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What is assistive technology?

Assistive technology helps your child with a disability or special need to do something. Many devices are available to help your child do the things other children can do. Some services and devices may be covered under Medicaid.

Learn more about what assistive technology can do for your child. Ask professionals who evaluate your child what assistive technology can do to help. Ask them lots of questions about how and what you can do to help your child at home.

Assistive technology tools can help a child with a disability or medical problem with:
    A child using a walker
  • Learning.
  • Playing.
  • Talking.
  • Walking, moving and sitting.
  • Seeing and hearing.
  • Eating.
Assistive technology also can help children:
  • Use the computer.
  • Read to themselves.
  • Do things for themselves and be more independent.

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Who helps decide what assistive technology to use?

Deciding what assistive technology to use for a child with a disability or medical condition is a team decision that usually involves a physical therapist, occupational therapist, speech therapist, teacher and local assistive technology specialist.

Physical therapist: A professional trained to help children make their muscles stronger and the joints in their arms, legs and chest more flexible.

Occupational therapist: A professional who helps children with joint and muscle conditions. The therapist also helps figure out what problems with these joints and muscles will have on a child's daily living, e.g., getting dressed, eating. And the therapist can design and suggest assistive devices.

Assistive technology specialist: A person who works with individuals with disabilities to provide assistive technology solutions to help with problems. Assistive technology or assistive devices help a person with a disability with any daily living task such as eating, speaking, getting around, working, playing.

Speech-language therapist: A professional who evaluates and treats communication disorders (problems with speech) and swallowing problems. A speech-language pathologist is sometimes called a speech therapist or speech pathologist.

Early childhood special educators/special-education teachers: Teachers specially trained to help your child learn.

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What do families need to consider before deciding on what assistive technology to use?

The most important question is, "What do you want your child to do that he or she is currently unable to do because of a disability or medical condition?"

Most parents want their children to walk, talk, play and do what other children can do. Here are some ideas of how this technology can help your child:


A crayon holder from
Young children learn by exploring and creating things. Adapted tools can help children explore through painting, coloring, writing and cutting. An occupational therapist and assistive technology specialist can help decide on the right tool.
An adapted scissors from





Some children with a disability cannot sit unsupported. An adapted tricycle helps a child sit safely and supported, letting your child increase independence during play and experience movement. A physical therapist can help decide on the right tricycle.

Battery-operated switch toys also help children play. These toys move at the touch of a switch to engage children.

An adapted tricycle from
A switch toy from Debbie School
A switch toy from



Communication devices help your child speak or communicate and understand. Some examples:
  • "Talking" device used to communicate for children with difficulty talking. The simplest is a one-message "talking" device. One family recorded "Happy Halloween" so their child could take part in trick or treating. By touching a button, the device "spoke" for the child.

  • Two-message "talking" devices help a child who is not yet talking, or who is talking but hard to understand. This device can let others know what the child wants to eat, where he/she wants to go, etc.

  • The choices increase as your child's abilities allow -- all the way to the fancy systems on a computer that let the person say thousands of messages or words.

  • There are many other options, such as a "picture board" that uses pictures or photos of things to which your child can point. Check with an assistive technology specialist and speech and language therapist for more ways to help your child communicate.
A one-message talking device from http://www.ablenetinc.com/ A two-message talking device from http://prekese.dadeschools.net/primetime.htm A three-message talking device from http://www.enablingdevices.com/

Walking, Moving and Sitting

Adapted positioning equipment helps your child to do something about the body's position. For instance:
  • A stander (see picture at left) to help your child to stand up straight.
  • A walker or leg braces to keep legs straight.
  • An adapted chair to help him or her sit up.
Often times a child with a muscle problem such as cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy cannot sit up by himself or herself. An occupational therapist can help you find the right adapted chair (right) to help your child sit with support.
A stander from
An adapted seat from
A walker from

Walkers or gait trainers are typically prescribed by a pediatrician and physical therapist. A physical therapist can recommend a walker after a proper physical therapy evaluation.

Talk with a professional before deciding on position equipment. The wrong equipment or handmade equipment can harm your child.

Seeing and Hearing

A picture of a toy that vibrates
Children with problems hearing or seeing can have toys that are made just for them. Some examples:
  • Light up or vibrate.
  • Are textured (raised or rough surfaces).
  • Adding smells to playthings such as Playdough.
  • Headphones to increase volume and decrease background noises to help children with difficulty hearing to enjoy music or stories.
This can add touch, sound, smell and other sensations for young children at play. This helps develop their senses and to enjoy play more. Ask about toys for your child to help development.

A toy that lights up
A toy with a texture
Headphones from


A no-slip place mat from
Adapted tools for eating can be used to help your child eat by him or herself. An occupational therapist can help choose the right tools.

Adapted tools for eating can include:
An adapted fork
  • Larger handled forks, knives and spoons or ones with easy-to-grip foam handles.
  • Special plates with raised edges so food won't slide off.
  • Cups with handles or a cut out from which to drink.
  • A non-slip mat put under plates and cups to help prevent plates and cups from moving around, spilling or falling.
Using the Computer
A touch screen from

The computer is a great learning tool for all children and especially useful for a young child. Many types of assistive technology are used to help a child use the computer such as:
Learning software for assistive
technology tools
  • Teaching software (at left) programs that work with assistive technology equipment.
  • Touch screens (right upper) and switches to help your child use the computer alone.
  • Adapted keyboards with bigger or simple-to-use keys).
  • Joystick controls (right) instead of using a mouse or keyboard.
A joystick computer control from



Adapted books are books changed to make them easier for your child to read. Adapted books can be:

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Do things for themselves around the house

A picture schedule from
Picture schedules help your child stay organized and do things. This list of activities uses pictures to show what the child has to do.

Another useful tool to make your child more independent can be environmental control devices to control such items in your home as a TV, a fan and lights.

An environment control device from
It is important for even younger children to feel like they can do something without a parent's help. That increases their self-esteem and self-worth.

For more information, contact:
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Brought to you by The Early Childhood Initiative Foundation and United Way Center for Excellence in Early Education

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