The Assistive Technology Evaluation

Content Provided By: Penny Reed, Ph.D., Director of the Wisconsin Assistive Technology Initiative

The key to an effective assistive technology evaluation is to use a process that involves both parents and service providers equally. There is no quick, easy method to determine which assistive technology, if any, will help your child. There is also, no single “expert” somewhere who knows exactly what will work. Many individuals, parents, teachers, therapists, as well as the child, have important pieces of information. When brought together, these pieces begin to point in some general directions.

A good assistive technology assessment process will include:

  • discussions about what tasks your child struggles with the most,
  • observations of your child in environments where he spends time, and
  • trials with different types of assistive technology (starting with the simplest) to see what works and what appeals to your child.

There can be a marvelous assistive technology tool out there, but if your child hates it—for any reason—it will not get used. Therefore, it is not the right solution at this time.

Parents should expect to be part of the process from start to finish. This process focuses on the question: “What functional task do we want this child to be able to do at a level that reflects his/her skills and abilities?” Parents and professionals together identify the tasks that are most challenging and choose which one to work on first. Parents, teachers, speech pathologists, occupational therapists, and anyone else involved with your child then gather data while playing or working with your child and keeping notes. Ask to be included in the discussion as the team (which includes you) brainstorms about the data collected in different environments. The team will discuss what kind of things might work and where to borrow or rent what you need for trial, or how to construct it. As the child works and plays with different tools provided as a result of these observations, more data collection will be necessary. Finally, there will be a discussion by the team about what seemed to work best and should be provided on a long-term basis.

If this sounds like a lot of meetings and discussions, you are right. Parents and professionals who have been involved with assistive technology for many years find this process to be like solving a puzzle: experimenting and trying different methods and tools until a workable solution is found. It takes time and patience.

The real heart of determining what assistive technology might help is trying things out. Trial use of assistive technology is critical to deriving solutions that work. Thousands of dollars are often saved by trying things before they are purchased. Trials with a variety of items to see what works effectively and what your child likes to use are a good investment of everyone’s time and energy, but this important step is often overlooked. Without a trial use, families, school districts, and insurance providers may spend thousands of dollars on an augmentative communication device or other tool only to have it sit in a closet unused. These experiences make everyone wary of making a commitment to a child’s needs.

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Looking for more information on Assistive Technology and Individualized Service Plans?

Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA)
(877) 687-2842 (877) 687-2842

Alliance for Technology Access
(707) 778-3011 (707) 778-3011

National Assistive Technology Technical Assistance Partnership (NATTAP)
(703) 524-6686 (703) 524-6686 (AT resources)