How to think about children age and grade from an AT perspective: Accommodation, Intervention, and Modification
This article elaborates on why we don’t sort assistive technologies by grade level, and how to make decisions for assistive technology based on a child’s age. Rather than sort the hundreds of assistive technologies by age, we recommend deciding to use a tech at all, or not, based on how old the child is.
If the student is in Grade 3 or younger… start with interventions and remedial supports. Don’t go to the assistive technologies unless interventions have already been tried.
If the student is Grade 3 to 6… make a judgement call based on how severe the child’s difficulty is. Assistive technology tends to provide good results, but won’t develop a skill that’s impaired. Consider mixing a tech with an intervention, like skill building or training.
If the student is Grade 6 or older… choose an assistive technology to bypass an impairment. Older students have already received support and are less likely to improve an impaired skill.
Sorting By Grade: Why not?
Many people who’ve used this site’s resources have requested an ability to search or filter for certain technologies by grade level. From a classroom or parental perspective, this makes sense: my child is in grade three, so I’d like to choose from technologies that are appropriate for third graders. However, this feature does not exist, and likely will not exist for a long time. The reasoning is this information simply hasn’t been researched, and it’s not high priority to research either.
In general, developmental age is more relevant than biological age. There are some technologies that are more complicated to use (e.g. Annotations), and therefore, more suited to more mature children. If a technology is fairly complex to use, it will be noted in the article. Rather, we recommend thinking about AT in terms of Accommodation, Intervention, and Modification
Accommodations are anything put in place to bypass an area of impairment. Accommodations are things like wheelchairs. All assistive technology is intended to be an accommodation. For example, a student reading below grade level might struggle with word problems in math, even if their math skills are sufficient to solve the problem. Accommodations are generally not given to a student in the area they are being evaluated, rather, an accommodation “levels the playing field” to ensure other missing skills aren’t getting in the way. When giving an accommodation, the expectation is the student will not “grow out of it”. Accommodations are also expected to be brought into the workforce later in the student’s life.
Interventions are not bypassing an impairment like accommodations do. Rather, interventions attempt to improve the area of impairment. If a wheelchair is a good example of an accommodation, physiotherapy would be a good intervention. Other examples include training programs (such as Empower Reading), counseling and therapy, coaching. The assistive technologies available on this website are not intended to be used as interventions, except where noted. It’s expected a student with an intervention will eventually grow out of it and stop receiving the intervention.
Modifications are adjustments to the world and expectations. Modifications are intended to make the child with an impairment have an easier time, because whatever they’re trying to do is simply too overwhelming. For example, for someone in a wheelchair, replacing stairs with ramps is a modification. In school, modifications are usually reduced workload or lower grade work. Modifications are generally the most severe type of support. Modifications are typically not carried into the workforce (but can be), because they relate to productivity and capacity to do a job to an adequate level. In school, modifications are often paired with interventions to provide reasonable challenge while an area of impairment is being improved through intervention. Modifications preserve the self esteem of the student and help make school less frustrating.
The older students get, the less likely they are to recover skills in an area of impairment. In the same vein, interventions work better for younger people in general. Because of this, interventions are recommended for younger students. While accommodations are also very effective in young students, if a student is using an assistive technology that bypasses a specific skill, that student is not practicing the skill. Consider how much support has already been tried and how much improvement is happening; if lots of support has already been tried, it’s time to move to an accommodation like the techs found on this website. When deciding if an assistive technology is appropriate, always note the assistive technology is intended to bypass, not develop a weak skill.