Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Communication and Assistive Technology


I will take some time away from talking about myself to answer one of my first questions.

Q: What are your thoughts on Assistive Technology (AT) for non-verbal/mostly
non-verbal kids? (Doesn’t have to be Autistic specific)
A: My first step would be to look at the student’s functioning and ask, “What is the big goal?” I want to know if my goal is to increase community involvement and interaction.
If it is, I am a fan of Least Restrictive Environment --- even for AT devices (Also commonly called “Alternative and Augmentative Communication” or AAC).

1. Is there a low-tech answer?

2. If you go tech, can you use something that is commonplace in work or school technology? It is amazing what you can find on your everyday laptops that no one knows about.

3. If no to #1 and #2, then consider the fancy stuff.

I really try to stay in 1 and 2 for kids that have the possibility of employment and/or more integration in society. If communication is completely halted to the point that there is no interaction with the community, then you can consider the big technology.

The problem with high-tech for community interaction is that the community is not used to using or interacting with the device.

Whereas, a low-tech system like PECS (Pictures), can be used by the McDonalds trainee.
The fast-food joints all have picture menus... Those are really just a cousin of a PECS system.

"Oh, that looks like our picture menu. Let me see. You need to find the bathroom? Over there, sir."

Also, fancy technology fails. What happens if the battery dies or there is a technical glitch (and your local Best Buy is not going to be able to repair it)?

Going low-tech or common-tech whenever possible reduces the probability of bad things happening, and it increases the likelihood that the community will be willing to interact with them.

Now, if the lack of communication is 100% of the current obstacle, all of those points are moot, and we need to be able to tap into what is going on in that head.

Just be wary of the fact that AT companies have REALLY good marketing presentations. You need a really good, INDIVIDUALIZED assessment from someone that does not make any money off of the sale. A fancy device that is not consistently being used is worthless. Don’t be impressed by an AT device that looks like something that would be installed in James Bond’s car. You only need the options that your student will be using. Once it is set up correctly, you probably won’t use 95% of the other options. Once the settings are tweaked to the individual, you want it to be reliable. Do not underestimate the importance of battery life (both holding a charge and number of recharges before it is dead) or local maintenance versus needing to ship it to Bangalore.

Like most things, this is individualized. Therefore, you have to look at the quality of process and people that are helping you. Can they explain their recommendations with rationale and evidence in plain English?

Dr. Eric’s randomness – Because I have ADHD and it’s my blog.

Check out my fraternity brother’s blog on management in the tech sector. My favorite post so far is when he compares management to his days on the MIT Blackjack Team.

If you are not familiar with the MIT Blackjack Team, there is a book on them that inspired the fictionalized account in the movie 21.

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