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PART 1 Tech For TOTS[TM]: Assistive Technology for Infants and Young Children.

Although often overlooked as a benefit to children in this age range, assistive technology (AT) plays an important role in enabling them to develop skills they will need to learn and grow.

The following is taken from the curriculum developed by the Childrens Hospital Los Angeles USC University Affiliated Program. It has been used to train parents and professionals about issues regarding assistive technology for infants and young children.

What is AT? According to the legal definition of assistive technology (in the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act), the purpose of AT is to "increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities." This can be accomplished through the provision of AT, which directly compensates for an impairment (such as a hearing aid or a walker).

AT can also "increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities" by giving the child the means to access developmentally appropriate experiences they otherwise would not have because of their disabilities.

Infants and young children may not be regarded as having functions in life that compel the use of assistive technology. For example, nondisabled babies 4 to 8 months of age may bat at a mobile repeatedly. When they first bat, they hit the mobile by accident, and it moves. They notice it moves, they bat purposefully, and eventually cause the mobile to move again. They take this learning, generalize it, and cause other things to move with actions of their bodies. These are the functional capabilities expected at this age, and how higher level functional capabilities are acquired.

What would happen if this child had severe motor impairments? Would this baby be able to bat at the mobile if unable to move her arms? What would the outcome be if we gave the baby with disabilities access to a switch she could operate, with a slight purposeful movement of her head, that would turn on a fan, causing the mobile to move for a brief interval of entertainment?

Why don't more of us think this way?

Assistive technology historically has been regarded as rehabilitative or prosthetic in nature, with the ultimate aim of providing consumers with the means for continued independence and the ability to earn a livelihood. On its face, this contrasts markedly with infants and young children, who are very dependent on their parents and do not earn a livelihood. However, independence and social competence do not arise full-blown at adulthood.

The child's developmental capacity

At birth, infants have very few functional capabilities as we typically think of them. They are completely dependent on their parents or caregivers. But they are genetically and biologically endowed with developmental capacities in six major domains: cognition, language, gross motor, fine motor, social-emotional, and self-help. These capacities enable the very young to experience their own selves, their environment, and the people in them, and lead to maturation, development, and learning.

Acquisition of individual skills and the development of capacities in each of the domains takes on added importance. This is not just because the capability itself is immediately useful to the child, but because the integration of those skills across domains serves as a foundation that gives rise to higher level competence and independence.

In developmental terms, children who because of their disabilities miss acquiring foundational skills, do not develop a foundation for achieving higher level functions and learning higher level concepts. Furthermore, research shows that in the first decade of life before puberty there are critical times for optimal development of specific types of learning. The implications for assistive technology for infants and young children is clear.

Secondary disabilities

An impairment causes a primary disability which may subsequently impair the child's opportunities for experiential learning. For example, an infant's cerebral palsy may cause an inability to move her arms in a smooth and coordinated fashion. When she attempts to bat at a mobile, she misses it, or hits it on an inconsistent basis. The baby soon tires and gives up. Her purposeful movements do not yield the same results that a nondisabled child would experience.

Furthermore, the chance hitting of the mobile is a precursor to learning through experience that purposeful hitting will cause the mobile to move, a cognitive achievement. In this way, we can see how a motor impairment results in a secondary disability in another domain, in this case the cognitive domain.

Through the use of assistive technology, the child can have access to experiences which lead to acquisition of functional capabilities. Such experiences as sensory modulation, enhanced interaction with others, interaction with physical environment, and choice making let the child develop skills that give rise to social competence and independence.

Social competence and independence

The hopes we have for all our children are that they will develop the values and skills needed to become young adults who have acquired the critical capabilities of social competence and self-determination. Social competence arises from meaningful relationships and leads to the fulfilled sense of belonging that allows one to become a member of a family, neighborhood, and cultural community. Serf-determination arises from being successful and leads to the judicious decision-making needed for personal identity and integrity. The combination of self-determination and social competence, important determinants of a quality of life, provides the young adult with the critical elements needed to become a serf-dependent, autonomous individual and a fulfilled and valued member of an intimate family and social community.

