Assistive Technology: An Overview

By Shelley Lacey-Castelot, MS, ATACP


The purpose of Assistive Technology is to narrow the gap between the level a student with LD is working at and the age-appropriate level at which he should be performing • AT includes all services related to selecting, acquiring, and using AT devices • Its use should be incorporated in the student’s IEP

1.4.1 Assist Tech_TS_140304296There is a perception on the part of some that Assistive Technology (AT) may undermine a student’s ability and desire to perform independently. In fact, just the opposite is true.

By definition, students with learning disabilities have a gap between their potential, and their functional knowledge and performance. In order to prevent that gap from widening, students must work at their functional level to overcome their deficits, while being exposed to the reading, math, and writing course content of their grade-level peers. It is through AT that students with LD are able to access grade-level materials.

The type of technology needed varies from individual to individual. An AT evaluator or other knowledgeable professional can help determine what is right for your child.

What Are Assistive Technology Services?

Under the IDEA, AT services are broadly defined as any service that directly assists a child with a disability in the selection, acquisition, and use of an AT device. Services include:

  • Evaluation of the student’s AT needs in the student’s customary environment
  • Purchase, lease, selection, design, fitting, customization, and adaptation of devices
  • Maintenance, repair, or replacement of devices
  • Coordination of services and device use with other therapies and interventions
  • Training or technical assistance for teachers, staff, family members, and students
AT In the IEP

If the AT device or service is necessary for the student to make meaningful educational progress, it must be reflected in the Individualized Education Program (IEP). The student’s need for AT is determined by an AT evaluation. If the IEP team agrees AT is recommended, it can then be incorporated into the IEP.

When writing IEP goals that incorporate AT, it is important to consider what it is that the student hopes to accomplish, and to think about what the student can accomplish while using AT since that may be different from what he is capable of accomplishing without it. For example, the goal might be for the student to read and comprehend certain grade level materials at a specific level. In most cases, that goal would be unattainable without AT, in which case it is important to specify the use of AT in drafting the IEP goal

Other AT Considerations

Use with Traditional Teaching Methods

When using AT with students who have LD, it is important to implement it as part of a parallel instructional program. For example, do not abandon direct reading and writing interventions at the student’s instructional level. At the same time, it is important to nurture higher-level thinking skills commensurate with the student’s oral language skills and/or cognitive level, which often measure at a significantly higher level than his or her functional level and performance.

Use at Home

Students who need AT for in-school work typically need it for homework as well. If the student needs AT at home to make educational progress, the school system must allow the device to go home with the student or purchase another device for home use.

Shelley Lacey-Castelot is the Director of Literacy Solutions in Oxford and Norwalk, CT, and is an expert in the evaluation and use of AT for students with LD and ADHD.

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