The school year is quickly approaching, which means back-to-school supplies shopping, school open houses, and meeting new teachers and classmates. It can be difficult to identify supplies that will set children up for success at school while still being budget friendly. However, I would like to share how assistive technology can be a resource to accommodate to your child’s needs for no cost. At its simplest, assistive technology (AT) includes many resources you may not even realize are already at your fingertips, such as online dictionaries and translators. It is important to know that AT devices may be particularly useful for those with language-based learning disabilities such as dyslexia, but they can also benefit anyone who is struggling with reading and writing.
Getting started with AT can be something most people are not very familiar with, which leads to the assumption that introducing AT will make the back-to-school experience even more of a whirlwind for students and their families. To make this process as smooth as possible, families can break the AT learning process into a few simple steps.
Steps for Implementing Assistive Technology
As you consider the ways your child can use AT during the new school year, here are some steps to follow:
Step 1: Understand the Research and Support Behind AT
AT moves students towards a more positive outlook on tasks that were previously frustrating (Bonds-Raacke & Raacke, 2008). When tasks are no longer frustrating, students have the confidence to complete them without the need for one-on-one guidance. Due to this, AT can be used as a steppingstone to independence in children’s academic careers.
Step 2: Talk with Your Child’s Teacher
Next, you should discuss your ideas around implementing AT with your child’s teacher. Some things to discuss include:
- What device does the child use at home?
- What device does the child have access to through school?
- What area (i.e., reading, spelling, decoding, etc.) does the child need support in?
- Is downloading apps to the child’s school-issued device allowed?
- Does assistive technology need to be a part of the child’s IEP or 504 plan?
It is important to note that AT selection can sometimes be a trial-and-error process. It may take time to find which app or extension works best for your child.
Step 3: Compare Your Options
Choosing which AT devices and applications are right for your children can be a tricky task. There are several important elements to consider. First, consider the features you are looking for in an AT program. For example, does your child need speech-to-text software, adjustable display settings, or the ability to simplify a webpage? Different AT programs will have different capabilities in all of these areas.
Another component to consider is compatibility, or which devices a program can be accessed from. Some AT programs are usable only from laptops, whereas others can be accessed from tablets and phones. Additionally, while some AT applications can be accessed by multiple devices, others cannot.
The final thing to keep in mind when considering various AT options is cost. While there is an ample availability of free AT programs, there are also many more expensive options.
To organize your thoughts while comparing different AT software, download our free Assistive Technology Comparison Chart.
Step 4: Practice Using AT at Home
Once you have determined what kind of AT is the best fit for your child’s needs, the next step is to practice using it at home. Helping your child explore the features of an AT program at home can encourage confidence and familiarity using the apps and software when your child is back in the classroom.
It is important to remember that when you try new technology, there is typically a transition period. It is not uncommon for students to struggle when using an app’s features at first. Fortunately, the Iowa Reading Research Center offers free, one-on-one assistive technology consultation appointments for families interested in learning more about assistive technology. During these appointments, one of our assistive technology coordinators will explain and model the use of iPads or Chromebook laptops equipped with assistive technology apps and software.
Assistive technology has the capabilities to set your child up for success with reading and writing tasks this school year. Following these steps will help you take full advantage of the resources out there to support reading and writing.
Bonds-Raacke, J. M., & Raacke, J. D. (2008). Using tablet PCs in the classroom: An investigation of students’ expectations and reactions. Journal of Instructional Psychology, 35, 235-239.