By Emily Kavanagh, M.S.
Limited Licensed Psychologist
Director, McCaskill Family Services Assistive Technology Center
Assistive Technology (AT) refers to: “Any item, any piece of equipment or any system that helps an individual bypass, work around or compensate for a specific learning problem or impairment in functioning” (Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004).
This means AT can be anything from pencil grips, folders, magnifying glasses, textbooks with larger font, hearing aids, wheelchairs, adaptive seating, etc. AT also comes in the form of apps, software, and web-based programs. While the term AT legally refers to devices designed for individuals with disabilities, the rapid development and integration of AT into technology devices that most people use every day, has increased the accessibility of such tools to a broader audience, including those with and without diagnosed disabilities. In fact, most people probably already do use some form of technology to meet these needs already, whether it is a digital calendar, dictation functions on their phone/computer, or audio recording of lectures and meetings. For children with special needs, learning disabilities, ADHD and other difficulties which interfere with learning, the integration of AT into devices already commonly used in many school, has helped improve integration of AT into the classroom, and in some cases increased student willingness to use tools in the classroom. AT can be especially helpful for individuals with learning disabilities, communication/social skills deficits, ADHD, and mood disorders, as it helps level the playing field, reducing the disruptions caused by areas of weaknesses and allowing them to access their strengths. Everyone has their own unique strengths and weaknesses, for which technology may improve functioning whether a diagnosis is present.
When building a technology package for you or your child, asking the following questions may help narrow things down a bit: What are the individual’s strengths and weaknesses? What are their preferences? Where/when will the technology be used? Who will be supporting use of the technology? Is the tool likely to improve functioning? How can we encourage/motivate use? Technology, when used correctly, should support productivity and improve functioning, rather than create more stress, distraction, inefficiency, or disorganization. Most children require support in learning how to use their tools correctly, at the right time, and consistently. For children and adults, it can help to integrate 1-2 tools at time, creating a specific plan or goal for when and how often the tool will be used in order to develop good habits. Consulting with an Assistive Technology specialist (either in the school setting or privately) can be beneficial for identifying appropriate tools, learning how to use them, and creating a plan for integrating them into your daily life.