What is assistive technology?

Assistive technology is any kind of technology and/or tool that can be used to enhance the functional independence of a person with a disability. Often, for people with disabilities, accomplishing daily tasks such as communicating with others, going to school or work, or participating in activities can be a challenge. Assistive Technology (AT) devices are tools to help overcome those challenges and enable people living with disabilities to enhance and have access to a quality of life, that may otherwise not be known, and lead more independent lives.

The mission of this blog is to serve as a voice of a constant researcher in the field of educational and assistive technologies so that the best products, strategies and services may be located easily, in hopes that they will then be delivered, taught and used to better the lives of people with disabilities.


Special Needs Gift Giving Guide

As stated by Cari Jean, "It's no secret that kids love toys. They see a new one on a television advertisement and tell their parents, "I want that!" If kids had their way, they would have every toy imaginable. Toys can be a great way for kids to use motor skills, to learn to play by themselves and to learn to share with others. But what happens when children do not have the required skills to play with their toys? Kids with special needs may not be able to play with many of the mainstream toys available. That's why there is a market for adaptive toys for special needs children."

The National Institute of Play states that "We all know that play is fun, even joyful. It refreshes and energizes us. Play is a central element of life, throughout life, not only for children, but for working and retired adults. In play our burdens feel lighter and we are opened to new possibilities. But play goes even deeper - it shapes our brains to make us smarter and more able to adapt to situations."

Holiday time and birthdays are an exciting for all children, and children with disabilities are no different. There are nearly 6 million children with disabilities (including 12.7% of school children) who will receive holiday gifts this season. Yet because gift givers are afraid of selecting the "wrong" toy, many children with disabilities find pajamas and socks wrapped up in those brightly-colored boxes. Not the toy of their dreams.

The National Lekotek Center recommends the following-
Top Ten Things to Consider When Buying Toys for Children with Disabilities:
1. Multisensory appeal: Does the toy respond with lights, sounds, or movement? Are there contrasting colors? Does it have a scent? Is there texture?
2. Method of activation: Will the toy provide a challenge without frustration? What is the force required to activate? What are the number and complexity of steps required activating?
3. Where toy will be used: Can the toy be used in a variety of positions such as side-lying or on wheelchair tray? Will the toy be easy to store? Is there space in the home?
4. Opportunities for success: Can play be open-ended with no definite right or wrong way? Is it adaptable to the child's individual style, ability and pace?
5. Current popularity: Is it a toy most any child would like? Does it tie-in with other activities like T.V., movies, books, clothing, etc?
6. Self-expression: Does the toy allow for creativity, uniqueness, and choice-making? Will it give the child experience with a variety of media?
7. Adjustability: Does it have adjustable height, sound volume, speed, level of difficulty?
8. Child's individual characteristics: Does the toy provide activities that reflect both developmental and chronological ages? Does it reflect the child's interests and age?
9. Safety and durability: Consider the child's size and strength in relation to the toy's durability. Is the toy and its parts sized appropriately? Does the toy have moisture resistance? Can it be washed and cleaned?
10. Potential for interaction: Will the child be an active participant during use? Will the toy encourage social engagement with others?

Toy Safety
Find information about toys, safety, recalls, and play on this toy safety site. Contents include data about toy industry testing as well as suggestions for toy use and exploration. A handout for using toys with children who have special needs may be helpful for families and friends who want to include a child, but are unsure of how to start. "Children need the freedom and time to play. Play is not a luxury. Play is a necessity." - Kay Redfield Jamison, Professor of Psychiatry.

