Friday, September 5, 2014

Cool Tech for Back to School

While many families have just begun to think about heading back to school, the specialists at PACER’s Simon Technology Center have spent their summer meeting with families to help them find assistive technology to support their students in the coming school year.

As a former teacher, I know how hard it is for kids to transition from their summer schedule to a school routine, and to begin thinking about the rigors and stress of a school day. Here are just a few ideas and technology tools to help your child transition more successfully.
First and foremost, start practicing your child’s waking and sleeping routines anywhere from a few days to a few weeks prior to school starting. There are so many great tools available to help a student get back into the swing of things!  If your child struggles with a change in routine, try a visual schedule that lists each step using photographs or picture symbols from a software program like Boardmaker or the online visual engine tool from Connectability. If a higher tech option is a better fit, check out the apps Visual Schedule Planner by Good Karma Applications or iPrompts by HandHold Adaptive, LLC. Both of these apps provide supports like timers, visual modeling and checklists.
Many students feel tremendous amounts of stress about getting back into daily reading and writing. Why not make it fun by incorporating technology? The Tumblebooks website is geared toward elementary students and is often accessible through your public library’s website. It provides professionally narrated books with animations and word highlighting at a variety of levels. In most situations, once you locate it on your library’s website, the user will be prompted to type in the barcode number from their library card to be granted access. For reluctant or struggling readers, it takes the pressure off of students to decode and allows them to follow along and focus on listening and comprehension skills.

If the idea of writing creates more conflict than excitement, try experimenting with the free Dragon Dictation app by Nuance or using Co:Writer (iOS app or software) by Don Johnston. Many students benefit from speaking their ideas or using software or an application that uses word prediction. These programs don’t do the work for students, but provide support for students whose learning differences may cause frustrations and deter them from sharing their ideas. If your student struggles with knowing what to write about, check out the Write About This app by RSA Group, LLC. It’s full of great writing prompts, provides different options for support, and allows students to add photos and record themselves to practice fluency!

When barriers are broken down with the help of assistive technology, heading back to school can transform from daunting to do-able!

Friday, February 14, 2014

UNC Chapel Hill Research Review Supports the Use of Technology for Those with Autism Spectrum Disorde

Image courtesy of
The National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) has released its update on evidence based-practices (EBP’s) for children and young adults with autism under the age of 22.  Over 29,000 articles about Autism Spectrum Disorder were screened by scientists at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill’s Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute to identify effective practices and interventions.  While this is extremely important work for the larger scientific and medical community, findings in the report also directly support our work in PACER Center’s Simon Technology Center (STC). 

Using an extremely stringent screening process, 29,105 research articles were whittled down to 456 that were included in the evidence base.  This review allowed for the inclusion of single case design studies, as well as randomized group design, provided they met the criteria for qualification as an evidence-based practice.  Among the 456 studies that covered a very broad range of interventions, 20 pertained to interventions involving the use of technology. 

Many have been skeptical about the use of technology as an intervention due to lack of personal or scientific knowledge about its effectiveness.  An exciting aspect of this review is that one of the outcomes listed is that “TAII (Technology-aided instruction and intervention) can be used effectively to address social, communication, behavior, joint attention, cognitive, school-readiness, academic, motor, adaptive, and vocational skills” for young adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder.  The review also stated that “TAII incorporates a broad range of devices, such as speech-generating devices, smart phones, tablets, computed-assisted instructional programs, and virtual networks. The common features of these interventions are the technology itself (as noted) and instructional procedures for learning to use the technology or supporting its use in appropriate contexts (Odom, 2013)”.  Most of the devices listed are available to learn about and try in the STC’s technology lending library.  

We’ve seen the benefits of assistive technology for individuals with ASD as well as many other disabilities, and have heard first-hand from families about the difference it has made in their lives.  We are extremely excited that our personal experience with families and assistive technology is supported by scientific research screened by a reputable organization.  While this research review speaks directly to Autism Spectrum Disorder, we are hopeful that similar conclusions will be made for an even broader range of disabilities.    

As Assistive Technology Specialists, we provide a free consultation service to families in Minnesota to help families navigate technology to help their child(ren).  While it is not a formal evaluation, we provide a starting point for families to learn about pieces of technology that may benefit them at home, in school, on the job or out in the community.  As members of our lending library, families and professionals have the opportunity to check things out and try them in a variety of environments before they decide to purchase them. 

For more information on this research review, you can view the full report hereFor the studies specific to technology, please see the accompanying fact sheet.


Odom, S.L. (2013). Technology-aided instruction and intervention (TAII) fact sheet.  Chapel Hill: The
                University of North Carolina, Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute, The National
                Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorders.

Wong, C., Odom, S.L., Hume, K., Cox, A.W., Fettig, A., Kucharczyk, S.,…Schultz, T.R. (2013).                             Evidence-based practices for children, youth, and young adults with Autism Spectrum 
                Disorder. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina, Frank Porter Graham Child 
                Development Institute, Autism Evidence-Based Practice Review Group. Chapel
                Hill: The University of North Carolina, Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute, Autism
                Evidence-Based Practice Review Group

Friday, January 24, 2014

Literacy for All: Helping Children with Significant Disabilities Learn How to Read, Write and Communicate

Workshop: Thursday January 30, 2014 

6:30 - 8:30 pm CT

Being able to read and write is an important skill in the development of all children, but for children with significant disabilities this can be challenging. This workshop will present a framework for understanding how children develop literacy skills. Parents will learn how to help their child become a reader and writer. (Live captioning available). The following handouts correspond to the material discussed during the workshop:

Literacy for All Workshop Handout 2Slides.pdf

Literacy for All Workshop Handout 3Slides.pdf

Literacy Bill of Rights.pdf

True Friends 2014 Camp.pdf

General Interaction Board by AdamLab.pdf

PACER Center Action Information Sheet:  Tips to Support Reading and Writing for Children with Significant Disabilities.pdf

You can view additional handouts and STC publication materials on our publications page.