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How technology can help adults with special educational needs from being left behind by the government during the pandemic

Hester Anderiesen Le Riche PhD, CEO and creator of the Tovertafel


 
Far too often, adults with learning disabilities are neglected and left without the crucial support that is required to support their needs. Covid-19 has only served to exacerbate this harsh reality in the worst way possible, with evidence emerging that in the UK this community is on average six times more likely to die from Covid-19 on average. When it comes to receiving government support, these groups are consistently denied being prioritised in the vaccine queue where they desperately need to be in the fight against Covid.
 
The disproportionate effect Covid-19 has had on those with learning disabilities that this latest report has shown cannot be understated. In order to safeguard some of society’s most vulnerable, there needs to be far more action taken to support care settings, including staff, supporting these individuals. Many are in a state of disarray without a clear roadmap of where further meaningful steps are being taken to provide comfort for those living with special educational needs, their families, and carers.
 
The restriction on physical interactive and mental stimulating environments is already having a detrimental impact on those living with cognitive challenges. It is absolutely crucial in the maintenance of their wellbeing to have mental and social stimulation because without it, their happiness and health will take a substantial hit. In order to tackle this challenging period, there is an opportunity to look at new technologies which can offer those with learning disabilities a chance to feel respite by socialising safely without a risk to others.


 
Light in a time of darkness


 
One valuable approach to take would be the implementation of interactive light play technology made more widely available in care homes. It involves the projection of light animations which are responsive to hand and arm movements, giving users the chance to ‘play’ with the light in real-time. With games designed to provide purposeful light stimulus that are both physical and sensory, while rich in movement and detail, the technologies available can create an engaging atmosphere for participants. The technology’s light can be projected on any flat surface, from a table to the floor or a chair tray, meaning it is flexible and adaptable for any care-home setting.
 
Interactive light therapy games are designed to enable every level of learning disability to participate. These games are highly effective at becoming suitable for all disability specifications, from social and physical to sensory and cognitive, it offers an inclusive environment for all. In doing so, the game provides a conduit for collaboration whilst playing, cultivating a productive setting for social interaction and focused activity. The added benefit of light technology in today’s climate is that the game set-up is able to meet requirements around social distancing and low-touch points. The technology can be facilitated at ease - an important consideration for care-workers - to allow for a hygienic setting for group contact.
Bringing back playtimespecial educational needs
 
While playtime is mostly associated with the healthy development and growth of children, the benefits of play for adults with learning disabilities includes improvement of physical health, sociability, learning, and problem solving. The absence of play in the wider sense will only prolong feelings of isolation, which is already anticipated to have a long-term impact on people’s health who haven’t had contact with their loved ones since the onset of the pandemic.
 
Play technology, such as the Tovertafel, has shown significant evidence of adding value to daytime activities of adults with special needs. During a period where information isn’t being made effectively accessible for those with learning disabilities, play therapy can be introduced as a useful way to soothe anxiety and improve mental health through redirecting focus and alertness towards the games’ interactive set-up.
 
It is also increasingly more important to introduce engaging methods to improve the overall immune system of care-home residents. Studies show play therapy can provide a lighter gateway to reducing pressure and stress when taking steps towards communicating and connecting with others as it helps increase social interaction outside the game sessions. While at the same, it increases physical activity, aiding in the release of endorphins, creating an environment that is more optimistic and upbeat.


 
A catalyst for change
 


This year has stood to truly test the resilience of a cohort of people who have for too long already experienced limitations and injustices. The issues that we continue to see need to be addressed and quickly, particularly in implementing secure ways for families and friends to see their loved ones in facilities once it is safer to do so. It is necessary in order to help relieve the intensity most healthcare professionals are under having to weather the storm without the right support.
 
Interactive light and play therapy is a promising tool for care-homes to provide for adults with special needs. Creating more opportunities for inclusive and engaging activities can encourage a more joyful and enjoyable environment in which all adults with learning disabilities have an equal chance to feel relief in such a challenging period. This last year should serve as the final lesson to providing better treatment to those with learning disabilities so that they feel more empowered and supported - today offers us the chance to start.


 
About The Author
Hester Anderiesen Le Riche, PhD, is an expert in how play can improve the quality of life of those living with learning disabilities and cognitive challenges. Based on years of research with people with cognitive challenges and their carers, as well as her training as a social engineer, Hester developed the world’s first interactive light game for those with learning disabilities – the Tovertafel (Magic Table).

For more information, visit: www.tover.care/uk/tovertafel/adults

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