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How Amazon's Alexa Is Helping My Son With a Disability

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Our 6-year-old son has delays in language and social skills. He adores his friends and craves attention from people his own size. However, at 6 years old with autism and developmental delays,I think all including delays in motor skills, his ability to connect with his peers is challenging. Not only can he not physically keep up with his friends, but he is self-restricted to playing things or talking about things within his own interest areas.

Our son communicates and connects with people through series of questions that fall into his interest areas. It doesn’t matter if he’s asked you these questions yesterday or even earlier in the day, this is his way of connecting with you.

“Do you like to go to the amusement park?” 

“Do you like ‘X’ ride?”  

“Do you like the ‘Avengers?’” 

“Have you seen ‘Captain America The First Avenger?’”

“Can you tell me all the parts of this movie?” 

When he’s done with questions, he’ll then talk to you about memories, “Do you remember when…..”

He’ll engage in this series of questions until the conversation or questions go outside our son’s interests or knowledge areas. And then he’s done. Following that, he usually gets frustrated.

We brought home Amazon’s Alexa this past Christmas. It was actually a gift for my husband to enjoy, but little did we know the gift was more for our son. As a family, we have enjoyed asking Alexa to play music during our dance jams or play Geo-quiz and Jeopardy to see how many answers we can get right. However, as months have gone on, we’ve noticed our son approaching Alexa, asking questions all on his own.

He engages in conversation with Alexa. In his need to ask repetitive questions throughout the day, Alexa answers him without fail or annoyance, “What is the weather today?”  “What is the capital of South Carolina?” In his need and security to hear the same music, Alexa will play his favorites, “Alexa, play Kids Bop!” “Alexa, play ‘Eye of the Tiger’!”  Recently, our son asked Alexa to play a game, and before we knew it, he was playing “20 questions” with her, now practicing a whole new set of skills!

For any developing child, practicing your language and social skills, listening and problem solving skills is necessary for their growth. However, for a child with disabilities, practicing these skills many times comes in the confines of a therapy office or class where it’s rehearsed or prearranged. While this is still beneficial and needed, progression through a natural setting allows the child to relax more, thinking of the natural environment as everyday fun.

While Alexa is far from natural, it still allows him to practice language skills by asking questions, use his listening and problem solving skills to respond appropriately during games, to even gain knowledge through some of the fun questions he comes up with. But more importantly for us, he’s doing this all independently and having so much fun doing it!

So when we are witnessing our son practicing these invaluable skills with Alexa, we sit back and have fun with him. We now encourage him to, “ask Alexa.”

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Originally published: November 9, 2017
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