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 (tnt.asu.edu), 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.
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?
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 tnt.asu.edu. 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 http://www.pacer.org/publications/stc.asp. One copy free to parents in MN.