Tech for TOTS[TM]: Assistive Technology for Infants and Young Children

Article excerpt

Assistive technology (AT) plays a key role in enabling infants and young children to develop the skills they need to learn and grow. However, getting an assessment and funding source to pay for necessary equipment can sometimes be a major barrier. The following article discusses a child's right to AT under the law, who can assess a child's needs, and who can provide funding for AT.

Potential AT users

Children ages birth to 3 (or birth to 9 if the state and local education agency agree to provide such services) who may be entitled to early intervention services, including assistive technology, are those who are identified as experiencing (or at risk for) developmental delay in: physical development, cognitive development, social or emotional development, and/or adaptive development.

For example:

* Mental retardation

* Hearing impairments, including deafness

* Speech or language impairments

* Visual impairments, including blindness

* Emotional disturbance

* Orthopedic impairments

* Autism

* Traumatic brain injury

* Other health impairments

* Specific learning disabilities

These conditions are covered under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). If a child meets the eligibility requirements within these categories for special education services, AT always should be considered for the child's Individualized Education Program (IEP).

Prior to assessing a child for AT, the child should have his or her developmental and educational abilities assessed.

To get a true picture of the child's abilities and areas of weakness, the assessment should include, or at least take into account, the child's performance given adaptations, modifications and assistive technology not currently in use.

Assistive technology should not be a last resort after all else has failed; neither should it be regarded as a cure-all. Moreover, AT should not replace other kinds of intervention. For example, a child who is given a walker should continue to receive physical therapy aimed toward independent walking.

Legal requirements'

IDEA: The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Amendments of 1997 mandate that AT be considered in a child's IEP and Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) when identifying appropriate early intervention or school services for the child.

While many think of AT solely as a device, assistive technology also includes the services necessary to select, acquire and use the device, including:

* The evaluation of the needs of a child with a disability, including a functional evaluation of the child in the child's customary environments;

* Purchasing, leasing, or otherwise providing for the acquisition of assistive technology devices by a child with disabilities;

* Selecting, designing, fitting, customizing, adapting, applying, maintaining, repairing, or replacing assistive technology devices;

* Coordinating and using other therapies, interventions, or services with assistive technology devices, such as those associated with existing educational and rehabilitation plans and programs;

* Training or technical assistance for a child with a disability or, if appropriate, that child's family; and

* Training or technical assistance for professionals (including individuals providing education or rehabilitation services), employers, or other individuals who provide services to, employ, or are otherwise substantially involved in the major life functions of that child.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973:

This legislation states that children with disabilities must have the same opportunity to benefit from a program or service as a child without disabilities, as long as the "provider organization" receives federal funds. The provider organization may be a public school, a charter school, or a private school. …