Assistive Technologies (AT)—the third post in a series of four covering the Autism Speaks Investment Conference in February. The term includes assistive, adaptive and rehabilitative devices for those with disabilities and includes the process used in selecting, locating and using them. AT promotes independence by enabling people to perform tasks that they weren’t able to perform previously, or had trouble doing, by providing enhancements to, or alters methods of interacting with, the technology needed to accomplish tasks. AT can be “low-tech”, like a pencil grip or walker, or “high-tech” like an iPad or computer. Web-based assistive technologies can actually help families recognize early signs and symptoms of autism.
The federal government recognized the importance of AT for students when it revised the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 1997 and again in 2004. IDEA states that school districts must consider assistive technologies for any child in special education. Which means that for any child with special needs (and receiving special education services), the educational system must ask if there is a device that will “increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities” of that child. If yes, the school district is required to provide certain services, including:
- A qualified evaluator must complete an AT evaluation;
- If the evaluator recommends a device, it must be acquired;
- And if you, your child or the staff in your child’s school need training to use the device, that training must also be provided
I’m going to focus on an innovative company called Handhold Adaptive. The co-founder of the company, Rob Tedesco, presented at the conference and I had the pleasure of sitting next to him throughout the day. This family-owned business has successfully created and developed a family of apps specifically for the autism community. The company’s most well-known and popular app is called iPrompts – although speechPrompts, SharingTimer and Story Maker are making their way into the hands of the community as well.
iPrompts provides visual prompts to help individuals with autism attend to tasks and sequences. The app is already being used by thousands of caregivers around the world to create and present visual schedules, timers and choices to those with autism spectrum disorders. The visual support tool improves attention to tasks, increases understanding of upcoming events, provides smooth transitions to new environments and empowers visual thinkers to stay organized and communicate their preferences. The apps are available for the iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, Nook Tablet and Kindle Fire.
The development of assistive technology tools for the autism and special needs community leads to acceptance and understanding on a larger scale. Accepting a child or adult, who communicates in a different way, means we all learn from alternative ways of functioning and communicating. The fact that there are hundreds of thousands of new products and services in development to help make life a little easier for those on the autism spectrum is inspiring.
What assistive technologies have you seen or used? Are your children or their friends using them in the classroom or at home? We’d love to hear what’s going on in your community!