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Assistive Technology: Parent to Teacher Conversations

Assistive Technology: Parent to Teacher Conversations

If you suspect that your child would benefit from using AT at school, it's  important to discuss your observations, suggestions, and questions with your child's teachers. Make time to speak in person. In this article, you'll find tips for opening the conversation with example conversation starters.

Assistive Technology (AT) comes in many forms and presents new opportunities and modes of access, particularly for students with learning, verbal, or social challenges. Recognizing that your child might benefit from AT at school could dramatically improve their ability to demonstrate their skills, to connect with teachers and peers, and keep specific learning disabilities from interfering with their strengths, skill-building, and confidence. Many parents feel uncertain about what options exist for their child, and how to include these in their teacher's lessons.

If you suspect that your child would benefit from using AT at school, it's very important to discuss your observations, suggestions, and questions with your child's teachers. Make time to speak in person. Here are some tips for opening the conversation with example conversation starters below:

Reflect on the skills and challenges you see at home. What activities is your child excited and motivated to do? What comes easily to them? What challenges do they take pride in overcoming? On the other hand, what does your child find frustrating or overwhelming? What activities do they try to avoid? AT works best when it takes advantage of a strong group of skills to isolate a struggle, so know what your child's strengths are.

“I’ve noticed that Padma loves math. She always does her math homework by herself and without too much prompting from me. On the other hand, she really struggles with writing. It is really frustrating for her and always ends up in a fight when she has to do it for homework. I’m wondering if there are any technology tools that can help her become more independent and less frustrated by these tasks.”

Keep in mind that AT may be either remedial or compensatory. Remediation is when a student works at strengthening an academic skill that is weak. For example, learning phonics to help with their ability to decode and read individual words. In contrast, compensatory tools allow your child to work around an area of weakness by using their strengths and skills in a different way to complete a task. For example, a student who struggles with graphomotor skills may find it frustrating to write a book report. Providing voice recognition software would allow her to demonstrate her verbal skills, creativity, and comprehension, unimpeded by her writing. Working with an Occupational Therapist will target fine motor development is an example of remediation because the specific skill deficit is actually being targeted and overcome. In discussing options with your child, think about short-term and long-term goals. Providing AT in one area may be accompanied by targeted skill-building in another area.

“I think we should talk about what kinds of remediation programs Nadine is currently a part of and what accommodations she’s getting for her weaker skills. I’ve noticed that she has really improved her ideas and organization in writing after resource room support, but that her spelling really isn’t coming along and is very frustrating for her. Is there anything that we can give her that might help her with her spelling so that she can keep developing her writing skills?”

Keep in mind that school and home are different environments: each has its own behavioral expectations, social interactions, time management guidelines, and tasks to complete. Strategies that you and your child have adopted at home may need to be adapted to work in a whole-class setting, and strategies that your child uses at school may need to be adapted when they are at home. Considering both the similarities and differences of these contexts will help you decide where, when, and how AT will be most helpful.

“We’ve been using voice recognition on the computer at home to help Jeremy with his writing, but the other day he told me that the classroom isn’t quite enough for the computer to hear him, and that he gets embarrassed about having to talk his ideas out loud. Can we work together to find a solution that might work in the classroom?”

Ask about funding. Your school board may have existing resources available. In many locations, some types of AT are made available through schools and school boards. In others, families provide these materials. You may wish to consider looking at low-tech or low cost alternatives. Many devices today have many of the popular AT built right into them. Most tablets and smartphones are able to read all text out loud on a screen, or have voice recognition and word prediction inputs, built in reminders, and many other features. Look at the accessibility features for your device or computer operation.

“I’ve read a lot about assistive technologies lately and I think they would really help Aryan. Do parents typically need to buy assistive technology for their children or does the school board have any resources already?”

Remember that your child's teacher has a body of knowledge about children's development and the skills that they expect your child to gain at this age, and an informed perspective on your child's learning goals, abilities, and behaviors. You may disagree with their suggestions, and that's okay. It is important that you and the teacher communicate about observations at home and at school. If you think that one type of intervention is a poor fit for your child, explain your concerns. If a teacher encourages a different method, listen to their reasoning. You are both important advocates with your child's best interests in mind. 

“As you know, I don’t think that the assistive technology tool that Valentina is currently using is really working for her. She seems to be confused by what she is being asked to do and how to use the program. I would like to hear what your observations are, however, so that we can work together to help her the best we can.”

Mira Kates Rose, Bronwyn Lamond, Todd Cunningham (2017)

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