By Jenna M. Weglarz-Ward
Technology and toddlers? Not two words we often put together. However, the use of assistive technology for infants and toddlers with developmental disabilities and delays can promote development, growth, and learning as well as family functioning. Assistive technology (AT) devices you might think of are wheelchairs, computers, or hearing aids, but many of us use AT devices daily. I personally wear corrective glasses, and I would be lost without the spell check on my computer. I would literally be lost without my GPS! Additionally, items that began as AT devices are now commonly used with all young children, such as large grip spoons, drinking straws, and Bumbo chairs.
Assistive technology is any durable item, piece of equipment, or product system that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of children with disabilities. These items may be purchased at the store, specially ordered, or made at home. Assistive technology includes devices and services.
The Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) defines an assistive technology device as “any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modifies, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of a child with a disability.”
IDEA defines an assistive technology service as “any service that directly assists a child with a disability in the selection, acquisition, or use of an assistive technology device.” Services include:
- the evaluation.
- purchasing, leasing, or otherwise providing for the acquisition of assistive technology devices.
- selecting, designing, fitting, customizing, adapting, applying, maintaining, repairing, or replacing assistive technology devices.
- coordinating and using other therapies, interventions, or services with assistive technology devices.
- training or technical assistance for a child or a child’s family.
- training or technical assistance for professionals (IDEA 2004, Wright-slaw: Special Education Law).
AT devices come in a wide range of technology levels. Low technology items may be things you can make at home by modifying materials you already have, such as using a rolled towel to support your child in his high chair. High technology items may be things you have made especially for your child, such as an electronic talker.
Talk with your service coordinator and early intervention provider to see if your family would benefit from an AT evaluation. Many AT services and devices are included in early intervention services. Some may also be covered by your medical insurance. It is important to work with your early intervention professionals, medical providers, and other caregivers (e.g., child care providers) to find affordable and meaningful ways to incorporate AT into your child’s program and your family’s daily routines.
Early intervention services need to provide appropriate AT for children. This means they need to provide devices that assist the child and family in meeting their developmental goals but do not have to provide state-of-the-art devices. In car terms, they have to provide a Toyota, not a Lexus. If you prefer, the Lexus, your family will be responsible for funding that choice.
Jenna M. Weglarz-Ward is a mother of four children ranging in age from 4 to 18 years old. She is completing her doctoral degree in early childhood special education at the University of Illinois.