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Infants, Toddlers and Assistive Technology

Author: Wendy Taormina-Weiss

Published: 2012-03-22 : (Rev. 2013-06-14)

Synopsis and Key Points:

Assistive technologies can assist young children who experience forms of disabilities to learn valuable skills.

Main Digest

Common types of assistive technologies include things such as wheelchairs, communication devices, computers, and computer software.

Assistive Technology - Technology used by individuals with disabilities in order to perform functions that might otherwise be difficult or impossible. Assistive technology can include mobility devices such as walkers and wheelchairs, as well as hardware, software, and peripherals that assist people with disabilities in accessing computers or other information technologies.

Research has demonstrated that assistive technologies (AT) can assist young children who experience forms of disabilities to learn valuable skills. For example; young children can use computers and specific software to improve their skills in areas such as:

With the use of the proper types of assistive technologies, certain negative behaviors can decrease as a child's ability to communicate increases.

Types of Assistive Technology Devices Infants and Toddlers Can Use

The two types of AT devices that are most commonly used by infants and toddlers include ones with switches and, 'augmentative,' communication devices. Where devices with switches are concerned there are a number of types of them that can be used in various ways. For example; a switch might be attached to a stuffed toy, so that each time an infant touches it, the toy moves and makes a sound.

Switches may also be used in order to turn any number of things on and off. Toddler can learn to press a switch to turn on a computer, or to use interactive software. Children with severe forms of disabilities can also learn to use switches. For example; a switch might be placed near an infant's head so that each time they move their head, a musical mobile hanging over their head plays a tune.

'Augmentative,' communication devices permit children who are unable to speak, or who do not have the ability to speak yet, with the ability to communicate with the world around them. The devices may be simple and involve the child pointing to a picture or image board. Augmentative devices may also be more complicated, such as buttons a child can press to activate a pre-recorded message that says, 'I am thirsty.'

The Importance of Assistive Technologies (AT)

A number of the skills people acquire are learned during infancy. AT can assist infant and toddler who experience forms of disabilities to learn crucial skills. Through the use of assistive technologies, children with disabilities often times can learn the same skills as non-disabled children at the same age; simply in different ways. Communication skills are particularly important to develop at this age because the majority of that an infant or toddler learns is through interactions with others - especially their family members and other caregivers.

At times, parents may be reluctant to start using an AT device because they think it might discourage their child from learning important skills. The fact is, just the opposite is true. Research has demonstrated the use of AT devices, particularly augmentative communication devices, can actually encourage a child to increase their communication skills and efforts. It is especially important to bear in mind that the sooner a child is taught to use an AT device, the more easily they will accept and use it.

Assistive technologies are also important because expectations for children increase as the child grows. Through the use of AT, parents learn the dreams they have for their children do not necessarily end when their child receives a diagnosis of a particular disability. The dreams may be modified somewhat, but they can still come true.

Two Ways a Family Can Obtain AT Devices for Their Child

One way a family can obtain AT devices for their infant or toddler with a disability is through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) under Part C. If their child meets the state eligibility criteria for early intervention services under IDEA they will receive assistive technology devices and services if their Individual Family Services Program (IFSP) team decides the services are needed in order to meet their child's needs and includes them in the IFSP.

The second way a family can obtain AT devices involves infants and toddlers who experience delays that are not significant enough, or are not significant enough yet, to find them eligible for IDEA early intervention services. A number of these children might still benefit from the use of AT devices. Sometimes, private insurance or medical assistance will pay for a device, or parents can opt to buy a device for their child.

A number of schools and communities have lending libraries that give parents the opportunity to borrow toys with switches, computer software, and other AT devices. Libraries such as the, 'Tech Tots,' libraries sponsored by United Cerebral Palsy chapters in America, provide parents with the chance to try different AT devices to find out if they will help their child before they buy the device.

Finding out if Your Child Will Benefit from Using a Device if they are not eligible for IDEA

Parents can ask certain questions to find out if an AT device would help their infant or toddler if their child is not eligible for early intervention services through IDEA. For example:

If a parent finds themselves answering, 'no,' to these kinds of questions, assistive technologies might help. Sometimes, children with behavior issues actually have a communication impairment and experience frustration; they are unable to tell others how they feel.

