What is Assistive Technology?
The Technology-Related Assistance for Individuals with Disabilities Act of 1988 (Public Law 100-407) defines assistive technology (AT) as any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially, off-the-shelf, modified or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities. This law also includes any service that directly assists an individual with a disability in the selection, acquisition, or use of an assistive technology device. Basically, AT is any kind of technology (low-tech or high-tech) that can be used to enhance the functional independence and quality of life for a person with a disability. If you think about it, we all use AT every day, whether we have a disability or not. Reading glasses, step stools and garage door openers are all examples of technology that makes our lives easier.
Your school district is required to provide appropriate AT when it supports your child’s access to a free and appropriate public education (FAPE). The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that children with disabilities have an Individualized Education Program (IEP). The IEP is a written plan for educating a child with a disability. The IEP describes the educational program and services that the IEP team feels will meet your child’s specific needs, such as school placement, services, and equipment. When AT is included in an IEP, it is the school’s responsibility to make sure it is provided.
The process of determining the most appropriate AT devices and services for your child will begin with an evaluation. The evaluation can be conducted by your child’s school or by an independent agency or consultant and should address both strengths and challenges that your child possesses.
How can assistive technology help my child?
AT can help your child learn the classroom material in a way that they can understand it. It can also help reduce the barriers your child may face that may prevent them from being at the same level as their classmates. Some examples of AT include:
AT can help with writing:
AT can help with reading:
AT can help with communication:
AT can help with learning:
AT can help with access:
AT can help with activities of daily living:
AT can help with positive behavior support:
Why use assistive technology in the classroom?
Many classrooms have access to all types of technology. Classroom computers, interactive whiteboards and calculators offer students alternative ways to access and interact with the curriculum. For some students, access to AT in the classroom is necessary to support their communication and learning. AT can help students with autism…
- Better understand their environment
- Improve communication skills
- Increase social interaction
- Build better attention skills
- Expand motivators
- Improve organizational skills
- Keep up with the classroom curriculum
- Increase independence
To help you better understand how AT can be used in the classroom to support a student with autism, meet Jonathan. He is an 8 year old boy and attends Jonathan uses AT all day long in the classroom to support his learning and communication.
AT for writing – Handwriting is very difficult for Jonathon, but his parents and teachers didn’t want this to impact his literacy skills. He uses the classroom computer with special software that provides text-to-speech, visual supports and errorless writing grids to support writing.
AT for communication –Jonathan has very limited verbal speech abilities, and when he is unable to communicate with others, he often becomes very frustrated. While he continues to use his speech, signs and a picture communication book, his voice output communication system allows him to better communicate his needs, wants and ideas.
AT for positive behavior support – Jonathan can stay on-task and better manage his time during classroom activities. His teacher also uses software to create symbol-based schedules and classroom rule charts (ex. No hitting).
AT for learning – Jonathan’s teacher will often use the interactive whiteboard in her classroom during classroom instruction. This allows him to interact with the learning materials and receive visual, auditory and tactile input. She also uses a lot of symbol support when introducing new concepts.