What I Learned About Assistive Technology From the IEP Process

My journey with assistive technology (AT) started eight years ago when my son was diagnosed with dyslexia and got his first IEP.

What I remember most was how huge I thought the document was. There was a ton of information to absorb. We felt confused and overwhelmed about lots of things, including AT.

We knew that under the , our IEP team had to consider AT. But we weren’t exactly sure what that meant.

We were lucky to have an IEP case manager who understood the AT process. First she arranged for an evaluation of our son. An AT supervisor from the county district observed and interviewed him. Then a report was created with recommendations and AT options based on my son’s specific needs.

Once my son was approved for AT we had to learn a lot—and fast. Before this process started, I thought the term assistive technology meant computers, laptops, iPads and apps. I discovered, though, that there’s low-tech and high-tech AT. And the low-tech options can be just as important for your child’s success in the classroom.

For example, in elementary school our son used specific pencil grips and slant boards to help with his writing issues. He also used a heavy-duty rubber band around the legs of his chair to help with his attention issues. Even though all these items were low tech, they helped my son every day in school.

One thing I wasn’t prepared for was the pushback. If you’re going through the AT process, there may be members of the IEP team who really don’t understand how AT works. Some may even see AT as an unfair advantage.

That’s why it’s important to explain that AT is a necessity for your child. It helps kids work independently in the classroom, so they can complete their tasks.

I also learned about the importance of trial and error. It may take some time for your child to figure out what kind of AT works for him. So don’t stress out if certain options don’t work in the beginning.

I remember I was convinced my son would love a certain typing program. It ended up not being a good match for him. But it led us to dictation software, which really helps him.

And then there’s the school-issued laptop. It took several meetings to convince the IEP team that my son, now in high school, needed it. He got one. But then we learned his cell phone was an even better fit for him! The tools he discovered on his laptop are available on his phone, too. And the phone is much easier to carry around at school.

The most important thing I learned through the AT process is to keep an open mind. It’s key to finding out what kind of AT works for your child.

Here are some other things to keep in mind during the AT process:

  • Learn as much as your brain can retain about the different AT options. Depending on your child’s challenges, learn about AT for reading, writing and math.
  • Seek out expert advice on AT. Your state’s department of education and your local school district will have AT resources. There are also professionals in the AT field.
  • Try to think through your child’s eyes, ears and brain. That perspective will help in finding a good AT match for him.
  • Imagine your child’s academic setting and the tasks that are expected of him. Think about the tools that will give him the independence he needs to complete his work.
  • Introduce your child to a variety of AT options early. Let him practice with it and listen to his feedback.
  • Be prepared for that highly recommended “perfect” program, app or device to be a total bust.
  • When your child gets older, let him help guide the process more. As a parent you can facilitate, but your child will know what works best as he matures.
  • And finally, don’t give up!

AT is an ongoing discussion with our son and his team. We continue to learn and make adjustments year after year and from class to class.

We’ve learned as a family to be flexible about this process. As parents we try our best to advocate for our child. And we continue to work with the IEP team to find the right tools that perform in the right way to help our son be successful in school.

If you’re new to assistive technology, hear from an AT expert on the first tool to try. Explore helpful apps based on your child’s age and challenges. Learn about software options. And discover free online AT tools.

About the author

About the author

Kristin Kane is a family resource coordinator for the Virginia Parent Educational Advocacy Training Center.