Monday, May 9, 2011

Get Creative - Assistive Technology for Your Infant or Toddler

Ever thought that something as simple as a roll of masking tape could help your child with a disability, or that the cookie sheet sitting in your cupboard could be used for something other than baking delicious treats? These items, along with many other materials you probably already have in your home, can be easily converted into assistive technology (AT) devices to support your infant or toddler with a disability.
AT refers to simple devices, tools, technologies or services that can help children with disabilities improve or maintain their functional capabilities. For example, AT could include:
• Universally made toys that are designed to meet the needs of most children, regardless of ability
• A thick grip attached to the page of a book that helps a child turn pages independently
• A picture parents use to communicate “all done”
To an appropriate extent, AT devices and supports should be provided to children in natural environments, such as a home, childcare setting or community outing. When deciding if AT is right for your child, first identify his or her needs. Ask yourself, “What does my child need help doing?” Your Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) team can help you determine what AT could benefit your child.
Some forms of AT, such as electronic equipment, can be expensive, but there are also plenty of inexpensive ways that parents and families can use assistive technology by adjusting or adapting everyday items. Here are a few simple AT ideas from Tots ‘n Tech (, a research institute that conducts studies regarding AT for infants and toddlers.
Coupon Holder Communication Display
For children who can’t communicate verbally, it can be a challenge to express their wants and needs, especially around mealtimes. Use the Coupon Holder Communication Display to help your child communicate his or her thoughts and choose what to eat. Fill a magnet-backed coupon holder (available at most dollar stores) with cards that represent food, beverages or actions, such as “more” and “all done.” Place the holder on the fridge where the child can reach it. The next time you make dinner, let your child decide what’s on the menu!
Cookie Sheet Games
Help your child learn to play games cooperatively by making your own version of a popular childhood game, Tic-Tac-Toe. On a cookie sheet, create a colorful Tic-Tac-Toe grid using electrician’s tape. Use magnetic X’s and O’s for pieces, or glue magnets to the bottoms of poker chips. For children with low fine motor skills, glue plastic loops to the game pieces. This game can be enjoyed by everyone in the family.
Noodle Protection
Many children love grocery shopping with their parents, but for children with spasms or who jerk uncontrollably, it’s nearly impossible to sit safely in a shopping cart. The next time you go grocery shopping with your child, try cutting swim noodles into sections to fit over the metal parts of the cart (available seasonally at Walmart, Target or sporting goods stores). Now enjoy shopping without having to worry!
Masking Tape Path
This idea is great for children with limited vision who are just starting to crawl or walk around the house. With a roll of regular masking tape, map out a path for your child to follow – from the bedroom to the bathroom, from the bathroom to the kitchen, and so on. As a fun activity, use the masking tape to create a maze for your child and help him or her complete it. Who knew masking tape could be so much fun?
Slippy Slide
If you constantly have to clean up spills in the kitchen because your child knocks his or her bowl over, try the Slippy Slide. Use a suction cup designed for soap to hold the dish in place on the table or highchair tray. Underneath the dish, place a plastic mat (you might have to cut the mat to size).
Adapted Crayon Holder
Children can spend hours entertaining themselves with nothing more than a few crayons and a coloring book. To help your child grip crayons more easily, use an empty 35mm film canister (available free at any store that handles film processing) or an old prescription bottle and cut an “X” in the top and bottom. Insert the crayon through the holes. Then stand back and watch your child create beautiful masterpieces!
These suggestions are just a few of the hundreds of easy, inexpensive ideas for converting everyday materials into assistive technology supports for your child with a disability. With just a little ingenuity and creativity, parents can use assistive technology to help infants and toddlers learn important developmental and learning skills they will use their entire lives.
For more ideas or information on assistive technology for your infant or toddler, visit the Tots ‘n Tech website at You can also order PACER and Tots ‘n Tech’s brochure “Discover How Assistive Technology Can Help Your Infant or Toddler Learn and Grow” by calling PACER at (952) 838-9000 or by visiting One copy free to parents in MN.

