Methods and Strategies: Assistive Technology

The use of assistive technology is an important consideration in the treatment of children with autism. Parents and teachers have supported the use of both low- and high- technology tools for children with autism at each stage of the developmental process.

Low tech tools include communication systems (to augment expression, but also to provide a stable representation of input), self-organizational systems (e.g., picture schedules), learning assists (e.g., visual guides or templates to assist with the completion of a task), behavior monitoring guidance systems (e.g., timers, visual systems for indicating emotional response), and more. High tech systems are beneficial once a child has a basic conceptual system established, and in the case of communication, has demonstrated both consistent communicative intent and a basic repertoire of symbols. There are numerous options for implementing a high tech communication system, and even more options within these systems for individualizing the complexity of the language and representational system utilized (e.g., pictures, icons, letters).

Several excellent resources are now available for assisting teams in the appropriate selection of a communication system for a child, but the consultative input from an expert in assistive technology or speech-language pathologist will be needed during the system selection process and in the treatment design (and perhaps implementation) process. Regardless of whether a high or low tech communication system is selected to augment verbal communication, teams must consider the earliest possible implementation of these systems, so that children do not go for years without a communication system while the team hopes for the emergence of speech. The augmentative system will not prevent speech from emerging. Furthermore, the communication system must be utilized throughout the child's day. Teachers, service providers, aides, peers, parents, siblings, grandparents, neighbors—all must use the communication system with the child. Natural and contrived communication situations will have to be provided to encourage and maintain the child’s use of the communication system.

Technology is also a critical component of the developmental process, both for teaching play skills (cause-effect toys are a good place to start), recreational skills (playing computer games), preacademics, and academics (specialized computer games for teaching matching skills, visual-spatial skills, language comprehension, math, reading, and more). Again, the assistive technology consultant will be helpful in deciding whether such a system is appropriate, and in selecting appropriate software and hardware.

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