Fact: Assistive technology ranges from low-tech aids, such as grasping supports, to specialized high-tech supports, such as an augmentative communication system, based on the individualized needs of the child.

12420270252?profile=RESIZE_180x180

Victoria Waters, M.Ed. is an Educational Consultant at UNC’s FPG Child Development Institute and Outreach Manager for STEM Innovation for Inclusion in Early Education Center (STEMIE).

12420270271?profile=RESIZE_180x180Chih-Ing Lim, Ph.D. is a Senior Technical Assistance Specialist at UNC’s FPG Child Development Institute and Co-director of the STEM Innovation for Inclusion in Early Education Center (STEMIE).

12420270288?profile=RESIZE_180x180Ann Sam, Ph.D. is a Senior Research Scientist at UNC’s FPG Child Development Institute and Technical Assistance Specialist for STEM Innovation for Inclusion in Early Education Center (STEMIE).

Positive and inclusive STEM learning opportunities are essential for all young children, as interest in and belief in their ability to succeed in STEM fields forms at a young age (Early STEM Working Group, 2017). For young children with disabilities (birth to five), the use of assistive technology (AT) may be needed to provide access to STEM learning opportunities. Combining AT with effective teaching can promote children’s participation in learning (Winton, Buysse, Rous, Epstein, & Pierce, 2011). A common myth about AT is that it has to be an expensive high-tech electronic device, such as a tablet (US Department of Education, 2024). This is not the case. In fact, AT is the use of “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” (Sandall et al., 2005). In other words, AT spans from low-tech aids such as visual cues and grasping supports that are usually created by families, teachers, or therapists, to mid-tech supports, such as button switches and standers to high-tech supports such as custom-built augmentative  communication device  and powered wheelchairs.

The following table provides examples of low-tech to high-tech AT devices/interventions that are most commonly used to support young children (birth to five) with disabilities in accessing learning opportunities.

 Assistive Tech

Examples

Low-tech (typically do not require batteries, are inexpensive, and are created by families, teachers, or therapists)

·  Visual cues (e.g., colored borders, visual schedules)

·  Tactile outlines

·  Communication boards/binders (e.g., PECS)

·  Grasping supports (e.g., page turners using popsicle sticks)

·  Stabilizing mats/low trays

Mid-tech (generally need a power source but are generally inexpensive)

·  Speech-generating device (e.g., fixed displays, button switches, talking keyboards)

·  Apps

·  Timer

·  Switch-access device (i.e., to operate toys or other electronic devices)

High-tech (typically require a power source, are tailored to the young child’s specific needs, and can be pricey)

·  Augmentative communication device (i.e., dynamic and custom built)

·  Powered wheelchair

·  Tablet/Laptop

 Adapted from Qahmash, 2018, The IRIS Center, 2010; 2020, Waters et al., 2022, and STEMIE, 2023

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