App Corner: I See Ewe, Peek-A-Boo Baby Rattle, & Wheels on the Bus.

App has been used as a shorthand term for “applications” and has become popular to indicate mobile application. App grew even more in popular with the opening of Apple's App Store, which can be accessed through iTunes. In the “App Corner” in Tech Notes we will highlight mobile applications that are universally designed or meet an educational need. This month we highlight apps appropriate for early childhood.
I See Ewe - by ClaireWare Software
I See Ewe is an educational game for the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad that helps preschoolers learn to recognize shapes, objects, colors and animals and to learn their first sight words through two simple games: Learn Words and Match Items.
Several options are provided in the games that allow you to customize the learning experience, including the ability to switch between different types of items such as geometric shapes, colors, animals, and household objects. You can also adjust the level of difficulty for each game and activate verbal prompts.  I See Ewe can be played in English, German, Spanish, or Chinese to start learning another language.
I See Ewe $.99 (3.5 out of 5 stars from 451 ratings); Information from the Apple iTunes Store viewed on 4/25/11.
Peek-A-Boo Baby Rattle - by Hello Baby Direct
The Peek-a-Boo Baby Rattle is a colorful and fun app developed for young children. Children can press the smiling face or shake the device and a cartoon animal will appear and make animal noises. The animal noises include a dog, bird, cat, pig, parrot, duck, frog, chicken, cockerel and mouse
Peek-A-Boo Baby Rattle FREE (2.5 out of 5 stars from 311 ratings); Information from the Apple iTunes Store viewed on 4/25/11.
Wheels on the Bus - by Duck Duck Moose
Wheels on the Bus is a fun, interactive musical book based on the popular children’s song of the same name. The Wheels on the Bus app includes fresh illustrations, creative interactions, and music. Designed for children of all ages, starting as young as 18 months.
Wheels on the Bus HD for iPad $1.99 (4 out of 5 stars from 848 ratings); Wheels on the Bus $.99 (3.5 out of 5 stars from 4,609 ratings); Information from the Apple iTunes Store viewed on 4/25/11.

AT Reuse: SUPER Service

Assistive technology helps individuals interact with their environment when limited by a disability, medical condition or age.  People who use assistive technology sometimes outgrow the piece of technology or simply get a new one. These pieces of discarded assistive technology can be in good condition and may have a lot of service life left in them. They can be useful to someone who might have limited income or does not want to pay the full price of a new one.  Recycling and reusing assistive technology not only makes sense for our environment, but it makes sense economically.
New ways of bringing together buyers and sellers have been popping up all over the nation. No longer are you limited to the local classifieds. Websites such as EBay and Craigslist have been very useful. And there are many resources that are specific to assistive technology.  A good place to start looking is the Simon Technology Center SUPER Service. At SUPER  (Still Useful Product and Equipment Referral) you can find items such as walkers, wheelchairs, communication devices, as well as other items having to do with assistive technology. This is a free service in which PACER helps connect the buyer and seller.  You can find this service at There you will find listings of items for sale both locally and nationally listed by category. If you want to sell an item you can click on Post a used item online or print the seller form to easily list your item. You can also call us at 952-838-9000 and we will be happy to assist you with your listing.
Pass It On Center (PIOC) at has resources listed by state. Other options include Goodwill Easter Seals of Minnesota which lists medical type equipment for long-term loan, and the Minnesota STAR Technology Equipment Exchange Program called STARTE 

Tech Tip: Choosing a Default Program to Open Files on Your Computer

Sometimes when you attempt to open a document, a picture or a hyperlink, your computer may access a non-preferred program.  For example, when opening a picture your computer may open with an advanced photo editing tool (which takes a long time to load) versus a picture viewer which would match the purpose of simply viewing the picture.  Or you click on a link and nothing happens because the browser that is trying to open the link does not know what to do with the link.  Fortunately there is an easy solution.

