Assistive Technology in the Classroom
Before I rant about this (mostly kidding!), let me back up a bit. A while back, I did a post about IEP Thought Hurdles. I think it’s a really good post, but it never got the traction I thought it could get. That philosophy definitely applies to Assistive Technology in the Classroom.
A thought hurdle is just what it says. Hurdles are things in your way; something you have to jump over (or overcome) before you can make progress. Thought hurdles occur in the brain, rather than on a running track.
These are some thought hurdles I would like to see IEP teams overcome when it comes to Assistive Technology in the classroom.
1. AT is not some expensive treat or privilege.
Do you watch Modern Family? Do you remember this moment?
I feel like this is where we are stuck as a society, when it comes to students getting Assistive Technology on their IEP. Like it’s something new, special an expensive. Something that we should all ooh and ahh over. It’s not.
Tablets have now been around for a decade and most of us are on our 3rd or 4th smartphone by now. We can all stop acting like they were just invented, since many kids don’t know life without them.
Mind you, there is some really cool stuff out there. But it is not a treat or privilege. Assistive Technology is another tool to enable a disabled child to access the world in a more equal way than they would otherwise.
It is addressed in IDEA and is a Special Factor to consider in the IEP. Special factors in the IEP are items that the IEP team must consider before proceeding with the rest of the IEP. That’s right, must consider. Not as a “fun afterthought” or reward.
I get it. A tablet can cost around $300 and I don’t regularly buy my kids things that cost $300. But seriously, think about it. If you have a non-verbal child, isn’t $300 a bargain to be able to give that child the ability to communicate?
If you buy a $100 computer software program that enables a child to talk-to-text, which then puts them on a level playing field with their classmates because they cannot write….I’d say that is worth much more than $100.
My own school district has about 5000 kids with a annual budget of $82 million. Even if we bought iPads for every single student, it would be less than 2% of one year’s budget. Sure, spending $1.5 million of taxpayer money should be done responsibly.
But please don’t tell me that cost is what is prohibiting your school district from buying devices for the handful of non-verbal kids who need them.
2. Options do not begin and end with the iPad.
The iPad gets the most attention. But there is so much more to assistive technology. And much of the most successful items are very low tech.
Too often, when teams think of AT, they only consider the iPad and similar devices to meet the child’s needs. Like I said earlier, there is so much great stuff out there! It’s a shame that they only consider iPads.
- text to speech
- speech to text
- AAC devices
- note taking
- typing instead of writing
- automatic page-turners
- book holders
- slant boards
- adapted pencil grips
Even closed captioning on your TV is considered Assistive Technology. Make sure that you as the parent, do your research on AT options for your child. Include your suggestions in your IEP Parent Concerns letter.
IDEA and its discussion booklet give many more options.
3. AT should never be taken from your child as punishment.
If your child uses AT to access their education, it is not the same as playing Fortnite. Do we take away wheelchairs from children who cannot walk? Then why is it ok to take away a device from a child who cannot talk?
This one grinds my gears as much as making kids earn sensory breaks.
But ok, sometimes kids do make bad choices and need to be held accountable. Would you take away their hearing aids to teach them a lesson? I don’t think any of us would. At least I hope not.
This is related to the first thought. That AT is some type of privilege or treat, and thus should be taken away when the child is “bad.” Or, used as a reward. Either is awful. And it demonstrated antiquated thinking by whoever is doing it.
I have another full post on Assistive Technology and your IEP. You can click and read there to learn how to ask for AT evaluations and so on. But, when you do ask, these might be some of the hurdles you have to overcome before you get your evaluation or support. I hope that this post helps you convince your team and you can overcome those hurdles.