Giving Children a Voice With Assistive Technology


A child in the public school setting might benefit from various forms of assistive technology (AT). School-based SLPs should work as part of a team with parents, teacher(s) and private SLPs or other clinicians to determine the best use of AT in school as well as external environments like the home.

So what is AT?

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) defines AT as “any item, piece of equipment or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified or customized, used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of a child with a disability.” IDEA also recognizes AT as “any service that directly assists a child with a disability in the selection, acquisition or use of an assistive technology device.”

In other words, it includes high-tech equipment like a device that speaks for the child or low-tech pictures the child can point to or hand to a communication partner to make a request. These both qualify as forms of AT.

How does a professional or a parent request an AT evaluation?

Each school district may do this differently but often a teacher or school-based SLP makes the request for an AT evaluation. A parent may make the request as well.

Who is responsible for completing the evaluation?

The student’s school-based SLP (if trained in AT) and/or an SLP serving as an AT specialist for the school system conduct these evaluations. For example, the county-wide school system where I live provides a team called InterACT, which sends an SLP specializing in AT to the school to conduct  AT evaluations. They assess the child along with the child’s school SLP and both work together to create a plan of action: selecting appropriate low-tech and/or high-tech AT devices, helping the school team implement the plan by training them on devices, and providing ongoing support for the school team.

What are the important components of an AT evaluation?

Joy Zabala describes the important components as “SETT” orstudent, environment, tasks and tools. Let’s break down each component:

  • Student: Look at what the student can communicate without AT in place, and the student’s other special needs and individual interests.
  • Environment: Gather information related to anything or anyone present in the places the student will use AT, including outside the classroom (various other school and home environments).
  • Tasks: Gather information about what you expect the child to accomplish within those environments.
  • Tools: Use all information you have gathered to piece together an AT system tailored to the given student.

Following this framework helps match students with an AT device and system to meet that student’s individual needs. AT serves as a powerful tool for students. However, it’s important for SLPs or other professionals trained in AT to provide evaluations and help design an effective AT plan.

Note: This post first appeared on the ASHA Leader Blog on February 16, 2016. You can read it here.