Assistive technology in schools: what’s on offer?

Issue: Volume 96, Number 11

Posted: 26 June 2017
Reference #: 1H9dLJ

Specialised equipment can help students with additional learning needs to reach their learning goals. Education Gazette explains how it can help with challenging behaviour.

Assistive technology (AT) is specialised equipment and technology that students with additional learning needs use in class to increase or improve their ability to participate and learn.

When carefully tailored to an individual student’s needs, AT can enhance learning and achievement, and boost student independence and confidence.

There are many kinds of AT that can help students who struggle to learn literacy and numeracy skills in the classroom environment.

Because every student has different needs, it’s important that time is taken to find the right tool at the right time, for the best outcome.

As a result of recent Select Committee recommendations, the current focus for the Centre for Assistive Technology (CAT) is on supporting students with dyslexia, dyspraxia, and autism spectrum disorder to access the curriculum.

Case study: teaching ‘replacement skills’ for challenging behaviour

At the age of six and a half, Dylan* was referred to a Ministry of Education behaviour service and two years later he was recognised as being ‘twice gifted’.

At school, Dylan’s behaviour including running up to the wall and slamming his body against it repeatedly during class time, and making inappropriate verbal noises that included toilet language.

He was also generally struggling to engage in classroom learning tasks.

His behaviour was causing a significant disruption to the learning of others in his class and by the time he was referred, Dylan was attending school only part-time.

Formal assessment followed to ascertain what might be triggering and influencing the behaviours, what was working well and what the function of the behaviour was for Dylan.

This assessment process identified him as a capable ‘decoder’ who struggled with the physical task of handwriting and could become easily overcome when required to process too much sensory stimuli.

Dylan’s most challenging behaviour was recorded when he was required to transition between learning tasks and to start a writing task.

Dylan’s family pursued private assessments that identified a processing disorder and a diagnosis of dyspraxia and dysgraphia.

Recommendations from all specialist assessments supported the need for consideration of technology at school.

A SETT (Student, Environment, Task & Tools) assessment was completed in the context of the classroom with the support of the classroom teacher, Dylan’s mother, Special Education Needs Coordinator and his Ministry behaviour worker.

In this assessment, Dylan’s age, diagnosis and writing skills were taken into account, along with consideration for his difficulties in processing auditory instructions and potential anxiety arising from this.

The school that he was attending had a strong general interest in technology and some staff had been attending assistive technology workshops. There were also a few children in the school who already had assistive technology.

Dylan’s learning goals/tasks taken from his Individual Education Plan were to:

  • write two sentences independently in class at writing time alongside peers
  • record his ideas for writing
  • share his writing with his teacher and peers.

Choosing the right device

The student support team brainstormed ideas for a device or tool to best help Dylan to achieve these learning goals.

It was decided that it must be easily portable, engaging and promote Dylan’s independence.

It also needed to have an easily accessible keyboard, word prediction and dictionary/thesaurus capability, and be able to show words with pictures and symbols.

This process is also known as the ‘black box’ technique and allows a support team to discuss the pros and cons of a range of tools. The potential tools discussed included a range of supportive hardware and software. The team considered the following:

  • iPad with Word Q, Write on PDF and Book Creator
  • iPad with Clicker sentence, Clicker docs, Visual Creator, Write on PDF and Book Creator
  • Laptop with Word Q
  • Laptop with Clicker7.

This discussion led to a brief trial of an iPad and a longer and more successful trial of a laptop with Clicker7 software.

Post trial data showed that when using assistive technology, Dylan’s writing went from struggling to form letters or write a sentence to being able to write three to six sentences independently and up to nine sentences with intermittent support.

Dylan was funded a laptop and Clicker7 software to support him in his literacy learning.

This, alongside other interventions, helped to minimise his challenging behaviour within a year.

More than two years later, he has been identified as ‘twice gifted’ and no longer requires assistive technology. The school returned his equipment and he is now using a Chromebook in the school’s Google environment, which is considered standard classroom equipment.

*Name has been changed.

Assistive technology (AT) and transitions

Last year district technology coordinators across the country were asked to complete a detailed AT review. This involved having conversations with those students who had been allocated Ministry-funded AT over the past 12 months, and their schools.

The results confirmed 85 per cent of the allocated AT were ‘exceeding’ or still ‘meeting’ the students’ learning needs. However, 15 per cent were no longer in use.

These cases could be traced to a change in school (transition) for the student, and a lack of communication between the schools at this time of transition was evident.

Students should take their Ministry-funded AT with them when they change schools. Whenever possible, the transition to the new school should be planned and information about the technology’s purpose and the student’s use of the technology shared with the new school.

Transition is a key part of the assistive technology process. Schools are required to complete a transfer form (on the student’s behalf) to formally transfer the technology (and the ownership, care and maintenance responsibilities) to the new school and remove it from the current school’s asset register. This form is also used when the equipment is no longer required and needs to be returned to the Ministry.

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BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 10:24 pm, 26 June 2017

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