Getting Help for Infants and Toddlers with Disabilities

Early Intervention and the Right Assistive Technology

Denise Swensen, PT, DPT | September 2018

A young girl looks is entertained by the ipad her therapist is holding as she walks on a treadmill using a Rifton Pacer.According to the National Early Intervention Longitudinal Study, only 4% of infants and toddlers receiving early intervention services have assistive technology and AT services listed on their Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP.) ¹ No, that was not a typo. Only 4%. Think about what that means for the three-and-under children with disabilities you know.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) defines assistive technology as follows:

"Any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of a child with a disability.” ²

Underutilization or abandonment of AT in this age group has many reasons. Among them are cost, availability of funding, parent’s unwillingness to accept the device, insufficient training for both parents and providers and provider biases to work on typical skill development.³

Parette et al (2000) suggested the most common reason for abandonment of an AT device is a lack of training on how to use devices and integrate them into everyday activities.⁴ ⁵ Long and colleagues describe an outcome-driven model for service delivery which integrates AT devices as a strategy imbedded in the IFSP to meet routines-based functional outcomes.⁵

Collaboration between the Early Intervention (EI) provider and the vendor is essential for choosing the right equipment and can be used to support IFSP outcomes. Vendors often do not know the layout of the child’s home or childcare center or the specific constraints of the child and family.

Children may become more independent and active participants in family and community routines and activities when AT devices are part of the EI plan. The transition to preschool will go smoother with less stress when AT devices are already in place and in use before the child turns three.

Providers should be an integral part of the selection and ordering of AT devices starting at the 24-month goal. Early Intervention providers also have an essential role with ongoing training of any purchased equipment or devices. This will insure that the child receives the full benefit that the right AT can provide.

Giving very young children the opportunity to move, explore and engage using assistive technology will support children’s growth and development, promote the acquisition of new skills, and foster independence.³

¹ Long TM, Perry DF. (2008) Pediatric PTs’ Perceptions of Their Training in Assistive Technology. Physical Therapy 88(5):630-639. Free Full Text:

² Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Part C Section 303.

³ Kling A, Campbell P, Wilcox J. (2010) Young Children with Physical Disabilities: Caregiver Perspectives About Assistive Technology. Infants and Young Children 23(3):169-183. Free Full Text

⁴ Parette P, VanBiervliet A, & Hourcade JJ. (2000). Family–centered decision-making in assistive technology. Journal of Special Education Technology, 15(1):1–35. Abstract:

⁵ Long T, Huang L, Woodbridge M, Woolverton M, Minkel J. (2003) Integrating Assistive Technology Into an Outcome-Driven Model of Service Delivery. Infants and Young Children. 16(4):272-283. Free Full Text:

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