Assistive Technology Professional Development
Scope of Practice
Some assistive technology categories require the inclusion of designated licensed professionals for the assessment, implementation, and evaluation process. This is important to determine appropriateness of a device for a child and to measure effectiveness. For example, an audiologist must select the amplification for a child with a hearing loss. A speech and language pathologist should be part of the process for selecting augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices. Physical or occupational therapists have the clinical knowledge and expertise to guide the selection of a mobility device, although they may also assist the speech and language pathologist in the selection of an AAC device for a child with motoric disabilities. Professionals should examine their own skills in selecting AT devices. The Birth to Three program’s responsibility is to locate and engage providers who possess the needed expertise when the program does not possess the competency to select a needed AT device.
Myths and Barriers
Various myths and barriers have influenced early intervention providers’ use of assistive technology. To eliminate barriers to good practice and ensure that programs deliver appropriate services that include assistive technology, professional development and training in this area are critical. It is essential that providers are competent in the selection, acquisition, and use of assistive technology and knowledgeable about the array of AT options that are available for infants and toddlers. Professionals are encouraged to examine their own skills and knowledge and to engage in ongoing professional learning opportunities to meet their present needs as well as to increase their knowledge of new and emerging technologies and practices. Training increases people’s awareness of options and possibilities as well as provides skills in creating and using AT materials or devices. When people feel confident about their knowledge, they are more likely to consider AT as an intervention—as a means to help young children participate and learn (Tots ’n Tech, 2009).
Myths: A widely held but false belief (Oxford English Dictionary, 2002).
- Children must possess an understanding of cause and effect or other cognitive skills before they can effectively use AT (Dugan, Campbell and Wilcox, 2006).
- Children must have specific speech and language competencies before using an AAC device (Dugan et al., 2006).
- AT means giving up on a child learning to perform specific skills (Dugan et al. 2006).
- Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) hinders or stops further speech development (Romski and Sevcik, 2005).
- AAC is a “last resort” in speech-language acquisition (Romski and Sevcik, 2005).
- Children have to be a certain age to benefit from AAC (Romski and Sevcik, 2005).
Barriers: A fence or other obstacle that prevents movement or access, a circumstance or obstacle that keeps people or things apart or prevents communication or progress (Oxford English Dictionary, 2002).
- The professional has limited knowledge about the benefits of using AT (Dugan et al., 2006).
- The provider does not have sufficient knowledge and resources to apply recommended practices (Dugan et al., 2006).
- The provider is fearful of technology (Dugan et al., 2006).
- The provider lacks confidence in delivering AT services (Long and Perry, 2008).
- The provider does not know how to include AT devices and services into the child’s early intervention and therefore avoids consideration of need.
- Concerns for costs and funding (Dugan, et al., 2006)
Resources for Professional Development
The Birth to Three System has a contract with NEAT in Connecticut to provide training to all Birth to Three programs as well as assistance in selecting appropriate and cost-effective devices. The center schedules training events each year specific to early interventionists. The Birth to Three System has purchased seating at each workshop, which it offers without cost to Birth to Three providers.
Birth to Three providers should consider a variety of professional development and training options to increase their knowledge of AT. Examples of continuing educational opportunities include:
- Professional organizations such as ASHA, RESNA, or CEC.
- Workshops offered through SERC, NEAT, and private providers of assistive technology devices
- Web-based learning opportunities
- Classes offered at colleges/universities
- Product demonstrations
- Individual mentoring
- Web sites such as Tots ’n Tech