Assistive Technology Pointers for Parents is a 78 page long workbook that includes worksheets, stories about children who use assistive technology and resource and reference information that parents will find valuable in exploring assistive technology.
The workbook is seventy-six pages long and includes worksheets, stories about children who use assistive technology and resource and reference information that parents and people unfamiliar with AT will find valuable. Pointers for Parents (2000 edition) is also available in Spanish. The cost is $12 and includes shipping and handling.
The following story is taken from the text of Assistive Technology Pointers for Parents. It is offered as a sample of the kind of information that can be found in the manual.
Click here to download a sample of the worksheet contained in the Referral section of Assistive Technology Pointers for Parents.
A Story About Madison
Here's one of the stories you will find in Assistive Technology Pointers for Parents to illustrated the use of the Education Tech Points Framework in identifying assistive, acquiring and using assistive technology for a particular child. Stories about real children like Andy help to illustrate the important role that parents play on the assistive technology team.
Madison: Consideration and Referral
Diana and Dave’s daughter, Madison, had just entered kindergarten. Madison had been enrolled in Early Intervention and Early Childhood Special Education from a very early age because she was born with cerebral palsy (CP). Madison’s CP made it necessary for her to use a wheelchair and she had some difficulty using her hands. The new school was willing to provide many accommodations for Madison’s physical disability and Diana and Dave were very pleased with the fact that she would be attending a regular kindergarten class.
Despite their excitement about Madison’s kindergarten placement, Diana and Dave were concerned about Madison’s speech. The CP made it hard for her to use the muscles people need to produce speech. As a result her speech was slurred and difficult to understand. Diana and Dave understood her most of the time but they were pretty sure that her new classmates would not know what she was trying to say.
They talked to several people on Madison’s team about this problem. The speech therapist felt that Madison would be able to learn to speak more clearly with lots of individual speech therapy. The OT knew of some kinds of technology that could talk for people, but she did not know much about them. She wondered if Madison might need one of those. Diana and Dave even looked on the internet to find parents of other children with severe speech difficulties and gather other opinions.
After they looked into things, Diana and Dave took several steps. First they asked Madison’s special education teachers to begin to try things they already had in the classroom that might help Madison communicate with people who did not know her well. Second, they asked for an IEP meeting to talk about Madison’s communication needs and explore ideas that might help her talk to new friends in Kindergarten. Finally, they decided to request a formal assistive technology evaluation to determine whether Madison might benefit from a communication device. They completed a formal request and stated that the reason they were requesting an AT assessment was that Madison’s speech was not clear enough for her classmates to understand her. They also asked the team to help identify tools and strategies that might help with this problem. They specifically asked the school district to look into the benefits of a technology device that would speak for Madison.
Because the AT questions for Madison were about her ability to speak, her speech therapist took the lead in doing an initial evaluation for augmentative communication. She visited Madison’s kindergarten class and noted the instances when other kids had the most trouble understanding her. She also collected data about how much interaction Madison had with friends in free-play times and during lunch. By the time she was finished collecting this information she had spent quite a lot of time in Madison’s classroom.
At the next meeting of Madison’s team she reported that she really agreed with Madison’s parents, and that Madison needed some help with communication in Kindergarten. Madison’s speech was improving but she really could not wait to until her speech became easier to understand, to talk with new friends. The SLP suggested that they try some picture boards that Madison could use during activity time. When someone could not understand her, she could point to the pictures to make her communication more clear.
Diana and Dave were disappointed. They asked the district to look into the use of a voice output communication aid for Madison, but the speech therapist was recommending pictures. They pointed this out and asked again that a communication device be considered. The speech therapist stated the kind of device they were talking about was called an alternative and augmentative communication (AAC) device and that, although she really did not know much about them, she was willing to do some research. Madison’s OT said she sometimes worked with a specialist from the county education agency who knew about assistive technology. The team agreed to invite the AT specialist to join them as they explored AAC devices for Madison. They decided to try the picture cards before the next meeting with the AT specialist.
A trial period for Madison
Before the AT specialist met with Madison’s team, she also observed her in the Kindergarten classroom. She noted Madison was already using the picture cards in group activities and they were really helping other kids to understand her when her speech was too slurred. One problem with the cards was Madison did not always have the right picture cards when she needed them. Predicting what Madison might want to say at lunch or during free play was difficult and so she had less interaction with other children during these times. Also, some kids did not want to stop what they were doing to look at the pictures.
During the next meeting of Madison’s team, the AT specialist showed the team two different devices she thought might help Madison to communicate. Both devices had speech output (i.e. they spoke words out loud) and used pictures and words on the buttons as a cue for choosing words. She explained since Madison had not yet learned to read, she needed both. One device was lightweight and easy to carry but it had paper pages that needed to be inserted to let her say more words and that was hard for Madison to do. The other device was heavy and hard for staff to program but easier for Madison to learn. The AT specialist said she hoped Madison would be able to use the light weight but more difficult device since it would be more useful as she moved around in a variety of environments.
The team decided the best way to find out which was the right choice for Madison was to try the more portable device during free play and lunch for two weeks. If she could not learn to use it, they would try the second device. Dave and Diana asked whether teaching two devices to Madison would be confusing. The AT specialist felt Madison could handle them both if necessary but agreed to watch for signs of frustration. Dave and Diana agreed to collect data at home, too. The team filled out a trial period plan to make sure everyone had the same understanding of what they would be doing.
Developing a plan for Madison
After two weeks of trial use of one AAC device, the AT specialist asked for another meeting. She reported Madison was using the device well during free play activities and that she saw no need to try the second device. She recommended that Madison’s IEP be changed to include the use of an AAC device like the one she had been trying. The speech therapist expressed her continuing concern that Madison needed to learn to speak more clearly and everyone agreed that speech therapy should also be continued in the IEP. Training for the school staff and for Dave and Diana was also included in the IEP so that everyone would know how to use the new device. The team decided until she was more independent, Madison would only use the device at school.
The district’s equipment loan program was able to loan the device to Madison’s school for the rest of the year but said in the future, one would have to be purchased for her long term use if that was what she needed. The AT specialist told Dave and Diana their health insurance might fund a device for Madison and offered to help them with an application to the insurance company. The district representative agreed if insurance did not cover the device the school would provide one for Madison, including at home during the summer before she started first grade, because the IEP team had decided it would be needed.
Madison’s revised IEP explained her need for and use of AT in several places including the present level of academic and functional performance, her annual goals and the section about support for staff (which included training they would need to support Madison’s AAC device use). It also documented her need for continued speech therapy.
Madison’s use of augmentative communication
Even though Madison was scheduled to use the AAC device on a regular basis at school, things got off to a rough start. The instructional assistant who was assigned to work with Madison did not get any training on how the device worked. The AAC specialist had trained the teacher, thinking that the teacher would provide support to her classroom’s staff members. But Madison’s teacher did not feel she knew enough to train anyone else so she told the assistant to come to her with problems. In practice this was not possible since the teacher could not stop her work with 22 kindergarten children to examine Madison’s device. In addition, while Madison had some words on the device she used often, she did not know how to locate most of the vocabulary she needed.
Diana and Dave came to observe one day and noticed that the AAC device never left Madison’s backpack. They were disappointed and concerned that Madison still did not have an effective way to communicate with the other children and they felt as if the school staff was not really trying. They asked for another meeting.
During this meeting, it became clear that more planning was needed for Madison’s use of the AAC device. The AAC specialist provided the team with an implementation organizer worksheet that helped them assign responsibilities for the implementation of Madison’s program. (See Assistive Technology Implementation Organizer in Appendix B) The team worked through the questionnaire and found a number of things they needed to do in addition to training the instructional assistant. With a more complete implementation plan in place, Madison’s device was available to her more often and she began to make rapid progress in understanding how and when to use it.
Reviewing Madison’s augmentative communication use
At the end of Madison’s kindergarten year, the team met again. There were some surprises in store for everyone on the team. Madison’s speech therapist reported she had continued taking data on Madison’s classroom language and was happy to report that the other kids in her class were able to understand her oral speech much more often. The classroom assistant who worked most closely with Madison took data on her use of the AAC device and she reported Madison was also using it more often and with less prompting. As the team discussed these apparently conflicting results, it became apparent Madison had learned a lot about communication during the year. She had learned to speak more clearly and to speak in ways that her friends could understand but had also learned to use the AAC device to “repair” communication attempts when her speech was not understood. Madison had a lot to say and had learned ways to get her message across to everyone.
Madison’s transition to first grade
The team was excited and encouraged as they planned for Madison’s entry into first grade. They discussed the things that would need to happen for Madison to prepare for the transition. Among the activities they planned was training for all of the first grade classroom staff about how to use Madison’s AAC device. They planned to help the first grade staff members develop a system to add and change vocabulary on a regular basis as the first grade instructional program moved along. They also agreed Madison’s speech therapy was still helping her to improve her oral speech and should be continued. Finally, they planned for the development of some new communication cards Madison could use when it was inconvenient for her to use her AAC device.
Madison’s team felt confident they had made the best possible plan for her given the information they had but they were also pretty sure unforeseen problems would arise. They decided to plan a meeting to discuss the AAC program with the first grade classroom staff three weeks after school started to talk about Madison’s progress, barriers to her AT use and to identify any changes that were needed.