The following information will help you change the default program or the program that is set up to open the file type when you double click on it. 
Instructions for Windows
Right click on the file that you wish to open using a different program.  If you are using Windows 98 or older you will need to hold down the shift key and right click.  In the window that appears go down to “Open With” and then choose “Choose Default Program.” A new window will appear with a list of Programs to choose from. Click on the application you would like this file to open with when you double click. If you would like all files like this to open with the program you selected then make sure to check the checkbox marked “Always use the selected program to open this kind of file.” Now click OK and you’re all done!
Instruction for Mac
Right click on the file you wish to open using a different program.  Choose “Get Info” from the menu. In the window that appears, click on the button right below the words “Open with” to see a selection of programs that can open that file. Select the program you want. If you would like all files like this to open with the program you selected then click the button marked “Change All.” Now close the window and you are all done!

Did You Know: Summer Theater Program for Children with Disabilities

In The Company of Kids Creative Arts Center provides creative arts opportunities for children, including those with disabilities.  Their mission is to encourage learning through artistic methods that are individually meaningful to ALL students. The Center provides opportunities to develop self-confidence and awareness through artistic and creative experiences and enhances communication and understanding in a non-competitive environment. Students learn life-long skills in communication, social skills, problem solving, confidence building, etc. They offer performing opportunities to ALL students in a number of community events, programs, theater, and at an end of the year extravaganza.
Enrollment is underway for summer theater camps at In the Company of Kids Creative Arts Center in Burnsville. Children will participate in acting, singing, musical theater, dance, comedy, improv and puppetry. All children ages 4-17 are welcome including those with special needs (ASD *Autism Spectrum Disorders, DCD *Developmental Cognitive Delays). Call 952-736-3644 or visit for more information.

Early Childhood Corner: TNT April 2011Newsletter - The iPad: It's Your Turn to be Heard

The Tots 'n Tech Research Institute (TnT) is an inter-university collaboration between Thomas Jefferson University (TJU), Philadelphia, and Arizona State University (ASU), Tempe. TnT's mission is to provide up-to-date information and resources about adaptations--including assistive technology--to use with infants and toddlers for state education agencies, Early Intervention providers of all disciplines, and families. TnT produces a newsletter highlights the use of assistive technology with infants and toddlers. The April 2011 issue focuses on the iPad for early education and includes information on how the iPad helps children with disabilities, information about cost and features, links to helpful websites and useful apps or the iPad, iPod Touch and the iPhone. To subscribe to this newsletter, follow this link or visit the Tots n Tech home page

Library Corner: Computer and Software Compatibility

In the lending library there is a wide variety of educational and assistive software programs and devices. Some of the software versions were developed and published to run natively with older operating systems, but there is a way to run them in newer operating systems. There are many ways to change the properties of older software so that they are compatible with newer computers.
Windows 7 Compatibility
There are a couple methods for changing the properties so older software is compatible with Windows 7. Use the Troubleshooter, or manually change the program properties. The links below provide instructions and information.
Video -
Windows Vista Compatibility
There are a couple methods for changing the properties so older software is compatible with Vista. Use the Compatibility Wizard, or manually change the program properties. The links below provide instructions and information.

Communication Corner: Verbally

Verbally is a new communication application that turns your iPad into an augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) system.  This free application focuses on core words and communication through a type to talk keyboard.  The application has a grid that gives the user access to 60 core words to be used in conjunction with the type to talk keyboard.  This application offers flexibility in conversation for literate users and gives users the ability to create novel messages.  It also has a grid that offers users access to 12 phrases commonly used in conversation.  The built-in text prediction helps speed up the rate of conversation and reduces keystrokes by predicting words as they are typed and by predicting commonly used words.  This program is available with a male and female voice and has 3 keyboard layouts available.  More information about Verbally can be found online at