Assistive Technology for Communication

Assistive technology for communication includes any program you use to make it easier for a child to communicate from a paper-based PECs system to an iPad app. SLPs are the experts so if you think a student would benefit, reach out to one ASAP!

About Assistive Technology for Communication

According to IDEA, the federal law that governs special education, assistive technology is, “any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of a child with a disability.” (300.5

Assistive technology includes programs to make communication easier for students. In the old days, this was often PECS (Picture Exchange Communication Systems) where students used laminated pieces of paper to communicate with the people around them.

Nowadays, assistive technology for communication generally is technology based, including apps that students can use to share their thoughts with the world.

The bottom line is that if it is challenging for students to communicate, they should have access to assistive technology– and they need to be working with a Speech and Language Pathologist (SLP). SLPs are the experts on AT for communication. If yours isn’t bringing it up, find another. AT for communication is incredibly common– and it is not 1999. Students should have their own iPads paid by districts, loaded with useful apps.

Assistive technology for communication is added to an IEP by an SLP. Like other forms of AT, it is included under special factors– but SLPs add it to the IEP. If a student has communication needs, they need an SLP! If you have an SLP who is not offering AT for Communication, push back and get a second opinion.

The short answer is yes. Typically students need an iPad, a special iPad case, and apps that cost at least $200. Districts are responsible for providing all of these– including iPads that go home with a student every night and over breaks, loaded with whatever that student needs.

It is imperative that AT be written into an IEP. That is what ensures districts and not families pay for it! Districts can then bill the expense to Medicaid, so don’t feel bad– write it into the IEP!

The blunt answer is that I am not an expert– SLPs are! Talk to one.

But broadly it includes apps where you program either photos of things students might want to talk about (like photos of their favorite toys or food) or drawings– and students are able to press on them in some combination to make statements as simple as “goldfish” and as complicated as “I want to go to the park NOW!”

Basically, these programs are electronic versions of old fashioned communication boards  (like PECS). You set how many pictures a kid sees at once, what the pictures look like, and what they do.

For a lower/younger student, they might only see two pictures—one of orange juice and one of milk. When they click the orange juice picture you give them orange juice. When they click the milk picture, they get milk. A lot of programs start with those basics—letting the kids choose a drink/snack/game from two or three choices.

As students improve, they get more choices to choose from and beginning sentences are introduced. They might click on an “I want” button and go to a page with a snack picture, a drink picture, and a game picture. When they click on the “snack” picture, they go to a page with a bunch of snacks on it and they pick the snack they want.

The programs can get even more complex—reading back sentences and allowing students to carry on conversations with menus nested in menus in menus.

Speech and language pathologists can help you figure out how complex to make the programs to start. Some kids can handle the slightly creepy stick figure drawings the programs come with and others need photos of the actual objects/foods/people.

If you are  a parent, get to know the programs. They are an AWESOME tool for you to use at home. For teachers—if you kids has one of these make sure you know how to use and use it—for lots of students with limited communication these programs give them a voice.

One of my students uses his iPad differently. He takes photos and videos of things at home that when we ask what he likes or did he can look at the picture clues to job his memory and give him an idea of what to say. Really the communication possibilities of technology are pretty endless!

Example Assistive Technology Programs for Communication

The main one that I have seen is TouchChat. There are others that parents and teachers have shown me but I am blanking on their names and will put them up when I remember!

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