect to any special needs program and this can be kept as an ongoing self-reflection and evaluation tool to help regulate learning and social behaviours throughout the day.

Communication with whanau is often an extra chore added to an already busy day. By utilizing applications such as Seesaw, Educa and Storypark, recording the learning happens in real time. Achievements can be fleeting and brief. Teachers need to be capture these moments and quickly post them before moving on the next learning task. Ideally students can post their own wins for the day under folders that directly link with their learning goals. Parents can post pictures and videos of weekend time spent with their children which will not only grow holistic connections to home and school  but provide interesting content for future interactions with other class members and inspiration for writing, speaking and reading. Knowing that their interests are meaningful to those around them can help improve engagement and become the pathway for literacy and numeracy development.

An example of this would be Tim, a 5 year old boy, who struggles to articulate words in order to be understood by those around him. He loves cats, has one at home and will happily take photos of Fluffy with his iPad. With help from Mum and Dad, several pictures are taken of Fluffy over the weekend. He returns to school on Monday and now has something visual to share with the class for morning news. He can whisper the word “Fluffy” as he stands with his Teacher aide in front of the class at morning news. The pictures are then uploaded to bitsboard to form the basis of a pictorial story about Tim’s life with Fluffy. Ideally Tim leads the dialogue if possible or a series of switches can be used by his learning partner to create a story about the images. Tim can then post his work to Seesaw with a recording of himself saying “Cat!” and the work sample is linked to a learning goal in one of his digital folders.

For many children with profound and multiple learning disabilities (PMLD) the key to expressing and communicating their ideas is through the use of Augmentative, Alternative Communication (AAC) devices. There are now a vast array of excellent digital tools such as TouchChat, switches operated by hand, eye blinks, head movement and knee movement, Proloquo2go, Snap+Core and many other speech assisted apps and devices that open up a child’s ability to access communication with their world. An increasing number of these can be personalized which again encourages motivation and the will to communicate. Even if used in a part-time capacity for a student who is preverbal due to Autism, having access to AAC tools can help manage or even eliminate behaviours that emerge out of frustration from not being able to communicate their needs. Many AAC tools can now be integrated with other devices and apps to allow even greater personalized learning for the student.

To conclude, there has never been a better time for teachers to access digital resources that will engage, empower and develop learning for students with special needs. Like any student, the key to engagement is to personalize their learning journey through identifying what lights them up and how best they like to learn. Digital tools and skills offer a learning pathway that develops their voice and connects both Kaiako and whanau together along the pathway towards greater learner expression and independence. 

Hi, I'm Janet

janet badley

I have been working for TTS for the past 7 years assisting schools with their technology infrastructure and digital alignment with the MoE.

Before that I was completing a Batchelors of Business with a major in Management and a Graduate Diploma in Business Administration, I worked in Massey University tutoring, relief lecturing, and marking in the business college while also being a director of a small software company. I also previously held roles as sales manager in the corporate world.

Within the professional learning environment, I specialise in assisting schools with strategic management, change management and leadership. These are all challenging areas that often require specific planning and implementation. Change is not only synonymous with technology but is part of the daily environment in education and embracing change can be a daunting. My goal is to assist schools to feel comfortable and accepting of necessary change.

Hi, I'm Caroline

I have worked in Education for over 25 years in early childhood, primary, intermediate, secondary and currently at a tertiary level. During that time, I led many diverse roles including being a teacher aide, a teacher, a co-counsellor and an adult educator. I have a post-graduate diploma in Teaching as well as a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Education. In 2022, I completed a Master in Contemporary Teaching through The Mindlab.
Currently a lecturer in Unitec, Te Pūkenga on a foundation course for ākonga with disability and/ or neurodiversity, I had spent the last four years working in a specialist residential school for ākonga with extreme behaviours. Throughout this time, I researched, trialled and implemented trauma-informed practices to help support ākonga who had previously disengaged from education to re-engage.
My passion for trying to grow resilience and self-efficacy in ākonga runs alongside a passion for using digital applications/ techniques, personalised learning and gamerfication for encouraging and increasing engagement.

