How Assistive Technologists Help Students with Disabilities

There are many powerful new technology tools to support the growth of children with learning disabilities. Learn about the role of Assistive Technologists in your child’s team of LD specialists.

If you have a child with a learning disability, you may have already met her occupational therapist or speech pathologist — but were you ever introduced to someone who seemed to know about every technology device available?

These professionals are known as Assistive Technologists (ATs), and they use technology tools and devices to support the educational, cognitive, and physical development of people with learning disabilities.

Read on to learn more about an AT’s role in supporting children with learning disabilities.

Education and Licensure

Assistive Technologists do not need a specific credential to provide assistive technology supports, although they are often licensed professionals in other fields like speech pathology or occupational therapy. That said, some ATs have a specific certification from the Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of America (RESNA), which provides training, certification, and advocacy for the use of assistive technologies with the goal of supporting the lives of people with disabilities.

In order to be eligible to take RESNA’s generalist AT certification exam, candidates must have an education degree, ranging from a high school diploma through a master’s degree or higher, in combination with specific numbers of hours and years of relevant work experience in their specialties. Those with high school diplomas or associate’s degrees must also have completed between 20 and 30 hours of supplemental AT training before sitting for this test. RESNA's AT exam itself contains 200 multiple-choice questions that cover broad areas of assistive technology practice.

In addition to relying on RESNA for training, resources, and certifications, many AT specialists are also members of the Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA), which is a trade group that hosts conferences, offers professional development opportunities, and provides resources aimed at ensuring that effective technologies and products are available to people with disabilities and the professionals who work with them.

Certifications

Although it is not a requirement for practicing as an AT, those who have passed RESNA’s “Assistive Technology Professional Certification” exam can include “ATP” (for “Assistive Technology Professional”) after their professional signatures. If you are seeking an AT specialist, look for this certification or for professionals whose degrees are in other LD fields and who have several years of experience using assistive technology in their specialty. You’ll also want ATs who work specifically with children and are familiar with the rapidly-evolving tools that are most effective for kids of different ages and learning disabilities.

Work and Settings

Assistive Technologists help students with learning- or motor-based difficulties (or both) to access educational opportunities in whatever way is best suited to their specific needs. For example, an Assistive Technologist can help students with a nonverbal learning disability by providing them with AT tools to produce voice output. Likewise, ATs may use wheelchairs and other positioning supports to enable students with motor challenges to participate fully in inclusion classrooms. Many ATs turn to Chromebooks or iPad-based tools to help students who struggle with reading and writing develop their literacy skills.

Assistive Technologists may work for specific schools or float among schools. Some work in private practice or as independent consultants in students’ homes, with the aim of integrating the use of assistive technology supports into all areas of children’s lives. Many AT consultants also offer professional development to teachers, who can in turn effectively incorporate key tools into their classroom practices.

A Voice from the Field

Noodle Expert Jamie Martin is an AT consultant and trainer. His background happens to be in English, and his work as an AT has allowed him to bridge his passions for writing and for helping individuals with dyslexia and other learning disabilities. In keeping with many professionals’ views, Jamie recommends that children with learning disabilities use technology in conjunction with other forms of remediation, arguing that this multifacted approach helps students to develop greater independence and confidence. Like other Assistive Technologists, he has strong opinions about which tools are most user-friendly as well as extensive knowledge about various operating systems, browsers, and devices.

Questions to Ask an AT

When you meet with your child’s AT, you’ll want to be prepared with questions to help you better understand — and be involved with — the supports your child is utilizing. Here are five key questions to ask your child’s AT:

  • What are the pros and cons of this specific device or tool you’re recommending?
  • What is your experience working with students with my child’s disability?
  • Will my child outgrow this device or tool? If so, what would be a logical next step?
  • How can I help support what my child is doing at school if we don’t have this device at home?
  • What should my child’s teachers and I be looking for in her growth?

Further Reading: Other Members of the Team

Your child may work with specialists beyond her AT. Find out more about the other members of your child’s team by reading these comprehensive articles:

For a broad overview of learning disability teams, read Meet Your Child's Disability Specialists: Who's Who on the Support Team.

Sources:

Assistive Technology Section: District 75, New York City Board of Education. Retrieved from Assitive Technology: District 75.

RESNA Certification Policies and Procedures Handbook. (2014). Retrieved from RESNA.

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