Effective Use of Technology With
Author - Mary L. Wilds
Coordinator -Technical Assistance
Center #3 George Mason University Fairfax, Virginia
NICHCY News Digest Number 13 1989 Resources Updated, April 1996
This publication was originally released in 1989 and, as such, does not contain
the most current information on assistive technology. NICHCY offers this document
on the Internet with the caveat that, while readers can gain basic information
about assistive technology from this document, it is important that they supplement
this overview with more current readings from other sources. For current resources
check out: Parent
Pals Assistive Technology Resources.
Computer technology for
young children has only recently been recommended for use in the home and applied
on a large-scale in early childhood special education programs. Available technology
and information about its use with young children has lagged behind that available
to other groups for a variety of reasons, such as: the high cost of hardware,
a limited amount of developmentally appropriate software, limited funds to investigate
the potential of computers as a teaching tool, lack of skill on the part of
professionals in creating a range of response modes, lack of training and skill
in computer use by early childhood special educators and parents, and the fear
that technology would overshadow the human aspects of early intervention (Berhmann,
1988; Hutinger, 1986).
In the past several years,
however, changes have occurred which have made computer technology more accessible
to early childhood educators, therapists, parents, and children. Equipment is
now more affordable, a wide range of developmentally appropriate software is
available, and a variety of response modes have been developed which allow almost
any child to access a computer (Burkhart, 1980; Charlebois-Marois, 1985; Goossens
& Crain, 1987). Publications and training have made early childhood educators,
therapists, and parents more aware of the potential impact computers can have
on infants and young children. The appropriate application of technology can
assist families and professionals in learning about a child's capabilities.
As more educators and therapists have successfully incorporated computer use
in their early intervention and preschool programs and as parents begin using
computers in their homes, there has been a growing acceptance of the belief
that technology can serve to enhance, not supplant, one-to-one interaction with
infants and toddlers (Lazzari & Wilds, 1989).
SKILLS FOR INTERACTIVE
USE OF COMPUTERS
Special educators and therapists
using computers in their programs have learned that when some beginning skills
are introduced, computers become less complex devices for preschoolers (Rettig,
1987). Introducing these skills can reduce the natural tendency for a young
child positioned in front of the computer to bang on the keyboard and possibly
become frustrated and lose interest in approaching the computer again or learning
that the computer is a toy to react too, not interact with. With this awareness,
parents and educators begin to think of the computer as more than a pacifier
to keep children quiet. The primary aim should be to allow young children with
disabilities access to the assistive technology which will be most appropriate
to their needs and to provide for the maximum participation of the young child
in social and educational environments. To reach this goal, many skills may
be necessary for using this technology effectively. For families and programs
with limited funds, these skills can be developed without access to expensive
computers or technology devices. The following is a list of some of the beginning
skills that should be considered. This list is intended to assist parents, educators,
and therapists in adapting the computer's use to the child's current level of
skills. Keep in mind that not all children will need total mastery of all of
these skills. With some children, these skills can be developed simultaneously
with the computer and adult intervention. Each child should be individually
assessed to determine the potential benefits of technology.
-- range of motion
-- press and release
-- reliable and consistent motor movement
-- visual tracking and scanning
-- figure ground
-- form discrimination
-- cause and effect
-- attention span (sustained or selective)
-- object permanence
-- means/end causality
-- one-to-one correspondence
-- intentional behavior (desire to communicate)
-- symbolic representation (recognize pictures)
-- reliable yes/no response
-- receptive understanding of commands
-- making choices
-- initiating and terminating interactions
-- turn taking and waiting for turn
-- attending to an object or person
-- following one-step directions
This list of skills may initially seem overwhelming, unrelated, or overly simple;
yet these skills are included in most preschool checklists and taught using
other materials. In addition, these skills can be introduced and taught by using
simple and inexpensive toys and switches. Toys and switches are concrete objects
that are naturally motivating to young children. Many battery operated toys
can be used to teach a young child many of these skills, and any toy operated
by batteries can be adapted for switch activation. By adapting toys for use
to introduce and teach these beginning skills, teachers, therapists, and parents
can help a young child prepare to use computers and other assistive technology.
Once children have some experiences with toys and switches, they are better
prepared to have successful interactions with the computer.
HOW TO SELECT BATTERY
OPERATED TOYS AND SWITCHES
The importance of play for
very young children cannot be overemphasized. For children who have a physical
disability or who are generally uninterested in manipulative toys, battery operated
toys that are adapted to work with single switches can be used. Battery operated
toys and switches can be the tools for developing play skills with objects and
with peers. They also provide children with physical disabilities increased
control over the classroom and home environment (Musselwhite, 1986).
Selecting toys and switches
for young preschool-aged children requires that parents, teachers, and therapists
consider several important factors. The most important factor is to become an
expert. Make a list of your young child's strengths and needs and choose toys
which meet your child's requirements. Collect information from parent support
groups, toy lending libraries, information centers, manufacturers, and through
exchanges with other parents, teachers, therapists, and others. (Additional
resources are listed at the end of this NEWS DIGEST.)
