Improving Systems, Practices and Outcomes

Assistive Technology: Overview

What is Assistive Technology?

Assistive technology (AT) can be thought of as any item that supports a child's ability to participate actively in his or her home, childcare program, school, or other community settings. It is a broad term that includes items ranging from something as "low tech" as a foam wedge for positioning to something as "high tech" as a power wheelchair for independent mobility. Other examples of assistive technology for young children include items such as switch-operated toys, laminated picture boards, head pointers, specialized drinking cups, adapted spoons, augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices, computers, and more.

See Federal Definitions for additional information.

Benefits of AT for Infants and Young Children

Assistive devices and services can be of great value in providing infants and young children with disabilities opportunities to learn and interact with their environment in ways that might not otherwise be possible. For example, assistive technology can help a child to:

  • participate more actively in family, school and community activities
  • play successfully with toys and other children
  • communicate his or her needs and ideas
  • make choices
  • move independently

Accessing and Funding AT for Infants and Young Children

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 assistive technology, if it is included as part of their Individualized Education Plan (IEP) (WWW: §614(d)) or Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) (WWW: §636).

Children with disabilities, even those who are not eligible for special education under IDEA, may also be entitled to the provision of assistive technology under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act or under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Part B of the IDEA requires that assistive technology be considered as part of the evaluation process (WWW: §614(d)(3)(B )(v)). However, if this does not happen, an assistive technology evaluation can be requested at any time. Additionally, if parents are not satisfied with the results of the evaluation provided by their child's school, they may request an independent evaluation at the school's expense (WWW: 34CFR§ 300.502(b)).

See Funding Resources and Laws and Regulations for additional information.

Family Role

Assistive technology evaluation, selection, training and maintenance should be carried out by qualified professionals, with active participation on the part of the family. The IDEA requires that all special education services be family-centered and directly related to the family's priorities and concerns for their child. Family members are in a position to provide valuable information about the child's strengths, interests and daily routines, which is critical for determining what kinds of AT devices and services will best meet the child and family's needs. According to Judge (2000) 1, AT abandonment (rejection, non-use of the device) is often due to the fact that family input played only a small role in the AT evaluation and selection process. Understanding and taking into account the values, resources, concerns and routines of the child's family helps to ensure a greater level of success when it comes to using assistive technology effectively in the child's everyday activities.

See a list of selected list resources on AT and Family Involvement / Diversity Issues

Assistive Technology in Natural and Least Restrictive Environments

As part of the evaluation process, families and professionals need to decide where assistive technology devices and services will be provided to best meet the child's needs. The Early Intervention Program for Infants and Toddlers (Part C of IDEA) states that assistive technology must be provided in natural environments, to the maximum extent appropriate, for children from birth to age three ( 34CFR§ 303.13(a)(8)). Such environments might include, for example, the child's home, childcare program or other community settings in which children without disabilities participate.

The Preschool Grants Program (Section 619 under Part B of IDEA) states that services are to be provided to children aged 3-5 in the least restrictive environment (LRE) possible (WWW: 34CFR§ 300.114). This means that to the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities should be educated with their typically developing peers.

Furthermore, the IDEA Part B regulations state that the use of school-purchased assistive technology devices in a child's home or in other settings is required, if the child's IEP team determines that this is necessary for the child to receive a free and appropriate education (WWW: 34CFR§ 300.105(b)).

For more information on the provision of services in natural and least restrictive environments, see the ECTA Center's pages on Early Intervention Services and Inclusion.

Assistive Technology and Transition Planning

As the child moves from an early intervention program into a preschool program at age three, assistive technology concerns should be discussed at the transition planning conference ( 34CFR §303.209(c)) and should be included on the child's IEP. Issues regarding the ownership and/or portability of AT devices from one setting to the next need to be addressed early on, in order to ensure that there is no interruption in the use of these devices if they are deemed necessary for the child to receive a free appropriate public education (FAPE) under Part B of IDEA. This is an especially important issue to consider if agencies other than the school system have purchased the assistive technology device under Part C.


  1. Judge S. L. (2000). Accessing and funding assistive technology for young children with disabilities. Early Childhood Education Journal, 28(2), 125-131.
  2. Parette, P., VanBiervliet, & Hourcade, J. J. (2000). Family-Centered Decision Making in Assistive Technology. Journal of Special Education Technology, 15(1), 45-55.
  • IDEAs that Work: Office of Special Education Programs, U.S. Department of Education

The ECTA Center is a program of the FPG Child Development Institute of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, funded through cooperative agreement number H326P170001 from the Office of Special Education Programs, U.S. Department of Education. Opinions expressed herein do not necessarily represent the Department of Education's position or policy.

Project Officer: Julia Martin Eile     © 2012-2019 ECTA Center

  • UNC Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute