How Can Assistive Technology Benefit Preschool Special Education Students?
The inclusion of special needs children with typically developing peers has become a key service option in preschool special education classrooms (Odom, 2000). Benefits abound, yet inclusion does not present without challenges. Young children with disabilities find it complicated to interact with objects and peers due to obstacles that their disabilities present. A child unable to speak too often goes unheard. Students with limited movement are frequently unable to participate in activities with peers. How can young children with disabilities achieve some degree of independence so that they may interact in their environments without reliance on others?
Assistive technology (AT) can help young children with disabilities fully participate in natural, inclusive learning environments (Sadao & Robinson, 2010). Through the use of AT devices, even the youngest of children are provided opportunities for developmentally appropriate play, movement and communication. In this paper, I will talk about the use of assistive technology to promote young children's participation in preschool learning opportunities. Furthermore, I will discuss a few of the many potential benefits of AT when used within the preschool special education classroom, including: opportunities for play, movement, and communication.
IDEA defines assistive technology as "any item, piece of equipment, or product system whether acquired commercially of the shelf, modified or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities." (Individuals with Disabilities Education ACT (IDEA) 20, USC, Chapter 33, Section 1401 (25) US). According to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, all children who are eligible to receive special education or early intervention services are also eligible to receive assistive technology, if it is included as part of their Individualized Education Plan (IEP).
Assistive technology is both a device and a service that helps those with disabilities do things more quickly, easily or independently (South Carolina Assistive Technology Program, 2010). AT may involve; no technology, low technology or high technology (Prater, 2007). Some examples of low-tech AT devices beneficial for young children are oversized crayons, slant boards, adapted eating utensils, pillows, picture boards, and switch activated toys. Computers, software, augmentative and alternative communication [AAC] devices, and motorized wheelchairs are considered hi-tech devices. Whether low-tech or high-tech, assistive technology opens doors of possibilities, making it possible for children with disabilities to do more for themselves than ever thought possible (Willis, 2009).
The ability to communicate, and express thoughts, desires, and needs with others is essential in our daily lives. But for the child with a communication disorder, being able to express...