Assistive Technology for the Special Needs Child

Technology & The Special Needs Child:

A Parent’s Guide to Securing Assistive Technology

It is a well established fact that the use of technology in education is providing new and unique opportunities for our children to learn. This is especially true in the special needs context where even a slight adaptation in the educational program can make a significant difference in the child’s annual educational progress. It is for this reason that schools and local regional centers are mandated, by law, to consider the appropriateness of assistive technology for the special needs child. This article is designed to help you understand how assistive technology or (AT) can help your child and how to identify possible sources of funding and support for this amazing resource.

What Is Assistive Technology?

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) 20 U.S.C. Section 1401 (1) defines assistive technology as follows:

The term “assistive technology device” means any item, piece of equipment or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of a child with a disability.

Section 1401 goes on to specify the level of support a school district must provide. Specifically, a district must evaluate a child for the appropriateness of AT and if a need is identified, must take steps to acquire (purchase or lease) the technology and train all classroom teachers, staffers and even parents on the appropriate uses of the equipment.

What Kinds of Assistive Technology Are Available?

Typical areas of need addressed by AT include mobility, hearing, vision, communication, reading, writing, study skills and activities of daily life. Examples of AT range from simple solutions such as an enlarged pencil or adapted writing paper to more complex solutions such as specially designed computer software or an advanced instrument such as an adapted communication device. The key to narrowing in on possible AT options for your child is to first isolate the unique area of need. It is important to remember that AT does not need to “break the school district’s bank.” Many of the most effective adaptations are readily available to schools at relatively low cost.

Securing a Assistive Technology For Your Child – IEP Strategies


The appropriate way to determine if your child would benefit from assistive technology is through the assessment process. Like all services and supports offered in conjunction with an educational program, the need for AT must be determined by a trained and knowledgeable assessor. If your child is new to special education, you will want to be sure that assistive technology is part of your initial assessment plan. Parents with established IEPs that do not include AT may wish to consider requesting an assessment. In most instances, the district must issue an assessment plan within (15) days of receipt of parent’s written request. Once the assessments are completed, the IEP team must meet to consider the findings and observations of the assessor in light of the child’s strengths and challenges. Parent opinions and suggestions must be considered by the district staff as parents are, by law, equal participants in the process.

Relating the Need for the Assistive Technology Back to the Child’s Education

Before an IEP team can consider providing AT for the child, it must first be demonstrated that the AT will assist the child in accessing his or her curriculum.

AT which assists the child but has no relevance to the educational placement will be rejected by the IEP team. However, most AT has an educational application and parents preparing to attend an IEP involving a discussion on AT should take a few minutes to think through all possible educational applications for the device. It is a good idea to note your thoughts for easy reference during the IEP meeting.

What About “Non Educational” Assistive Tech ? – Requesting AT From the Regional Center

If your child requires assistive technology that falls outside of the school setting, consider requesting the assistance from your regional center service coordinator. Under the Lanterman Act, (California Welfare & Institutions Code § 4512) assistive technology is called adaptive equipment, supplies, and transportation services. Remember, the regional center is charged with providing services and supports that can help your child in the social, personal, physical, economic habilitation or rehabilitation realms. This scope is rather wide. Accordingly, it is likely that your child’s needed technology will fall under this definition

These materials were prepared by Mark Woodsmall. Mark Woodsmall is the founder of the Woodsmall Law Group and the parent of a child with Autism. For more information on securing an Independent Evaluation, the IEP, or Due Process in a Los Angeles, San Gabriel Valley, or La Cañada school, please contact us at (626) 440-0028.