Assistive Technology for Communication, Academics, & Daily Living

Assistive Technology for Communication, Academics, & Daily Living


On February 19, Sue Mahoney, NSSEO (North Suburban Special Education Organization) Support Services Coordinator, presented “Let’s Talk About Technology”. Assistive Technology (AT) is any device, software or equipment that helps people with disabilities work around challenges so they can learn, communicate and simply function better. For instance, software that reads aloud text from a computer is AT, as is a keyboard for a child with handwriting issues. AT tools can help kids work around their weaknesses, while also playing to their strengths. This is especially important for kids who struggle with reading, writing, communication and other issues. AT can help these kids become more successful, productive students, which helps grow their confidence and independence.

Despite the word “technology,” not all AT tools are high-tech. AT includes many simple
adaptive tools, like something as low-tech as a pencil grip for a child with writing issues.
Many AT tools are high-tech, though. And because of advances in computer technology, tools are now available on a variety of platforms. Like people, AT comes in different shapes and sizes. At your child’s school, there may be computers, digital tablets and Chromebooks.
Understanding the different platforms can make it easier to figure out which tools will work
for your child. A platform is a base of technology on which AT tools can operate. It’s typically a hardware device controlled by built-in software called an operating system. The three main platforms include: desktop and laptop computers, mobile devices (includes
smartphones and tablets) and Chromebooks (and the Chrome browser used on any device). In recent years, many students have started using AT on mobile devices. Smartphones and tablets are portable, have touchscreens, which make it easier for people to use, and they have cameras, which can make communication easier for some individuals. For the student with Down syndrome, assistive technology includes any type of device, equipment, adaptations, or materials that improve his/her ability to learn and make tasks easier to complete. Assistive technology fosters independence and autonomy. It can be as simple as a slanted writing surface or as sophisticated as learning software and adaptive computer equipment.

A child with Down syndrome automatically has delays in processing information and working to complete tasks. When special needs students are in the same classroom as non-disabled peers, it is important to gauge the amount of work they are each able to accomplish in the same amount of time. If a non-disabled student is able to complete a worksheet with 10 problems on it, the Down syndrome student may only be able to complete two of those problems. Assistive technology for Down syndrome comes into play by making the information accessible to a special needs student. This may require using fewer words, enlarging the graphics and lettering or even highlighting key words so the
information is not overwhelming in addition to verbal instructions.

A child with Down syndrome tends to have shorter, stubbier fingers and a lowered thumb
making their ability to write more difficult, so slanted desks or a three-ring binder turned
sideways allows a Down syndrome student to compensate and allow for participation in class work with peers. Also, providing shortened or triangular-shaped pencils can help them in holding their pencils properly. Every child needs those opportunities to work with their hands and learn through experience and touching. But children with Down syndrome, even more so, need tactile experiences for their growth and development. Assistive technology for Down syndrome offers some creative tactile ideas for allowing special needs children to learn in their school environment. Among these suggestions are forming their letters and numbers in Play-Doh or making them in shaving cream on their desk. Children who are just beginning to learn the alphabet can use enlarged letters and glue to trace the letters on the paper. It is not only a fun way to learn, but encourages the children to follow the lines while tracing with their pencils.

The right types of assistive technology for each student is best determined with a
multidisciplinary approach. A team of professionals that includes the child's parents,
medical professionals, special and regular education teachers, speech pathologists,
occupational therapists, and at times product consultants work together to select the best
assistive technology choices for each child's individual needs. Technology helps provide
students with individual learning events, enables reaching higher flexibility and differentiation in educational methodologies. With modern technology, teachers can adapt
to the possibilities of a particular student with minimum effort and choose one of the dozens
of available learning tactics designed to meet the needs of individual learners.

If you have questions regarding AT and your child, you may contact Sue Mahoney at: smahoney@nsseo.org.