Important Tools for Back to School – Assistive Technologies for Your Child with Learning Disabilities

Tyler Matney, AbleData Project Manager

Parents who are gathering backpacks and supplies for the start of the school year, may want to add one more item to that back to school list—an appropriate assistive technology (AT) product. AT can help with many types of learning challenges: listening, speaking, math, organization and memory, reading and writing.

According to the latest reports from the National Center for Education Statistics, the number of children and youth receiving special education services is approximately 13 percent of all public school students. Many of these students need AT to help them better perform in school. AT can be used to help deliver instruction in the classroom and to encourage practice at home. However, according to the National Center for Technology Innovation and Center for Implementing Technology in Education (CITEd), technology is not used as much as it is needed.

Public schools are required to provide AT to assist students with disabilities in their education. According to Section 300.105 of Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), school systems are responsible for the provision of AT for students with disabilities if the AT is required as a part of their special education, related services, and/or supplementary aids and services. In addition, school-purchased AT must be made available for use in homes or other settings if the Individualized Education Program (IEP) Team determines it is necessary.

There are many AT products on the market, so much so, that it can be difficult to get started. AT can include anything from software to pencil grips. Audio books, graphic organizers and talking calculators are commonly used to support students with learning disabilities. Generally, computers, tablets and handheld devices can be very useful for children with learning disabilities because these tools reduce distractions and limit stimuli, allowing more “space” for thinking and learning.

When considering AT, focus on what the device or software does for your child, not on the technology itself. AT does not remove learning difficulties, but it can help your child take advantage of his or her strengths and bypass areas of difficulty. For example, a student who struggles with reading but who has good listening skills might benefit from listening to audio books. AT can also make it easier for your child to be a part of classroom activities with all of their classmates and to work more independently. A student who has difficulty writing, for example, can create a report by dictating it and converting it to text with special software.

While it is a good idea to get professional help, as a parent, you can do your own research on the range of available products. AbleData is a great place to start. Maintained for the Department of Health & Human Services' (HHS) National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR) by New Editions Consulting, AbleData has descriptions of over 3,500 AT products that can assist students with their education. Visit AbleData to view the list of products.  Contact AbleData at 1-800-227-0216 or abledata@neweditions.net if you need additional help.

Tyler Matney brings over 15 years of experience in the disability field and currently manages the AbleData project.