We hear how the Family Fund is ensuring that disabled children and young people aren’t missing out on the learning, communication and developmental advantages afforded by modern technology
In today’s society, personal computing devices are widely considered to be essential tools for families living with disabilities. Many low income families can struggle without them, but surely everyone has a right to be online?
The Family Fund is the UK’s largest provider of grants to low income families raising disabled and seriously ill children. For over five years it has been providing these families with some much-needed technology, in partnership with UK IT services provider, Stone Group.
Caroline lives in Northern Ireland and is mum to six-year-old twins Oscar and Ava. Oscar (pictured above) was diagnosed with autistic spectrum disorder in 2009 at the age of two. Caroline gave up work to care for him and structured the family’s routines to ensure that Oscar could remain as calm and secure as possible.
Caroline was first put in contact with the Family Fund in 2010 by her health visitor, and it didn’t take long before the organisation’s work started having a positive effect on her family. According to Caroline, Oscar’s issues manifest themselves in many ways: “Whenever you think of autism, you think of a child who just can’t exist in the world,” she says. “He’s spinning, he’s bouncing, he’s running about, he can’t cope with everything.”
The Family Fund helped to ease those issues by providing Caroline and her family with an iPad. As Caroline explains, “The iPad enables Oscar to be grounded; it allows him to be present where we are as a family, doing what we are doing at that time. Oscar was completely non-verbal, so we had been using a combination of Makaton and the PECS communication system. The iPad enabled us to introduce more fun ways to interact with Oscar to get him to communicate.
“We began uploading photos of everyday things that would provide visual clues to the day, resulting in less frustration and meltdowns. A picture of granddad let him know it was time for a visit, and a picture of the car showed that it was time to go out.”
“Where’s my iPad, mummy?”
Oscar soon mastered use of apps and began using the iPad to form sentences, such as ‘I want juice’. The device has also assisted Oscar with his schoolwork via a specialist app. “It’s improved every aspect of Oscar’s life and learning – his socialising, his interactions, all those things,” comments Caroline. “The things that people with autism would struggle with, it has helped with it all.”
Oscar’s first spoken sentence wasn’t ‘I love you mummy’ as Caroline had hoped, but rather “Where’s my iPad, mummy?” It was still a breakthrough that Caroline celebrated – and in any case, “I love you mummy” followed shortly afterwards, and Oscar hasn’t stopped saying it since.
Caroline has seen first-hand how modern technology helped remove barriers for Oscar and assist with his communication and development. Many other families have experienced similar breakthroughs for themselves, leading to a growing number of grant applications to the Family Fund requesting computers or tablets.
Working alongside Stone Group to source the most suitable makes and models, the Family Fund was able to provide over 13,000 families with such devices in 2014/2015. 6.6% of those families helped by the organisation care for more than one severely disabled child, and 30% of the children helped have autistic spectrum disorders.
How to apply
After downloading an application form from the Family Fund website, a parent or carer of a disabled child or young person can make an initial application for a grant; 16- and 17-year-olds can make applications in their own right. The form is then posted to the Family Fund, along with photocopied evidence of any other financial assistance or awards, if applicable.
Family Fund grants are discretionary, and must relate to the needs of a disabled or seriously ill child or young person. If there is funding available, and if the organisation’s income and eligibility criteria have both been met, then the Family Fund can provide a suitable device via the Stone Group to the family.