Ask the Expert: Technology and the Support Team

Ask the Expert Patricia Wright

Patricia Wright, Ph.D., MPH, is the vice president of professional services at Rethink, a program whose goal is to improve access to Applied Behavior Analysis treatments for people on the autism spectrum. She works to ensure Rethink’s educational technology is implemented effectively. Prior to joining Rethink, Patricia was the national director of autism services for Easter Seals, one of the largest social service providers to those living with autism.

Autism and Technology: Building the Support Team

Technology has a growing presence in our society, including for people with ASD. Technology provides incredible access opportunities for those living with ASD and other disabilities. Steve Jobs even included it in his iPad 2 launch presentation, demonstrating that touch technology has provided communication access for many people living with ASD who don’t effectively use spoken language to communicate. Technology fluency is often commented on in reference to people with ASD; technology also is reported to be a strength for many of them. But technology application does not happen in isolation. Parents, educators and support professionals need to be fluent in the application of the technology. This topic of technology fluency of the support team is less often discussed.

There are a variety of programs that facilitate access to assistive technology, including Individualized Education Programs (IEPs), state Tech Act centers and medical insurance providers. Although these systems of support may have barriers, they do provide avenues of access to the assistive technology. For individuals to benefit from this technology, implementation support must be paired with this access. The lack of team support has long been documented as a barrier to effective technology implementation (Soto, Muller, Hunt & Goetz, 2001; Baxter, Enderby, Evans & Judge, 2012). Those involved in supporting the person with ASD must receive training to ensure the person receives the benefits of the technology. Team and family support must be considered an integral component of technology adoption.

In the educational setting, the Individualized Education Program can include technology training and support for school personnel. Parent counseling and training also can be incorporated into the IEP or Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) (Wrights Law, 2007). When technology is being discussed in the IEP/IFSP, training and support for the educational team and parents must be discussed as well. When technology is being provided via medical insurance, there is typically a licensed professional (such as a speech-language pathologist or occupational therapist) conducting the assessment, making the recommendation and assisting with implementation. Professionals and parents involved in the life of the person with ASD can query that licensed professional about how they can receive training and gain fluency to give the person using the technology the best chance for success. To learn more about how to access specific training and support, the Family Center on Technology and Disability has developed some excellent resources. A local Center for Parent Information and Resources can also answer questions and direct you to nearby resources.

Technology has opened doorways for so many people living with ASD and other disabilities. However, technology in itself is not a cure-all. Implementation of the technology to ensure best outcomes requires training – for the person with ASD and the team and family that support him or her. As advocates, we must insist that training and implementation support is delivered to everyone involved alongside any technology intervention.

Baxter, S., Enderby, P. Evans, P. & Judge, S. (2012). Barriers and facilitators to the use of high-technology augmentative and alternative communication devices: a systematic review and qualitative synthesis. International Journal of Language and Communication Disorders, 47(2), 115-129.

Soto, G., Muller, E., Hunt, P. & Goetz, L. (2001). Critical issues in the inclusion of students who use augmentative and alternative communication: an educational team perspective. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 17, 62-72.

Wright, P. & Wright, P. (2007). Wrights Law: Special Education Law, 2nd Edition. Hartfield: Harbor House Law Press.