The website Upbility.net states that “when individuals have severe speech and language disabilities, augmentative and alternative communication strategies (AAC) can provide them with an opportunity to express themselves and have a voice, impacting life quality, educational access, and development of social skills and relationships.”
According to the Technology-Related Assistance for Individuals with Disabilities Act of 1988 (Public Law 100-407), an assistive technology refers to 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 functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities. Assistive technology service is any service that directly assists an individual with a disability in the selection, acquisition, or use of an assistive technology device.
Typically, individuals on the autism spectrum process visual information more easily than auditory information. Any time we use assistive technology devices, especially with children, they are being provided with assistance in the area that is strongest for them.
Tablets and other hand-held devices are flexible and portable, easily carried and accepted by peers. Additionally, the touch screen and layout are more easily used for people with coordination or learning difficulties, as sliding and tapping are easier than typing. Also, many individuals on the autism spectrum are more comfortable interacting with inanimate objects, such as a computer or iPad. “These devices assist in teaching academic areas, social skills, video modeling, reinforcement, speech/ language therapy, fine motor skills, visual supports, functional life skills, organizational skills, and increasing independence,” says Upbility.
Upbility explains that the strategies used in assistive technology can be divided into three main categories: low-tech strategies, mid-tech strategies, and high-tech strategies.
Low-Tech Strategies (Low Cost-Technology). These may include dry erase board, clipboards, 3-ring binders, manila file folders, photo albums, laminated PCS/photographs, highlight tape, etc. all can help increase a child’s organizational skills while at the same time fostering independence and discouraging challenging behavior.
Mid-Tech Strategies. These involve some type of battery operated device such as a tape-recorder, Language Master, overhead projector, timers, calculators, and simple voice output devices that enhance specific skill areas. Most devices in this category refer to Voice Output Communication Aids (VOCAs). It is important to understand that these products were created for use as an “augmentative means to expressively communicate.” These devices include “Big Mack,” “Talk Pad,” “Voice in the Box,” “Cheap Talk 4”, “Step by Step Communicator.”
These strategies help to develop skills dealing with language comprehension, expressive communication skills, social and attending socials, organizational skills and academic skills
High-Tech Strategies. These are complex technical support strategies – typically “high” cost equipment, such as video cameras, computers, and adaptive hardware, complex voice output devices.
Today, there are over one million apps available, and the number continues to grow daily ranging in price from free to several hundred dollars. There is an app for anything and everything. Knowing how and when to use technology should be thoughtful and well-planned with the help of professionals, family members, and the individual to ensure that the best strategies are used for each individual’s unique needs.
Other helpful resources include: