A Parent's Guide to Assistive Technology
What is Assistive Technology?
Assistive Technology (AT) is the name given to any equipment, device or system that allows an individual to perform tasks they would otherwise be unable to do or increases the ease and safety with which tasks can be performed. AT promotes greater independence, increased efficiency and increased access to activities/tasks by providing practical solutions to overcome barriers to performing everyday life skills.
Examples of types of Assistive Technology include:
Daily Living Aids such as dressing aids, modified eating utensils, tap turners and other kitchen equipment can help people overcome physical or cognitive limitations and maximize their independence in daily living tasks.
Vision/Hearing aids such as magnifiers, large button remote controls and text to speech software may assist in overcoming sensory deficits.
Seating & Positioning equipment such as adapted seating, specialised cushions, positioning belts and head supports can help people maintain an upright posture, maintain physical health and limit postural deterioration.
Mobility equipment such as power or manual wheelchairs, electric scooters, walking frames and modified vehicles for travel may help individuals move within their environment and maximize their participation in their home and community.
Alternative & Augmentative Communication (AAC) such as electronic communication devices, speech generating devices, voice amplification, communication books and other communication resources may help people with speech and language impairments to communicate with those around them.
Computer Access aids such as switch access, mouse alternatives (including eye-gaze mouse control, head tracking devices, mouse emulation software and power wheelchair controls integrated as mouse controls) and specialized computer access software ( including voice control software and voice to text software) can allow independent computer access to individuals with complex presentations and very limited functional movement.
Environmental Control systems such as home automation systems, power link devices and advanced remote control systems can allow individuals to control household appliances (such as lighting, heating, entertainment units) as well as their home environment (such as remote opening doors) and operate their telephone when they may have very little functional independent movement.
Leisure/recreation aids such as adapted gaming controls, adapted sports equipment (bowling supports, fishing rods, horse-riding saddles, kayak seating, paddle grips, etc) and audio descriptions for TV, internet use and movies.
Home/school/workplace modifications provide structural solutions such as ramps, grab rails, stair climbers, bathroom modifications, increased door widths and adaptive desk/workspace configurations to maximize access and safety in the home, school and workplace.
Prosthetics and Orthotics such as hand splints, Ankle Foot Orthoses (AFOs), artificial limbs and orthotic aids provide support, replacement or augmentation to affected body parts.
Who uses Assistive Technology?
We all use AT to assist us in a range of daily activities – this may be a simple solution such as a standard TV remote control or a more complex solution designed specifically to address a physical, sensory or cognitive difficulty specific to a disability.
Is Assistive Technology complicated to use?
Assistive technology may involve simple products such as an adapted spoon or much more complex systems such as an eye-gaze communication device. The level of complexity of the technology as well as your level of experience with that technology will determine how much support you and your child will need to integrate it successfully into your everyday life.
As an example, the supply and use of a low-cost, off the shelf, assistive technology solution such as a sippy cup or child-sized computer mouse may be self-directed by capable individuals who can liaise with other people involved (such as your child’s teacher). However, the recommendation and supply of more complex solutions such as switch access for the computer or a wheelchair, will require AT Assessor input from a qualified health professional (such as an Occupational Therapy, Speech Pathology or Physiotherapy assessment). Your AT Assessor will also be able to work with you to determine the level of support your child will need to effectively integrate the AT into their life once it is supplied.
How do I determine which Assistive technology is best for my child?
There is a wide range of AT options available for children and knowing where to start can seem overwhelming. Most often, the choice of which AT is the best fit for your child is a decision you make collaboratively with a team of AT professionals. Your AT team will work with you and your child to understand their needs, trial possible AT solutions and make a recommendation that represents a good match. Your AT team may include an Occupational therapist, Speech Pathologist or Physiotherapist (depending on the area of your goals) who will collaborate with your child’s broader team (teachers, child-care worker, family, etc) to recommend an AT solution, provide the relevant training and ongoing support so that the AT is integrated successfully into your child’s life.
It is always useful to identify some initial goals for your child prior to consulting with your AT team to help guide the process. Some questions to help you with goal setting may include:
- What would your child like to be able to do better?
- What is your child interested in & motivated by?
- What potential can you identify in your child? (What can they almost do?)
- What physical / body limitations are a barrier to your child’s participation in daily living tasks, home activities, school and recreational activities?
- What environmental factors are a support or barrier to your child’s performance of tasks?
- What personal factors (such as temperament, culture, behaviour, etc) are a support or a barrier to your child’s performance and participation?
- What parts of an activity are achievable for your child? What parts do they need help with?
Who funds Assistive Technology?
Funding for AT assessments, trials, recommendations and equipment is available from a variety of sources across Australia. The amount of funding available depends on your child’s diagnosis and functional presentation and varies from state to state.
Most simple / low tech AT solutions are relatively cheap and are usually purchased privately by families. Most complex AT solutions require fundraising or an application to a funding body. Funding bodies usually require AT team input and specific supporting information.
Your AT team will be able to link you in with funding bodies in your local area (such as the NDIS, National Disability Insurance Scheme) and provide you with resources to support your funding application.
Where can I find more information on Assistive Technology?
If you are already linked in with a therapy provider they may offer a dedicated AT team as part of their service. Ask your child’s current therapist what their service offers.
If you are not already linked with a service provider, an easy place to start is to Google “Assistive Technology” and your state. You will find links to local AT providers in your state.
The information contained in this article is intended solely for general information purposes. It is not a substitute for, and is not intended to replace, independent professional advice or recommendations.
Senior Occupational Therapist, Manager,
SEMAT (Seating & Equipment Modifications Assessment Team)