Toy Ideas
  • Switch toys are great for children who can’t play with many toys right off the shelf. You may make your own switch toys (much cheaper) or buy toys already designed to use with switches. (If you are interested see the directions at the end of this posting.)
  • A great company for purchasing switch toys is Enabling Devices. You can also contact them and ask for a catalog at: 1(800)832-8697
  • Abilitations is a good size catalog with a focus on children's rehabilitation and therapy. Products are available for sensory integration, movement, positioning, exercise and play. Every product sold is guaranteed for up to one year. For a catalog call 800-850-8602.
  • Fat Brain Toys has toys and resources for children with special needs.  Just choose your area of interests and they will provide you with the resources. It's a process but one worth exploring.
  • Giant Leaps provides "New Possibilities to Every Child". Check out their special gift shop, providing gifts in the areas of Active Fun, Adapted Fun, Bikes and Ride-Ons, Games and Puzzles, Just like Me Dolls, and Relaxation. A perfect place to shop.
  • Anything LeapFrog. “Created with the guidance of top educational experts and content specialists, LeapFrog products span a wide range of subjects to complement a child's school curriculum. Our products also enable children to receive immediate and positive corrective feedback while working at their own pace. Most importantly, LeapFrog learning products are designed to build self-confidence by providing age-appropriate activities that challenge and motivate children.” LeapFrog is divided into Infant/Toddler, Preschool/Kindergarten, Grade School and Middle/High School. LeapFrog is a new company that has just gone crazy in the electronic educational toy department. Wonderful stuff! Walmart and Toys R Us carry their products.
  • Sew Able Dolls are play therapy for children through dolls. "The dolls are very specialized and best handled by a child who knows about prostheses or wants to learn about them.  We suggest these play therapy dolls and accessories for children 8 years and older, or those who have the ability to learn and understand the techniques to attach the legs."
  • Special Needs Toys is an on-line catalog or you can request a catalog by calling 800-467-6222. “We present our range of Special Needs Toys, from mobile Multi-Sensory, to Swings, Trampolines and other Sensory Integration kits, Switches, Rewards and small Sensory toys.”
Older Kids (and younger ones too)
Think about gifts for older children and teens that may have therapeutic value that is well-disguised in age appropriate items.  Here are a few other thoughts:
  • Any type of an audio book subscription would be worth exploring. There are several out there now such as Simply Audio Books and  Audible.com. Provide them with an MP3 player or CD player and a subscription and you now have a reader on your hands. (Read this article on the Kindle.)
  • An eReader is worth exploring. There are several different ones out there. You might call the local library to see which one they support then you can check out books instead of needing to buy them all the time.  For specifics on how each one is different, check out this eReader Guide.
  • iPodTouch or iPad allows all of those wonderful apps to be used without the phone charges. The iDevice world has gone crazy so if you haven’t jumped in, it might be time! Many families are having everyone contribute to a pot in order to buy one. Worth exploring. It is endless the types of apps that may apply to a disabled child. (See iPodTouch/iPad multiple postings.)
  • iTunes Gift Cards-  There are so many apps appropriate for our kids that this makes a perfect present!! Not only are there apps but music and audio books can be downloaded. This is a great stocking stuffer or stand alone gift for any kid with an iPod or any of the other i products. You can find these at almost any store that carries gift cards or purchase on-line.
  • The Wii can be used by most with disabilities and can make almost anyone feel like an athlete.(Great article on Nintendo Wii Therapy Rehab.)
  • Gift Certificates for days together are always worth giving. A day at the local nature center, a walk in the park, a movie... what kid doesn’t like the gift of special times together? Then, spread them out throughout the year. A bound to be unbroken!
You might be asking yourself, is an iPad a good idea? The gift at the top of everyone's Christmas list this year, disability or not, is the iPad. The sleek and exceptionally user-friendly design of Apple's newest technological breakthrough make it highly accessible to anyone, including those with limited mobility in their hands. Surf the web, watch movies and videos, read books or listen to music with just the touch of a hand. I have to say, there are few kids where I would say maybe not. Kids like them! They are exciting. There is so much that they can be used for but before you go that direction, you may want to ask yourself a couple of guiding questions:
  1. What will it be used for?
  2. How will it be monitored? 
  3. What type of case do I need to get for it to protect it? 
  4. Are there other accessories that we need? 
  5. Does my child need data access (most I would say no.) 
  6. Would an iPodTouch be better? (They have come a really long way. Think of it as being just like the iPhone without the phone and an iPad but smaller. Then there is the iPad Mini...
You may want to spend some time on the other blog postings to help you decide what you need.

Other Resource Guides
You may also want to check out:
  • You might have noticed when you went to Enabling Devices that they have a Holiday Buying Guide that you can download.
  • Toys R Us and Amazon have put out guides that have helped millions of people choose just the right toy for the children in their lives with disabilities. Each plaything is accompanied by one or more symbols to help you match them to your child's abilities and needs: auditory, language, visual, tactile, gross motor, fine motor, social skills, self esteem, creativity, and thinking. From the interactive online version, you can page through the catalog, click on things that interest you for a closer look, and then click on the stock number to go right to that item on the Toys R Us site and buy it.
  • AblePlay provides independent reviews of toys for special needs students. They provide toy descriptions and ratings by evaluators certified by the National Lekotek Center. A searchable database provides factors such as disability category, type of play and age range and includes information about play strategies and adaptation ideas.
  • Oppenheim Toy Portfolio reviews children's toys and media. Although this is not a site geared specifically for disabled children, it is a great resource for quality toys and media. “Educator, parent & kid testing goes into each product considered for an Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Award.”
  • Lekotek, the country's central source on toys and play for children with special needs is a wonderful source.
  • If your child has some specific allergies you may want to look at the Guide to Toxic Chemicals in toys to make sure you are purchasing toys that are safe. 
  • Fab is a company offering stylish fun kids' clothes with super soft fabric, no labels and special tailoring – things like seamless underwear, pull-on pants that look (at bit!) like chinos, and party dresses.  For a great listing of numerous companies that provide: Special Needs Clothes, Shoes and Accessories.
  • Gift ideas can be difficult to come up with for children and teen wheelchair users. However, everyone enjoys a little personalization for their mobility device, and these gift ideas can do just that. 
And of course, no one could ever have enough books. Books on tape or CD are wonderful for the car. If you have a child that uses a switch, adapt the player so that the child can operate it by hitting the switch. And every switch user should have a PowerLink 4 from AbleNet, in the home!! Great personal control!

Good luck and happy shopping!