Supporting Early Childhood Outcomes through Assistive Technology

Supporting Early Childhood Outcomes through Assistive Technology

Diane Plunkett (University of Kansas, USA), Rashida Banerjee (University of Northern Colorado, USA) and Eva Horn (University of Kansas, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-817-3.ch024
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Assistive technology (AT) makes it possible for young children with disabilities to learn, play, and build relationships. By improving their mobility, communication, and access to their environment, AT allows children with disabilities more freedom and independence. The purpose of this chapter is to guide early childhood professionals with examples and recommendations for the integration of AT in natural environments to meet early childhood outcomes for children up to the age of five. This chapter is organized in three sections. Section 1 briefly discusses the legal background in early childhood services as it applies to AT. Section 2 describes the framework for meeting young children’s needs for AT within the context of early childhood outcomes. Section 3 presents the application of AT in meeting recommended family outcomes. The Additional Readings section to this chapter offers relevant articles and research reports in the area of early childhood and AT.
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Assistive technology is a universal avenue for assisting all children to engage with their environment and meet developmental milestones. However, this requires early childhood professionals to reflect on their practices, approaches, and perspectives to support all children to achieve their outcomes, and for the families to support their children’s development and learning. Historically, guides to the utilization of AT have addressed specific developmental domains. For example, if a child had a delay in the area of social-communication performance the solutions focused on that particular domain. Similarly, if a child experienced a delay in mobility, then a mobility device was provided as the answer. Once early childhood professionals embrace assistive technology (AT), allowing a child with disabilities to meet comprehensive developmental outcomes, as opposed to isolated areas of development domains, the field can move towards recognizing the beneficial aspects of AT in meeting early childhood outcomes. Assistive technology allows children full participation with family, friends, and community. Upon completion of this chapter readers should be able to:

  • Summarize key legislation impacting AT for young children with disabilities and their families.

  • Describe federally mandated early childhood outcomes as they relate to AT.

  • Identify evidence-based and promising AT solutions for children with disabilities and their families to meet early childhood outcomes.

  • Identify evidence-based and promising AT solutions for families of children with disabilities to meet family outcomes.




Maria, the youngest in a family of three children, is an 8 month-old girl with Down syndrome. Maria has difficulty feeding, and she has to have frequent hospital visits for a related heart condition. Maria’s parents live on a remote rural ranch and travel up to three hours to the nearest clinic for their daughter’s special health needs. With the help of the clinic, Maria’s family has been in contact with an early interventionist and an occupational therapist who visits weekly to assist Maria and her family with Maria’s disability.

In an ideal world, children and families have resources to meet challenges inherent to all persons, such as information, resources, and support. If all things were equal, every child would have the opportunity to reach developmental milestones ensuring their success and leading to a productive and fulfilling adulthood. For children such as Maria, developmental challenges are significant. However, a provision for early intervention services under the federal laws ensures that she and her family receive the assistance needed to help her in reaching developmental milestones. These services begin at birth and may well extend into a child’s school years. According to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), all children who are eligible to receive special education or early intervention services are also eligible to receive AT at no cost to the family, if it is included as part of their Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) (34CFR§ 303.344[d]) or Individualized Education Plan (IEP) (34CFR§ 300.105). The following section explains the federal mandates that may guide the provision of AT for children with disabilities, such as Maria.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Down Syndrome: A chromosome disorder due to an extra chromosome number 21 (trisomy 21). Down syndrome causes mental retardation, and multiple facial and physical malformations.

Individualized family service plan (IFSP): Process and a document intended to assist families and professionals in a combined effort to meet the developmental needs of a child from age birth to three with a disability or developmental delay.

Individualized Education Plan (IEP): A written document for each eligible child ages 3-21 with a disability that is developed, reviewed, and implemented by education team.

High-tech: Technology device with electronic or motor functions such as computers, mobility devices, and communication aids.

Boppy Pillow: An ergonomically correct positioning pillow reducing stress to the body. The Boppy pillow makes positioning during feeding, lying, playing supported.

Low-tech: A technology device with simple, passive, lacking or limited moving parts.

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