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  • Writer's pictureMichael Pearce

A Simple AI Tech Primer for Parents of Children With Special Needs

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is here. Intelligent software has graduated into a new age of advanced technology that will transform everything about how we live, from health care to education to longevity.

Sounds scary, right?

Like me, you’ve no doubt been hearing a lot of dire predictions. People are concerned about the potential dangers of AI. Absolutely, there are lots of reasons to be concerned.

But as a parent of a child with special needs, there are also many aspects of AI for you to be optimistic about.

This post aims to offer a refreshing perspective on AI, shifting the discussion from fears to possibilities.

We will introduce you to several powerful AI tools—Machine Learning, Natural Language Processing, and Blockchain—that have immense potential to transform the care and well-being of your child with special needs.

Machine Learning

It took me a while to grasp what Machine Learning (ML) actually means. I got hung up the "machine" part. To make it easier, I like to think of it as "smart software."

ML isn’t about actual machines like dishwashers or robots. It's about computer software that is capable of learning on its own. It teaches itself how to solve tasks.

For instance, machine learning models can be trained using past healthcare records to identify patients who are at risk for certain conditions based on patterns in the data.

These models improve as they're exposed to more data through a "training" process. Machine Learning powers technologies like virtual assistants and car navigation systems.

When applied responsibly, AI has the potential to transform the care and well-being of people with IDD:

  • Personalized Learning: AI can adapt educational materials in real-time to suit the unique learning styles and paces of individuals with IDD, enhancing educational outcomes.

  • Communication Assistance: AI tools can power devices that help individuals with IDD who have speech difficulties to communicate more easily, converting text to speech or vice versa.

  • Behavior Analysis: Machine Learning algorithms can analyze behavior patterns and suggest tailored interventions for individuals with IDD, thereby helping caregivers provide more effective support.

  • Mobility Solutions: AI-powered assistive devices can help individuals with IDD navigate their environments more easily and safely, whether that's guiding them through public transportation or helping avoid obstacles.

  • Health Monitoring: AI can analyze medical data to predict potential health issues that are common among individuals with IDD, allowing for proactive care.

Each of these examples demonstrates the transformative potential of AI when focused on improving the quality of life for people with IDD.

Natural Language Processing

Natural language processing (NLP) is a component of AI that enables computers to understand, interpret, and generate human language. The best example of NLP is to just grab your phone and say “Hey Siri” or “Hey Google.”

You might already be using apps that leverage NLP to augment your child’s education, treatment, or communication.

Promising advances in NLP are being made to create solutions for augmenting the lives of people with IDD:

  • NLP and computer vision technology have promising speech translation capabilities for sign languages.

  • Work is being done on creating NLP technology to document and track idiomatic language development.

  • NLP is becming increasingly skilled in virtual assistants, speech recognition, and translation tools.

NLP can simplify complex records into plain, understandable language, making information more accessible and usable for better decision-making for people with IDD.

Blockchain Basics

We're diving into deep tech territory here, but don't be intimidated. Blockchain technology is going to play a pivotal role in solving one of the greatest barriers to successfully navigating life with special needs: Service silos.

Silos are created each time your child receives services from doctors, support workers, therapists, and other professionals. When the services are completed your child goes home, but their records stay behind.

Over the years, your child's vital information ends up scattered around town, parked in various computers. There is no effective way to connect those fragmented records or extract that information for transfer to new providers.

Blockchain technology holds the key to breaking down these silos.

Blockchain technology provides a single place to control, manage, and securely share your child’s information for care, therapies, assessments, and support.

AI working with blockchain will automate and facilitate sharing of updated records to new providers in a seamless manner.

While you might already use Google Drive or Dropbox for storing your child's records, these platforms have limitations. They can be cumbersome

to navigate, challenging to manage, and lack simple options for updating records as your child grows and their needs evolve. And they aren't tailored for easy transfer to future caregivers.

Blockchain solutions, along with AI and NLP, make your child’s records secure and safely shareable with service providers. No more silos!

With AI, NLP, and blockchain, you'll be able to verbally update your child's key information, which will then be automatically inserted into their secure, blockchain-based records.

Imagine how much easier your life will be with the power to store all of your child's key information in a single blockchain-based record, keep everything updated automatically, and safely share selected information, with just a few clicks.

Now let’s take a look at how AI can actually work to help solve one of the biggest challenges facing parents and their chid with special needs: Housing

Meet Ethan

Ethan is 24 years old with autism and intellectual disability. He's made a lot of progress lately. He's ready to move out of his parents' house and they are looking for supported living options.

AI will help Ethan and his parents find a great place for him to live:

  • Machine learning will compare housing options for Ethan to identify the best fit near his parents’ home, in another city, or in another State if the family decides to move.

  • Natural Language Processing can summarize key details from Ethan’s records about his lifestyle needs and preferences, and produce a written report that can be circulated to potential landlords to see if there is a fit.

  • Conversational AI with Natural Language Processing answers Ethan’s and his parents’ questions about their housing options in simple terms.

  • AI will instantly find all financial resources available to Ethan to help pay for housing.

Of course, AI is not a magical genie that you can summon in times of need. Let's explore how an AI platform will actually operate.

A Place for AI to Work:

The Vest Platform

In order for AI to do its job effectively, it needs a place to operate. That's what we’ve built with Vest – a place for AI to live and do its job.

Vest is a digital dashboard where parents can upload key records like IEPs, ISPs, treatment plans, public benefits and social services, and supports.

Vest lets parents create a detailed profile for their child that includes routines, strengths, and care needs.

Using this Vest data, AI can be put to work to augment decision-making in a secure environment and safely share key information with the support team.

Vest is already available to parents as a secure and user-friendly, person-centered solution to manage records and build their child’s unique profile.

At Vest, we're committed to investing the resources needed to leverage the awesome power of AI and blockchain technologies to offer the most advanced and comprehensive solutions for your child’s lifespan support and well-being.

We are keenly aware that while AI offers a plethora of opportunities for innovation and positive change, it is not without its set of risks and challenges.

From ethical dilemmas such as algorithmic bias and data privacy to concerns about security vulnerabilities, the implications are both broad and significant.

As we integrate AI into the Vest platform, we are acutely aware of the need for due diligence in its development and deployment. There are many questions to ask and issues to be resolved:

  • What steps are needed to ensure that the data used to train machine learning models is representative and inclusive of diverse populations and needs?

  • How can we protect the sensitive information stored in blockchain from unauthorized access or misuse?

  • How can we design AI systems that are transparent, explainable, and trustworthy for users with special needs?

  • How can we balance the benefits of AI with the human touch and empathy that are essential for caring for people with special needs?

By understanding both the potential and limitations of emerging AI technologies, parents can become proactive participants in shaping the future.

This is merely the starting point; AI technologies are in a state of constant evolution.

Through collaborative efforts among individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, their parents, and the tech industry, we can ensure that these advancements yield benefits for the entire community.

Thank you for your time in reading this post. Michael

P.S.: Some of the images in this post were created with AI. Can you tell which?

Michael Pearce is a special needs attorney and the founder of Vest. Vest's success underscores the viability of next-generation, personalized information systems designed with people, rather than providers, at the forefront.
We believe that forthcoming advances in AI will catalyze a multitude of solutions, generating invaluable data that can enhance support for people who are neurodiverse. This burgeoning body of knowledge, especially relevant in the evolving Ask/Answer landscape, emphasizes the urgent need for decentralized approaches to empower neurodiverse individuals in achieving independence and an autonomous quality of life.


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