Academic journal article School Libraries Worldwide

Assistive Technology and Autism: Expanding the Technology Leadership Role of the School Librarian

Academic journal article School Libraries Worldwide

Assistive Technology and Autism: Expanding the Technology Leadership Role of the School Librarian

Article excerpt

Assistive Technology is any device, auxiliary aid, or low to high technology tool that allows a user with a disability (cognitive, physical, or neurological) to perform tasks that would be extremely difficult or impossible without the apparatus. Access to assistive technology in schools and public places is an attempt to "level the playing field" for individuals with disabilities by providing them with access to services, education, and employment. Technology support enables individuals with disabilities to complete daily living activities, work successfully, benefit from learning environments, and enjoy leisure time. School librarians can serve in leadership roles for students with autism, their families, and other school professionals by locating assistive technology tools; training teachers, families, and students to use these tools, evaluating the effectiveness of the devices; helping teachers integrate equipment into the school curriculum; monitoring student progress on and satisfaction with the apparatus; and helping teachers modify the curriculum to better support individualized student learning.

Introduction

Assistive Technology (AT) tools are used frequently by educators in Special Education Programs to expand opportunities for students with disabilities. The 1975 Education for the Handicapped Act (EHA - P. L. 94-142) defined provisions of special and regular education that were appropriate for children with disabilities and guaranteed a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) to children with disabilities (Treppa, 1988). It described the need for an individual education plan (IEP), required children to be educated in the least restrictive environment (LRE) possible, and supported parental involvement in the education of their children with disabilities. Funding for AT was made available through The Education for the Handicapped Act in 1967 (Sze, 2009). An amendment in 1986 expanded the range of students served. Previously, the needs of students between the ages of 5-21 were addressed; the 1986 amendment made it possible to provide services to younger children ages 0-5 with special needs.

Further amendments in 1990 changed the name of the Act to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), extended eligibility to children with autism, and defined assistive technology devices and services that could be included in a student's IEP. An additional amendment in 1997 mandated the use of AT devices and services in the IEP and granted families permission to use devices purchased by the school in the home setting (Sze, 2009; Treppa, 1988). An amendment to IDEA in 2004 defined AT as any device or system that improved, increased, or maintained the functional capability of an individual with a disability (Myles, 2009). This manuscript defines AT, describes some of the characteristics of learners with autism, and explores the leadership role of school librarians in the integration of AT to support students with autism. Findings from an online survey which explored the type of services school librarians provide to students with autism and their knowledge of technology to assist students with autism are presented.

Definition of Assistive Technology

Assistive Technology includes both non-technical auxiliary aids, mechanical, and electrical devices: dry-erase boards, photo albums, three-ring binders, tape recorders, timers, calculators, voice output devices, scanners, digital cameras, trackballs, augmentative and alternative communication devices, computer software, simulations, and virtual reality. These implements can help an individual with a disability (visual, hearing, cognitive, physical) accomplish a task that would otherwise be impossible, extremely time consuming, or difficult without the tool. In an attempt to create a broad network of access to AT for individuals who are elderly and those with disabilities, The Assistive Technology Act (The Tech Act) of 1998, (P.L. 100-407) was passed. …

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