Choosing the Right Assistive Technology for Children by Charles Watson
Posted on July 18, 2021
Assistive technology for children with disabilities due to acquired or traumatic brain injury, concussions, contusions, or stroke can enhance their functional independence. Assistive devices are tools that help overcome those challenges and enable children to improve their quality of life and accomplish tasks such as going to school and participating in recreational activities.
Young children and adolescents may use assistive devices to help them move, communicate, work, learn and socialize. Many children have 'invisible' difficulties such as learning deficits, auditory processing disorders, print disabilities, and lack of behavioral/emotional control.
For children aged 4-22, an Individualized Education Program (IEP) keeping in mind the child's needs for accommodations, including assistive technology (AT), must be developed according to the Federal law- the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
To determine the AT needs of a child, an assessment must be conducted in the child's customary environment: home or school by an individual consultant, or an independent agency or the child's school. The assessment should address the child's strengths and weaknesses and the perspectives of parents, teachers, and service providers.
Examples of Assistive technology for children:
Toys for infants and toddlers with fine or gross motor weaknesses include puzzles with knobs, push or ride-on-toys with wheels wrapped in Velcro for stability, motion toys with large button switches, and game pieces with handles. Computer apps for smartphones and tablets can help young children with mental delays due to brain injury.
Task reminders, timers, visual cues, and “first-this-then-that software programs help students make transitions between activities. Audio versions of books are available online, including Bookshare and Scribd. Adding "fluffers” to books, or 3-D stickers to blocks or a handle to a ruler, can help a child participate independently in classroom activities.
For students with learning deficits, there is a wide range of AT to help students who have difficulty with
- Processing and remembering spoken language
- Organizing, computing, aligning, and copying math problems down on paper
- Memory and planning issues
AT tools that help with learning disabilities include:
- Abbreviation expanders:
- Alternative keyboards
- Electronic math worksheets
- Audiobooks and publications
- Graphic organizers and outlining
- Freeform database software
- Optical character recognition
- Personal FM listening systems
- Proofreading programs
- Speech recognition programs
- Talking calculators
- Variable-speed tape recorders
- Word-prediction programs
- Talking spell checkers and electronic dictionaries
- Universal Design for Learning (UDL)
Text-to-speech Assistive tools: Kurzweii 3000 - This software is designed to help children with print disabilities such as visual impairment, dyslexia, ADHD, autism, and other intellectual disability. This technology works by scanning and reading words in a synthesized voice to the student. Kurzweii 3000 supports 18 languages and dialects, has a talking spell-checker feature, text magnification, picture dictionary graphics for more than 40,000 words, and much more.
Low-tech Handouts: Draft:Builder: A writing tool that integrates note-taking, outlining, and draft writing functions and helps students visualize the project and insert information. It then automatically creates the paper, drag and drop what is written in each note to the rough draft. Other features include a bibliography tool, a dictionary, and teachers' guidance.
Sip-and Puff systems: Jouse 3: These systems are devised for students with mobility challenges such as fine motor skill deficits and paralysis. It allows the child to control a device using any part of the mouth, chin, cheek, or tongue. Similar to a joystick, it can be mounted to the desktop or a bed frame. In addition to android and iOS mobile devices, it also supports Windows, Unix, Linux, and Macintosh-based computers.
Proofreading Software: Ginger - This software not only has a proofreading feature but also corrects frequently misspelled words, word predictor and sentence rephrasing tools, TTS functionality to hear, and a personal trainer to provide practice sessions based on past mistakes.
Math tools: Math Talk: This is a speech recognition software program to help students with a range of disabilities from pre-algebra to Ph.D. level mathematics. By speaking into a microphone on their computer, students can solve math problems. Students with visual defects can use the integrated braille translator. The program works well with Dragon Naturally Speaking programs for voice-to-text functionality.
Sound-Field systems: These systems are designed for classrooms that need to assist listening for all children in the classroom. This benefits a child with listening deficits and also those with auditory and learning problems, such as central auditory processing disorder, language delays, articulation delays, and other disabilities.
Rapid changes in technology and assistive devices for people with deficits due to brain injury have helped children and people with special needs cope with education and recreational activities.