Purposeful AT Evaluations

January 25, 2016 by Dr. Raymond T. Heipp

Within our classrooms, therapy rooms, and living complexes, we seek to find those devices which enable individuals to live and learn to the best of their abilities. Our hope is to have purposeful AT evaluations that can correctly match an individual to a device. Unfortunately, it is not always that easy. There is so much information and misinformation in the field that the process of a purposeful AT evaluation may seem overwhelming.

Purposeful AT Evaluations: An Historical Look

The Quality Indicators for Assistive Technology (QIAT) Consortium developed seven indicators for quality in purposeful AT evaluations. These indicators include:

  • Indicator #1: Procedures for all aspects of AT assessment are clearly defined and consistently applied.
  • Indicator #2: AT assessments are conducted by a team with the collective knowledge and skills needed to determine possible AT solutions that address the needs and abilities of the student, demands of the customary environments, educational goals and related activities.
  • Indicator #3: All assistive technology assessments include a functional assessment in the student’s customary environments, such as the classroom, lunchroom, playground, home, community setting or work place.
  • Indicator #4: Assistive technology assessments, including trials, are completed within reasonable timelines.
  • Indicator #5: Recommendations from assistive technology assessments are based on data about the student, environment and tasks.
  • Indicator #6: The assessment provides the IEP team with clearly documented recommendations that guide decisions about the selection, acquisition and use of AT devices and services.
  • Indicator #7: Assistive technology needs are reassessed anytime changes in the student, the environments and/or the task result in the student’s needs not being met with current devices and/or services.

Many of you have heard me speak of Joy Zabala and the SETT framework before. Joy is actually part of the leadership team for the QIAT group. As you can see in the language of the indicators, the student or client is the preliminary focus of these purposeful AT evaluations taking in the advice of the SETT framework. Prior to these indicators being developed, states, districts, and even individual buildings determined how the evaluations would take place and how they would be conducted. This led to much confusion and many inconsistencies along the way.

Purposeful AT Evaluations: Addressing Each Individual

One of the lingering characteristics of the old style of evaluation is the myopic view of AT. Unfortunately, some districts view certain pieces of technology as the only solution for some students, without even trying other solutions. Another lingering characteristic is to have a manufacturer’s representative as the only point of contact for a purposeful AT evaluation. These manufacturer’s representatives are experts and do a fantastic job in working with their device and that individual. There is nothing wrong with working with these representatives in theory, but the concern lies within the fact that there might be other tools better for the individual for which that representative might not have access.

For a purposeful AT evaluation, it is best to have someone who can speak to a variety of different devices. Within the context of the evaluation, that person should also have a comfort level in recommending the current device or no device if one is not necessary. We should never rush to suggest a specific device presuming that it will end the evaluation process. The best purposeful AT evaluations are a dynamic process which develops along with the individual.

A purposeful AT evaluation also takes into account all of the environments in which an individual operates. School, work, home, therapy, and any other location where that individual will need to interact must be taken into account. This means a couple of things for the evaluator. First, be willing to speak with all members of the intervention team and the family. Learn from them and see what is necessary for that individual. Second, do not come in with preconceived notions. Go in and observe with an open mind. Ask questions and let the needs of the individual arise for the best recommendation to be made.

I was recently reminded of a purposeful AT evaluation I did a couple of years ago. After reviewing the pre-school age child for a communication device, the parents and the preschool were shocked when I did not recommend any device. They were even more shocked when I shared with them that the biggest issue for the lack of communication for this child was that no one was giving her a chance to communicate. Things were either being done for the child or proper response time was not being given. At that point, the SLP cheered. Part of any purposeful AT evaluation though is also the recommendations as to what to do next. We developed a plan that benefitted that child who made significant progress in communicating and is now using a device. That is because people are now actually listening to the child and viewing her communication differently.

For any purposeful AT evaluation, look at that individual first and what is happening around them. Seek out someone or some group that will take the time to observe and listen before making decisions and be strong enough or not financially tied to a group so that the option for no device or the current device is there. The bottom line is that a purposeful AT evaluation is one that is done for the sake of an individual and enables them to live a purposeful life!

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