Assistive Technologies and Children who are eligible for Early Intervention Services under IDEA

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) defines an AT device as any item, piece of equipment, or product system - whether purchased directly off the shelf, customized, changed or adjusted - that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of children with disabilities. Under IDEA, assistive technology services include services that directly assist a child with a disability with choosing, obtaining, or using assistive technology. AT services include the following:

Infants, Toddlers, and AT Evaluation

An AT evaluation should generally be included as a part of a child's early intervention evaluation if parents believe their child might need an AT device or service. It is important to note; however, that parents can request an evaluation at any time. Parents and other significant people in a child's life such as grandparents or siblings should be involved in the entire process of evaluation because they have valuable information and insights about the child. Parents who are actively involved will find that their children receive the correct AT device, and that the device will be use appropriately.

In an ideal situation, a multi-disciplinary team will perform an AT evaluation. The team generally includes an assistive technology specialist with an understanding of augmentative communication devices, computer hardware and software, and additional types of equipment. A member of the evaluation team should also have an understanding of how technology should be used in every area of the child's life to support their early intervention outcomes. A team member should also have knowledge of infant and toddler development.

While early intervention programs vary, some have assistive technology specialists. Others use a physical, speech, or an occupational therapist with additional training. If the program does not have a technology expert, they might contract with a school district, a provider, or a community agency. Vital members of the team include parents and early intervention providers.

Before performing an evaluation, members of the team need to gather background information concerning the child's abilities, family routines, and interests. The information helps the team to determine the types of AT devices that should be used during the evaluation itself. In general, an evaluation is performed where a child is most comfortable, or where they spend the majority of their time. Where infants and toddlers are concerned this is often at the family's home, in a preschool, or a childcare setting.

When the evaluation is performed, the team should write specific recommendations about the types of devices and services they believe would assist the child to reach the outcomes that are expected. AT devices the team recommends should be easy for the family and other caregivers to use. The most important goal of the evaluation is a focus on the child's strengths and abilities.

Provision of Assistive Technology Devices and Services under IDEA

Early intervention services must be provided to the maximum extent appropriate with the goal of meeting a child's needs. The services must be provided in the child's natural environments such as their home, a community or childcare setting where children without disabilities are found. The child's IFSP team is responsible for making a determination, based upon evaluations and assessments, of the services the child needs. The team needs to discuss the environments in which the AT devices and services would best meet the child's needs - to include the child's home, in community and childcare settings.

As a child moves from one service to another, it is crucial for everyone who is involved with the child to be aware of the AT devices the child is using, as well as how to obtain and use them. Every early intervention service, to include AT devices, has to be provided at no cost to families unless the state has established a system of payment for early intervention services.

AT Devices and Training under IDEA

Parents, childcare providers, service providers, and other people who work with children and families need to be trained to use AT devices. The training they receive should include a number of things to include:

If parents, caregivers, and service providers have received training in regards to the AT device and feel comfortable with it, they are more likely to find creative ways to use the device in every part of a child's life. A child's IFSP team needs to include the need for training and who will provide the training in the child's program.

Additional Resources:

PACER Center

"The mission of PACER Center (Parent Advocacy Coalition for Educational Rights) is to expand opportunities and enhance the quality of life of children and young adults with disabilities and their families, based on the concept of parents helping parents."

US Assistive Technology Program (ATP) Site Listings Tel: (415) 455-4575

On this page you will find a listing of the Assistive Technology programs in every state in America. The listing is sorted alphabetically to make it easier for you to find your particular state.

Closing the Gap

"Founded over 25 years ago by Budd and Dolores Hagen, parents of a child with a disability, Closing The Gap provides professionals, parents and consumers with the information and training necessary to best locate, compare and implement assistive technology into the lives of persons with disabilities."

Family Center on Technology and Disability, United Cerebral Palsy

"The Family Center on Technology and Disability (FCTD) is a resource designed to support organizations and programs that work with families of children and youth with disabilities."

FAPE Family and Advocates Partnership for Education

"The Families and Advocates Partnership for Education (FAPE) project is a partnership that aims to improve the educational outcomes for children with disabilities. It links families, advocates, and self-advocates to information about the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)."

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