First of all, are you wondering just what is “assistive technology”? Let’s start right here by defining it!
Assistive technology is any tool that can help your child succeed at a task that otherwise would be difficult or impossible. More specifically, the Assistive Technology Industry Association defines assistive technology (AT) as “any item, piece of equipment, software program, or product system that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of persons with disabilities.”
AT tools can be low tech, such as this Hamburger Paragraph graphic organizer, that can guide your emerging writer in brainstorming or organizing ideas in a very visual way. Or your student might use more high tech tools, like a Chromebook that utilizes built in speech-to-text (STT) and bibliography add-ons to help simplify the writing process.
Assistive technology questions to consider
Why would my child use AT?
Assistive technology and apps can be used as tools for personal or academic growth. They can be instrumental in working around specific learning related difficulties by utilizing strengths or interests. By first identifying your student’s learning difficulty, you will be able to choose the most beneficial assistive technology for your child.
When would I use AT?
There are two main kinds of situations when AT could be very beneficial for your child:
- If/when my child has a disability or diagnosis that significantly impacts daily life functions (sometimes referred to as functional limitations).
For example: A nonverbal student who requires a communication device to communicate with a caregiver or teacher.
- If/when my child could benefit from remedial, supplemental, or periodic skill strengthening.
For example: Encouraging a child with dysgraphia to take advantage of built in speech-to-text functions on a Chromebook for a writing assignment.
As the director of your child’s homeschool, you have the freedom and ability to customize their education plan. So, there are no requirements for how or when your child uses this technology.
If you need help in understanding your child’s present levels of functioning or identifying any gaps in learning, you can use an assessment tool like one of the Brigance Inventories of Basic Skills. (HSLDA members, you can rent a Brigance Inventory through our store at a discount, delivered to your mailbox.)
How do I know if it’s the right choice?
There’s an abundance of options when it comes to selecting the right piece of technology, app or device today and we know that can be intimidating! Here are a few resources that can help you decide:
- Understood.org offers a great list of questions to ask yourself that will help you optimize your search results.
- You may also find it helpful to read reviews on a trusted site like Common Sense Media
- You might consult with a specialist in your child’s area of difficulty or disability to discuss different options.
- If you’re an HSLDA member, you can talk through possible choices with one of HSLDA’s Special Needs Educational Consultants.
How do I pay for it?
There’s a wide price range for AT, depending on which kind of technology you’re considering. Apps can range from free to several hundred dollars. Physical tools like pencil grips can start at pennies and exceed thousands of dollars for a tablet with a Braille keyboard and display.
So, before making such a large financial commitment, you might check into try-before-you-buy opportunities. Some states even offer a training consultant and trial period through a technology lending library, which is often part of their vocational rehabilitation services. A similar program is available in some states through Easter Seals, a non-profit provider of health and human services.
If you are considering an AT purchase that might require financial assistance, here are several options:
- HSLDA’s Compassion Curriculum Grants can be used to pay for AT.
- Several national charitable organizations like the ones in this list offer different levels of assistance and resources.
- The Assistive Technology Industry Association Funding Guide offers a whole pageful of additional funding sources and creative funding ideas.
Resource List: Where can I find AT for my child?
Today, technology is all around us—and that can actually feel pretty overwhelming at times. So to help you narrow down your search, we’ve put together a quick list of some great reliable resources to connect you with the most current technology reviews, apps, and information. Then you can feel confident that your child’s needs are being met in a way that best fits your family!
Once you are ready to get started, you can find AT in several trusted and respected places online like these:
- Technology guru, Leah Nieman offers relevant, current advice on what to look for when finding an app and has categorized them according to age and subject in her 10 Best Apps Series. She’s also conveniently packaged the 10 Best Apps for Special Needs for you to reference!
- On this search page, Understood.org allows you to browse an extensive collection of articles that describe and review several AT options by specific areas of concern or learning challenge, age/grade, or type of technology.
- Common Sense Media is dedicated to helping kids thrive in a world of media and technology. In their Learning Differences and Special Needs Guide, you can narrow down apps by skill level and type of device!
- ADDitude magazine is known for their commitment to families living with ADHD and related conditions and resources for parents and professionals working with them. On this page, you can find selected types of AT, explanations of how they might specifically make learning easier for your child with ADHD, and links to where to find them.
- Attainment Company offers a large selection of apps, devices, curricula, and AT software for those with intellectual disabilities and autism.
- Learning and adapting don’t end with academics, so Parenting Special Needs magazine offers many different resources to improve daily living, transitioning to adulthood, healthy eating and even adventure regardless of your child’s deficit. Check out their AT articles here.
- BridgingApps by Easter Seals is a searchable website dedicated to bridging the gap between technology and special needs individuals of all ages. You can filter your search by age, grade, skill level, price, type of device, review status, and more.
If you’re interested in exploring more valuable tools and resources that will strengthen and enrich your homeschooling journey, hop over to our main special needs page.
We want you to know that you’re not alone—you’ve got this!
HSLDA’s Special Needs Educational Consultants are here to come alongside you with encouragement and support! If you’re an HSLDA member, you can ask us your specific questions directly. (Not a member? Join today!)