Hi, I'm Nicole

tts pld team nicole middleton

I am a graphic and digital designer with nearly 20 years experience designing for the digital realm. I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Visual Communication, a Certificate in Computer Engineering and am a certified Adobe Creative Educator.

I am passionate about using technology to bring ideas to life and love encouraging learners to look for new ways to answer old questions. As a life-long learner myself, I always enjoy trying out new creative tools and exploring the impact they can have on students’ learning outcomes.

I am excited to be part of the TTS team and continue to help schools make the most of their websites and support teachers and students in creating engaging graphics, presentations, videos, websites, and more.

Hi, I'm Dr. Wendy

Dr. Wendy Slatter

I’m a teacher with 20 years of classroom experience in a range of schools, locations, deciles and age groupings. I have background in technology education with a specialisation in Food and Material Technology.

I am passionate about technology education. So much so that it lead me to complete a Masters and PhD in Education qualifications where I explored communities of practice, teacher pedagogy and defined technological food literacy. I believe that many hands make light work, and networking and collaboration are key tools in the teacher kete.

I am currently part of the Subject Expert Group working with the Ministry of Education on the Review of Achievement Standards project.

Hi, I'm Karen

I am a primary trained teacher with over 20 years’ experience finding new ways to effectively implement digital technologies into the classroom. I have always been passionate about finding and utilising digital tools within my class, and I enjoy exploring the internet to find new tools and learn about new ways in which other educators use digital technologies to best support their students.

I believe that is it important to find the right tools for you and your students as every class and school is different. Digital tools and technologies change rapidly and what may not have been suitable in the past could be just what you need now. I look forward to working with and supporting you to find and implement the best digital technologies for your specific learning environment.

Hi, I'm Dr. Phill

I am a specialist teacher and PLD provider of creative writing, drawing on 20 years’ hands-on experience in the primary classroom teaching years 0-6, and as literacy leader, ALL teacher and CoL teacher.

In addition to my classroom experience, I bring my own experiences as a creative writer to my PLD sessions. I have published over 100-chapter books and 9 novels. Much of my published content is for the education market in NZ, Australia, the U.S, U.K and China. Publishers include Macmillan, Pearson, Oxford University Press, Capstone, Lift education, Sunshine books and Cengage. In addition, I have written several assessment and comprehension guides as well as books on how to teach creative writing (Essential resources). I hold a Doctorate in Education (EdD), where I investigated how primary school teachers teach creative writing, often focusing on the use of digital technology. As well as education and teaching qualifications, I also hold a Masters in Creative Writing.

I can provide individual hands-on modelling and feedback, as well as whole staff PLD. In addition, I examine the potential of new media (technology) in creative writing pedagogy.


Hi, I'm Heather

I am a primary teacher of 30+ years experience covering all year levels from 1-8. I believe in “lifelong learning” and am passionate about encouraging teachers to be facilitators of their learning, and that of their students. I believe knowing when, what, why and how to implement digital tools to fit the purpose of “the teaching and learning” is essential today. I believe relationships are intrinsic in education, connecting people with tools/resources for teaching and learning, and how they support creativity, collaboration and innovation.

Hi, I'm Michael

Michael is a teacher with 8 years classroom experience, and has taught students from years 1 through to 8. He has a bachelor of teaching and continues to learn through post-graduate studies. Michael is passionate about literacy education, and how reading and writing can – and should – be made accessible and interesting for all learners in schools. As a teacher, he recognises the need for resources that engage, enable, and empower students so they can achieve a meaningful, successful, and sustainable education.

Hi, I'm Nick

I am an MoE Accredited PLD facilitator with a BEd (Hons) Degree in Education. I have over 20 years of experience in teaching 11 to 18-year-olds, with the last fourteen years being in New Zealand. I believe in empowering teachers to be confident in a modern learning environment and to discover new ways of inspiring students. I am a firm believer of continuous improvement in the skills of a teacher to deliver a more interactive, productive and engaging experience. I am extremely skilled with Google Suite/Apps and Microsoft.

Hi, I'm Steve