It is never too early to consider assistive technology for your
child with special needs. It not only allows them to increase their
independence but also closes the gap between students who have a
disability and those who don't.
"If you believe a child can participate, chances are they can,"
says Kari Becker, an educational consultant and the director of
Classroom Connections in Bannockburn.
Although assistive technology was once thought to be reserved
only for the severely disabled, dramatic changes over the last 20
years have yielded more than 35,000 different accommodations that
can help with all types of special needs.
Sometimes an accommodation can be as simple as using an existing
program, such as spell check, and giving it to a child who can
write at grade level but struggles with spelling difficulties. Or
assistive technology can involve software that allows a student
with physical disabilities to participate in a science experiment
through a computer simulation program, such as mixing chemicals
through the click of a mouse.
"It is best when doing an evaluation to start with the task
students are struggling with and then to figure out what
accommodations are available," says Karolyn Berkiel, director of
assistive technology for the North Suburban Special Education
District in Northbrook.
Although parents may be eager to try a particular kind of
technology, the evaluation should be comprehensive and take a
problem-solving approach that focuses on students' needs, strengths
Lower tech accommodations are usually considered first since
they are often easier to implement and more user friendly, Berkiel
says. For example, if a student has trouble with the motor aspect
of writing, different pencil grips would be tried before voice
Whether the accommodation is highly sophisticated or homemade,
schools are required to consider all types of assistive technology
at every student's IEP (Individualized Educational Plan)
Once the accommodation is in place, data is collected to
document how the technology improves a student's function. Then if
a particular accommodation works, use of that technology is put
into the child's IEP. The plan should specify whether a particular
item is available for home use. Usually if it is necessary to use
the accommodation to complete homework, the item is also made
available to be brought home. Schools and parents can also rent the
equipment, if needed.
The student's plan should also outline the parameters within
which a specific accommodation is used and include who is
responsible for overseeing its usage.
"Both the regular education teachers and the special education
teachers are responsible for not only learning how to use the
technology but also for making sure it gets used," Becker says.
This is because when the student, parents and educational team
collaborate to determine how the technology is accessed in the
regular education environment, students are more likely to succeed
with inclusion. It is especially important that assistive
technology succeed outside of the special education classroom
because of mandates requiring students with special needs be placed
in the least restrictive environment.
"Having students participate in the selection process is also
very important since students will only use the technology if they
like it," Berkiel says. This also helps the student take ownership
of the accommodation and understand what works and why.
Marla Davishoff is a licensed clinical social worker,
freelance writer and mom living in Deerfield.
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