Giving Children a Voice With Assistive Technology – Part 2


A previous blog discussed the general process for who completes an assistive technology (AT) assessment and what to look for during this process. In part two of this AT series, let’s discuss the next steps for incorporating AT into the child’s school day. If a child qualifies for AT services, the school creates an IEP with AT as one of the related services or adds AT services to an existing IEP.

Who provides the AT services?

As discussed in part one, two speech-language pathologists usually work together to help the child use AT. An SLP trained in AT collaborates with the school-based SLP, who regularly works with the child. In addition, a third SLP might participate in the implementation process if the child receives private services outside of school.

The AT specialist who completed the assessment helps create and oversee an implementation program. However, the school-based SLP works with the student’s teacher and other school staff to implement the AT system on a daily basis. The school-based SLP also instructs parents how to use the AT system at home.

How do we know what type of a system or device to use with the child?

The data gathered during the assessment helps determine the most beneficial type of system for the child. If the recommendation is for a high-tech device, such as a computerized speech-generating device (SGD), start with a trial period. The trial period allows everyone on the team to decide if the selected device meets the child’s communication needs or if you should try something else. The company providing the SGD usually sets the length of the trial period, but the team can ask for extensions if necessary.

After working with many children using various low- and high-tech AT devices in the schools, I always share these three tips with other SLPs beginning this process:

  1. Start by trying various forms of AT (high- and low-tech) to see what earns the best response or most interest from the student. I find that following the child’s lead yields the greatest success.
  2. Focus on functional language. For example, we want the child to say, “I like that!” instead of a specific phrase, such as “the yellow duck.” Teaching, “I like that!” and other functional phrases (“that’s mine,” “no thanks,” “I see it,” etc.) gives students the ability to communicate more often because they learn phrases they can apply to many different situations.
  3. Never speak for the child. It’s important to teach students how to use high-tech devices or low-tech picture systems, but never do it for them. We want them to learn independence, so once you teach them the concept, encourage them to push the buttons on the device or hand you the picture card by themselves. Doing for them equals speaking for them. Our mission is helping children use AT to express their own voice!

Whether you’re new or seasoned in using AT with students, remember the goal involves leveling the communications playing field for a child. Every child deserves a successful communication system that meets the child’s academic and social needs in the school setting. Carrying over these skills to the home setting remains a key goal as well, but this involves an entirely different discussion for another day.

Note: This post first appeared on the ASHA Leader Blog on March 29, 2016. You can read it here.