Computer software as AT

Unique features inherent in computers and software make them valuable assistive technologies for cognition and play. These unique features include:

* availability of alternative access devices such as touch screens and switches;

* fast response rate (necessary for children's short attention spans);

* the appeal of multimedia in color, sound, music and animation, self-controlled environment allowing for customizing to the user;

* the non-judgmental quality of software toward its user (it has no bias and no attitude);

* consistency of feedback toward the user.

Taken together, these features allow the child to access a customized environment appropriate to the child's developmental and skill level, where the world waits for him or her and proceeds at a pace set and controlled by the child. In this environment, contingencies can be explored without dire consequences or herculean effort. The child can select a challenge that both piques an interest and encourages mastery and a sense of competence. In this way, the software allows children to access learning experiences previously inaccessible to them because of their disability.

Technology holds great promise and benefits for aiding a young child's development. Next month, we continue with a look at how to get assistive technology--the legal requirements and funding resources.

Communicating choices
courtesy of
Nayer-Johnson Co.,
(800) 588-4548

Choice making leads to enhanced decision making, which leads to self-determination. Assistive technology can enable children to make or communicate choices: who they want to hold them, what toy they want to play with, what food they want to eat. They learn from their choice-making and build on their learning, enhancing their ability to make decisions for themselves.

This communication device, a Tech/Four[TM], speaks the word on the picture when pressed, so others know what choice the child is making.

Sensory modulation

Sensory modulation leads to enhanced attention, which leads to self-regulation. Assistive technology can modulate the quantity and quality of environmental information the child senses. This child has an increased need for vestibular stimulation, without which his neurological system is in a heightened state of arousal. The rocking chair provides him with the vestibular stimulation he needs, calming him so that as he rocks himself, he can pay attention to people and tasks at hand.

Rocker by TumbleForms[R]. TumbleForms is a registered trademark of Sammons Preston (800) 323-5547

Interaction with people

Interaction with people leads to enhanced relationships, which leads to secure attachments. Assistive technology can facilitate interaction between people. This little girl is in a stander with a tray. Her upright position and tray enable her older sister to play with her. Their interactions deepen their relationship, and the two become more secure in their attachment to each other, and by extension, with other people.

Stander by TumbleForms[R]. TumbleForms is a registered trademark of Sammons Preston (800) 323-5547

Interaction with physical environment

Interaction with the physical environment leads to enhanced mastery of objects and/or space. This leads to a sense of self-confidence. Assistive technology can enable a child to explore and manipulate their physical environment. This child uses a large-handled spoon to scoop food out of a lipped plate, The lip helps the child to successfully keep the food on the spoon, which is large enough to allow the child to use a rudimentary grasp. The plate sits on Dycem, a thin sticky mat which keeps the plate from sliding. In this way the child learns to eat by himself.

Activities of daily living

* adapted utensils, hook-and-loop closures on clothes

* grab bars, shower chairs, shower spray, adapted toilet seats

High Back Bath Chair, courtesy of Flaghouse (800) 793-7900

AT Devices for Young Children


* manual and power wheelchairs, various controls

* walkers, strollers

* scooter boards, tricycles

Standing/sitting/lying down

* standers * supported seating

Environmental controls

* to turn lights, TV, and radio on and off


* picture boards, electronic talkers

Pre-academic activities

* adapted pencils, crayons and markers; grips for writing implements

* slant boards, easels

* adapted scissors

* computers, software, and access devices


* switch-adapted toys

* appropriate off-the-shelf toys

* Dycem (a thin sticky mat to keep things temporarily affixed in place)

Excerpted with permission from "Tech for Tots[TM]: Assistive Technology for Infants and Young Children (Level 1)
COPYRIGHT 2000 EP Global Communications, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2000 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Solano, Toni; Aller, Sonia K.
Publication:The Exceptional Parent
Date:Jun 1, 2000
Previous Article:Katie's Amazing Videoconferencning System.
Next Article:Tech Around the House.

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