Utilizing Assistive Tech in Therapeutic Preschool Programs

As children are developing, communication is one of the most critical skills to acquire. Communication impacts every interaction that we have as human beings and shapes every relationship that we develop. If a child experiences problems with communication, they may be referred to speech-language pathology, applied behavior analysis therapy (ABA therapy), or a therapeutic preschool program to help build communication skills. For children who struggle with building their communication skills, assistive technology can be an incredibly helpful tool.

What is assistive technology?
Assistive technology is a rather broad term, which includes technology and tools that are used to help individuals with disabilities complete necessary activities and tasks. Assistive technology devices can be used to help with a range of communication skills, including speaking, typing on a computer, or writing. An assistive technology tool can also be a low-tech device, such as a communication board, which is typically a laminated book that contains images and/or text. A child might use a communication book if they are still building their expressive language skills. Using a communication book, they can point to different symbols or words to communicate with others. For example, they might point to a picture of an apple to let their parent know that they are hungry and would like to eat an apple. Communication books are widely used tools, as they can be customized to fit the specific abilities, interests, and needs of every individual. There are also high-tech options for assistive technology tools, such as communication tablets or software programs with communication tools. These types of tools can also be extremely helpful for children who are still building their expressive language (and verbal communication) skills.

How is assistive technology used in a therapeutic preschool program?
Communication skills can be challenging for many children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or behavioral issues, and a therapeutic preschool program can often help children who experience these issues to build language and communication skills. This type of program will often provide additional support for children with autism or developmental delays, such as ABA therapy, feeding therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, or more. Issues with communication often occur in children with autism, as their brains process information differently than children who are typically developing. In a therapeutic preschool program, teachers and therapists will work with children to provide additional support for pivotal developmental skills.

In a therapeutic preschool program, teachers and therapists might encourage children to express their feelings and needs through assistive technology devices, especially if there are delays in expressive language. Additionally, children with autism may also exhibit problematic behaviors, as a result of being frustrated that they are not able to communicate their wants and needs to others. A teacher or therapist will then work with the child to develop ways to communicate, which can include assistive technology tools. For example, a child may have their own communication book that they carry throughout the school day and at home. This tool will allow them to successfully communicate their wants and needs to classmates, teachers, therapists, or parents. There are many apps on iPads and Android tablets, which can be easily used to communicate.

Assistive technology is also widely used because there are so many options for every individual. Since every person has unique strengths, challenges, and preferences, it is important to pick a communication tool that best suits their individual needs. As a result, therapeutic preschool programs can adapt strategies for each client accordingly.

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