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.


Executive Function

Organizing the brain can be a challenge but for some, it is just plain frustrating.
When people have issues with executive functioning, any task that requires planning, organization, memory, time management and flexible thinking becomes a challenge.  Some experts believe nearly all individuals with ADHD have symptoms of executive functioning issues. Challenges with executive function, a set of mental processes that helps connect past experience with present action, can be seen at any age and often contribute to the difficulties that individuals with learning disabilities already face in academic learning. In fact, it finds that many individuals struggle with executive function, which governs a person’s ability to plan, organize and manage details in everyday life. (Source:National Center for Learning Disabilities---Executive Functioning)

I wish I could credit this awesome graphic, but I could not find the original source. I found it on Pinterest but it didn't link to the original site. It is a beautiful graphic representation of executive function processes. Thank you to the author! Please contact me if you know the original source.    

Executive functioning skills enable people to plan, organize, remember things, prioritize, pay attention and get started on tasks- all of which are skills needed to be successful in school and in day-to-day life. These skills also help people use information and experiences from the past to solve current problems. As you can imagine, without learning strategies to cope and compensate, these challenges could spread through and disrupt all of their days as these are the basic skills needed to attack the tasks we need to complete in life.

Executive functioning involves: 
  • Self organization (self management) 
  • Information Management 
  • Time Management 
  • Materials Management
Understood for Learning and Attention Issues has executive functioning broken down into 8 Key Executive Functions. If a student is being challenged with some or all of the following skills, executive functioning issues may be an issue:
  1. Impulse Control
  2. Emotional Control
  3. Flexible Thinking
  4. Working Memory
  5. Self-monitoring
  6. Planning and Prioritizing
  7. Task Initiation
  8. Organization
In the book, “Executive Skills in Children and Adolescents,” written by Peg Dawson, EdD and Richard Guare, PhD, they state: “These (executive function) skills help us create a picture or goal, a path to that goal, and the resources we need along the way”.  They identify 10 types of executive function skills that work together; namely: sustaining attention, shifting attention, inhibiting impulses, initiating activity, planning and organization, organization of materials, time management, working memory and emotional control.

Organization Inventory Chapter 9 in the WATI's Assessing Student's Needs for Assistive Technology provides,   
The Organization Problems Inventory which is a tool that can assist in determining the type of organizational problems a student might have. They also provide a form for consideration, worth printing out and working through to help develop a plan.

Tools to Support
Beyond modifications and accommodations, assistive technology may want to be considered to provide support. As with all assistive technology tools, the tools available span from low tech to high tech. Dr Cheryl Temple, from Fairfax County Public Schools, has provided a wonderful AT support guide worth exploring: Technology Tools to Support Executive Functioning.

Using an iPad or some other form of a tablet could be very helpful in keeping everything in one place once the student enters a secondary placement. Learning to use it to provide the supports needed is critical. Tools are helpful, but without being taught a plan, they can become just another bottomless pit. There are many built-in features that can provide support, such as the calendar system with reminders and color coding. Using the timer system can help a student to stay on task. The camera is a wonderful tool for taking pictures of the board to capture all of the needed notes and/or assignment guidelines. There are also wonderful apps such as using Goggle documents so that their work can be accessed through various platforms. 

Depending on the student's age and personal challenges, one or more of the following apps may provide the support needed-
  • AudioNote:The recording option can be used for grabbing quick information such as when the teacher is giving the homework for the night or when the student wants to give them a quick reminder.
  • Corkulous turns a mobile device into a virtual corkboard that can be used to brainstorm, list, and present ideas, projects, and presentations. Just like a traditional corkboard, Corkulous also allows users to organize photos, sticky notes, notecards, and lists.
  • First Then Visual Schedule HD allows schedules to be created “on the go” and customized to the needs of the individual.  Schedules can be created to show daily events or steps need to complete a specific activity or daily events.
  • Ideament allows you to create concept maps, flow charts and then convert it to a text outline.  It's a fabulous resource for planning projects, making lists, developing outlines or creating charts.  You can import content from other apps, documents or emails and share "sketches" with others through email, or the cloud. 
  • MindMeister is a mind-mapping website with some great bonus features. Its dashboard immediately catalyzes creativity with pre-made sample mind maps and templates that range from basic brainstorming, To Do lists, and pre-writing to SWOT analysis, website planning, and meeting notes.
  • My Video Schedule is a teacher-created, individualized, customizable app that combines video modeling within a structured schedule while providing positive reinforcement for individuals of all ages with special needs. It is designed to help those who struggle with structure, time management, and motivation.
  • Notability is a flexible app which features multiple note-taking tools as well as sharing and organization options. On a single page of notes, for example, students can type, write, draw, highlight, record audio, cut, paste, and even inserts multimedia content captured from websites.
  • Nudge - Reminders says that they are more flexible than the Clock app because you can set reminders for a specific date and time—whether it’s in five minutes, five days, or five weeks. Nudge is simpler than the Calendar app because you don’t have to set separate start and end dates, and you don’t have to manually add a separate alert. Built-in presets let you quickly set the most important thing—the date and time—cutting down on the time you spend spinning all those little dials. For everything else, Nudge has sensible defaults so that you can set your reminder and get out. (And if you disagree, feel free to change them!) 
  • Remember The Milk has an easy user interface which allows teachers and students to use it as a tool for task management, prioritizing, categorizing and completing tasks in a systematic way. You can set task reminders and search for your task- it can be a simple to use app, but can also get very complex and provide a lot of support once you really delve into it.
  • Time Timer is a productivity app that can help kids (or adults) focus on timed tasks as well as manage transitions and waiting. The customizable timers act as clear, colorful visuals to help kids represent such concepts as having a limited amount of time to complete a task or needing to wait for a certain amount of time. 
You may want to check out this listing of apps: iPad Apps To Keep You Organized
And these wonderful words of wisdom: Organizing with iPad

Executive functioning issues aren’t uncommon and there are many ways to help individuals compensate for weaknesses. Having tools available and teaching strategies is key in providing support and building success.


More resources can be found on my Pinterest Site: Executive Functioning - Ah, I forgot! Where did I put that?

10 Simple Tools to Develop Executive Functioning Skills in the Classroom - See more at: http://www.theinclusiveclass.com/2015/02/10-simple-tools-to-develop-executive.html#sthash.Ea5JXEr9.dpuf