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.


Goals to Support AAC Use

When a student is provided an AAC device, the next part is to think about, how do we teach it? How do we support it? How do we write goals in the IEP?

Remembering that goals must be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely, when it comes to AAC, we must also consider that who, what, when, where and how.
  • Who does our student need to communicate with?
  • What do they need to be able to communicate for?
  • When do they communicate?
  • Where do they go in their lives?
  • How are they going to communicate?

There are 4 primary functions of AAC. This should be the heart of your IEP goals:
  1. Expression of wants and needs
  2. Exchange of information
  3. Social closeness
  4. Social etiquette

Consider, what is communication? It is:
  • Connection
  • Interaction
  • Understanding
  • A relationship with another person? 
How are we going to get this to happen? Center your goals with this in mind.

At different ages, what we want to communicate changes. When we are very young it is about wants and needs plus social closeness changing through the years, when we are adolescent it is still social closeness but also an exchange of information. Take into consideration where your client is in the communication process. What is important to him/her. Know the purpose and pick the right vocabulary. This will help you to choose your goals. Here are a couple of questionnaires that can help identify the fringe vocabulary to accompany the core vocabulary:

Communication Competence is another area to consider in your goal writing:
  1. Linguistic: Receptive and expressive language skills as well as the ability to use the symbols of a communication system to create messages with complex meanings.
  2. Operational: Technical Skills to operate AAC systems. Includes the symbol system and hardware.
  3. Social: Skills in the social rules of interaction. Knowledge and judgment needed to initiate, maintain and terminate interactions.
  4. Strategic: Compensatory strategies that AAC users require to overcome communication breakdowns.

IEP goal writing can be difficult or feel overwhelming. Planning goals that cover what they should learn by the end of the year can be challenging. Beyond that making sure they won’t get frustrated or bored while being taught to reach that goal is even more challenging but probably more important.

Teaching symbol representation skills for objects and pictures and
Teaching the vocabulary contents of the communication board or device: 
The ultimate goal of an AAC intervention is to enable the augmented communicator to develop communication skills that are socially and linguistically appropriate to their abilities. AAC intervention goals may include any of the following:
  • Teaching symbol representation skills for objects and pictures.
  • Teaching the vocabulary contents of the communication board or device.    
  • Teaching encoding strategies to navigate a device or to access vocabulary stored in a device.
  • Facilitating language development commensurate with language comprehension skill.
  • Teaching phonics and phonemic awareness.
  • Facilitating literacy skills.
  • Developing the pragmatic skills needed to ensure effective social communication.
  • Developing the physical skills to consistently and reliably access a communication device through direct selection or an alternative mode of access (e.g., switch).

The duration and intensity of services will vary with the needs of the individual but should include both direct and indirect service time. Direct service time is time spent with the augmented communicator addressing communication needs. Indirect time is the time the speech-language pathologist or Assistive Technology Specialist dedicates to designing, fabricating and upgrading the AAC system.

Resources for writing AAC goals:

Always remember the Communication Bill of Rights. Using these to help in developing your goals is always be beneficial. And lastly, how do we teach? We always, always, always use Aided Language Stimulation when teaching any student how to use their communication system.