When purchasing battery
operated toys, it is important to remember that there are different kinds of
toys. It is important to consider a variety of battery operated toys that reflect
a range of sensory inputs. For example, toys with flashing and multicolored
lights provide visual input; tape recorders, musical, and other noisy toys (e.g.,
animal sounds, sirens) stimulate a young child's auditory senses. Blowing fans
and vibrating toys provide tactile and vibro-tactile input. Toys should also
provide for a variety of movement patterns: stationary, horizontal, vertical,
and circular movement. Examples include a drumming bear, a walking robot, a
fireman going up and down a ladder, and small train or car track sets. Toys
should be chosen that can be easily incorporated into play routines (Musselwhite,
1986), as well as for their motivation and age appropriateness to the individual
child (Greszko, 1988).
As with the purchase of
toys, the teacher, therapist, and parent should acquire a variety of switches
that can be used with children on different developmental levels and physical
skills. Finding an appropriate switch or switches that match the child's physical
requirements is extremely important. The child must have a reliable motor movement
that can consistently activate the toy. As the child becomes more capable, the
more reliable motor movements available to activate switches will provide a
means of more efficiently interacting with his or her environment. Recent technology
(Greszko, 1988) has provided a variety of mechanisms for these children to activate
toys other than simply using a switch activated by a press of the hand. For
example, children can use an eye-blink switch or a puff switch to activate a
device. Pressure sensitive switches that require only a minimal amount of movement
are now on the market. Voice activation of devices is also now possible.
Once children have a variety
of experiences with toys and switches, they are often better prepared to have
more successful interactions, not reactions, to the computer. A wide variety
of appropriate and inexpensive software is now available for preschoolers. Software
for microcomputers generally falls along traditional academic and readiness
domains and uses color, graphics, animation, sound, and voice synthesis for
this population. When introducing computers to very young children with disabilities
who have been exposed to the toys and switches noted previously, it is important
to minimize the number of new concepts and skills. Most of this software is
written for the Apple II series of computers, which is the computer available
in most schools. This software can be used with a variety of peripheral devices
that are appropriate for preschoolers. The keyboard is very busy, and young
children are easily distracted or unable to focus on a limited selection of
keys that activate the computer. Commonly available peripheral devices include
touch monitors, adapted keyboards and touch pads, voice activation, and switch
interfaces. The TouchWindow by Personal Touch is a touch-sensitive screen that
is placed over the monitor. This screen allows the child to use direct selection,
touching the monitor, to activate the software. Touch pads include the Muppet
Learning Keys by Sunburst and the Power Pad by Dunamis. These pads can be modified
into single or multiple switches and adapted keyboards. The Muppet Learning
Keys, for example, have the alphabet in order, as well as a ruler that illustrates
numbers, and a watercolor set for color selection.
Introducing technology to
very young children with disabilities is still quite early in its development.
While there are many obvious potential benefits to early intervention using
this technology, the state of the art is still not sufficiently advanced to
enable parents and professionals working with these children to meet their needs
easily. However, these children can be trained in many of the skills necessary
for successful use of computer and augmentative communication technology without
the use of expensive or complicated equipment. Thus, when they are physically
and developmentally ready to use available technology, these children will be
able to receive the maximum benefits that technology can make in quality of
life and the ability to learn and to become as independent as possible.
Behrmann, M. (1988). Integrating
computers into the curriculum. Boston, MA: College-Hill Press.
Berhmann, M., Jones, J,
& Wilds, M. (1989). Technology interventions for very young children with
disabilities. Infants and Young Children, 1(4), 66-77.
Burkhart, L. (1980). Homemade
battery powered toys and educational devices for severely handicapped children.
College Park, MD: Author.
Burkhart, L. (1982). More
homemade battery devices for severely handicapped children with suggested activities.
College Park, MD: Author.
Charlebois-Marois, C. (1985).
Everybody's technology -- A sharing of ideas in augmentative communications.
Goossens, C., & Crain,
S. (1987). Augmentative communication -- Assessment resource. Wauconda, IL:
Don Johnston Developmental Equipment.
Greszko, K. (1988). Types
of battery operated toys. Handout developed for the Technical Assistance Center
#3, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA.
Hutinger, P. (1986). ACCT
curriculum. Macomb, IL: Western Illinois University.
Lazzari, A., & Wilds,
M. (1989). Technology in early childhood special education: Access for rural
programs. Rural Special Education Quarterly, 9(4), 21-24.
Musselwhite, C. (1986).
Adaptive play for special needs children. San Diego, CA: College-Hill Press.
Rettig, M. (1987). Microcomputers
in early childhood special education: Trends and issues. Presented at the National
Early Childhood Conference on Children with Special Needs, Denver, CO.
Wilds, M. (1988). The future
role of technology/computers in the preschool handicapped classroom. Paper presented
at Council for Exceptional Children Annual Convention, Washington, DC.
National Information Center
for Children and Youth with Disabilities
P.O. Box 1492
Washington, DC 20013
Web site: http://www.nichcy.org/