Assistive Technology in the Classroom

Updated: Oct 19, 2018

Think about all that goes into the makings of a successful classroom - somewhere on your list is a creative teacher who uses a variety of materials to teach concepts and reinforce lessons to help students to make connections. It's called differentiation - presenting materials in different ways to meet the individual needs of learners! We don't all think and learn the same and a one-size-fits-all approach in a classroom isn't going to be effective in helping a class of 21-differently wired kids learn!

So, when students have disabilities that limit their ability to access the materials that the rest of the students are using, it directly impacts their ability to learn and show what they know. This is when assistive technology supports are tailored to individual student needs - along a wide range of skills and support tools.

Assistive Technology for Special Education

Assistive technology (AT) is any product, equipment, software program and/or system that enhances learning, working, and daily living for persons with disabilities. The goal of assistive technology is to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of people with disabilities (ATIA).

In the classroom, assistive technology enables independence, function, and learning for students with different abilities. Assistive technology makes it possible for educational materials, environments, and experiences to be accessible to students with disabilities. It's the difference between general education students benefitting from multi-sensory instructional technology (i.e. math apps on the iPad) to reinforce concepts through games versus a student requiring that technology to participate, show what they know, or be more independent! If your child were to move classrooms or schools and the teaching tools were no longer available to him, would it impede his ability to learn? It's an important question to ask as you look at how your child's Individualized Education Plan (IEP) is written.

Assistive Technology in the IEP

It's a cumbersome document in very small print, so it's easy to overlook the mentions of "assistive technology" in the pages of other critical information listed on your IEP. The federal law: The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that your child's IEP team consider assistive technology supports as part of the IEP development process. This resource from the Center on Technology and Disability is a wonderful guide to help parents and educators understand all that goes into truly "considering" whether AT is needed for a student to make progress.

Unfortunately, there can be a lack of understanding on both sides as to what Assistive Technology entails and some parents do not realize or are not told about the possibilities that AT can offer a struggling student. The topic of assistive technology should be one that enters into your IEP conversations at least during the annual review meetings, as students' needs change over the course of their educational careers.

Types of Assistive Technology for Special Education Students

On an IEP, there are primary diagnoses that are listed as the qualifying reason for special education services. There is a wide range and scope of skills within each diagnosis, and that is when the individualized education planning reflects your child's strengths and areas for improvement, as well as the impact of his disability on educational performance. Here are the primary diagnoses as listed on an IEP:

  • autism,

  • emotional disturbance,

  • multiple disabilities,

  • specific learning disability,

  • specific learning disability/dyslexia,

  • deaf blindness,