AT Makes the Difference in Inclusion

AT Makes the Difference article in Word format

Bradford with an assistive dog at the 2000 Expo
Bradford, Ann Hawkins and Jake at the AT Expo 2000

AT Makes the Difference for Inclusion
by Stu Teffeteller

My son Bradford is almost 7 years old. He has a history of mixed cerebral palsy, resulting in spasticity and moderate to severe global developmental delays. He began physical therapy for his severe spasticity at 10 months of age. His gross motor development was a primary concern, and we noted very little cognitive development until he began to "commando crawl" around the house and play with his toys.

When we realized that we needed to be more actively involved in the assistive technology process at his school, we made a decision that dramatically changed Bradford’s life. On Bradford’s fourth birthday, we took him to the Assistive Technology Expo organized by the SC Assistive Technology Program. We sat at one vendor’s display for nearly two hours as Bradford interacted with a touch screen and software. It was remarkable to observe his interest and attentiveness while he intuitively interacted with the software programs.

From this point, we haven’t missed an AT Expo and we always come away with more ideas to help Bradford in school. One year we found a Comfy Keyboard designed for toddlers to begin interaction with a computer, consisting of large and simple keys and overlays. Again, Bradford was absolutely fascinated and "played" on the computer for up to two hours at a time. He quickly learned his colors and numbers even though he could not articulate all of them. He began to crawl over to the computer and pull up in order to use it. He could be quite demanding when he wanted access to that computer!

After having neurosurgery for his spasticity, Bradford can now walk with a walker. Through the years, his medical needs have been urgent and consumed considerable time and energy, but all the while, he continued to play and progress with the computer at home with good results. Thus we were surprised when his teachers began to express concern that Bradford "doesn’t seem to know his colors… isn’t very attentive in the class circle time." I took the Comfy Keyboard and software to the school to load on their computer to demonstrate his color mastery and attentiveness. The teachers liked the keyboards so much that they ordered several for the school. Bradford also began to increase his vocalizations considerably. This improvement was a possible outcome of the neurosurgery, but we feel the constant use of the computer at home was a significant factor in Bradford’s progress.

We still noted a considerable gap between what we were able to see demonstrated at home and his teachers’ reports. Another evaluation created a sense of urgency regarding augmentative communication devices for his kindergarten placement. Dr. Pat Goodyear, School Psychologist III, was quite persistent in encouraging us to actively pursue this issue. As a consequence of her report, we requested a complete re-evaluation for Bradford prior to any IEP or discussion of school placement. This included an augmentative and assistive technology evaluation by Communication Connections in Greenville.

At the last AT Expo in Columbia, we spent 3 or 4 hours with the touch screen and various software packages. We played 5 Little Ducks… and Bradford enthusiastically ‘quacked’ along with the program. Stu could not have been more pleased as he drove home to celebrate Bradford’s fifth birthday with his sisters.

We also conducted a full battery of psychological tests in order to get a better understanding of his current skill level. The report placed him as clearly developmentally delayed but difficult to test due to gross and fine motor limitations. The IEP team met to review the evaluation. We had made it quite clear that we wanted full kindergarten academic outcomes from SC State Department of Education. During the IEP, we agreed on most things, but were unable to fully discuss placement. We wanted Bradford to attend his neighborhood school with his sisters, but Pine Street Elementary had never had a student with orthopedic disabilities. We met with the principal and a kindergarten teacher who were compassionate and receptive to our desire to include our son in their school. We promised them that we would not allow him to be placed in their school without all the necessary aids and services required to support everyone’s success.

We all began to prepare for Bradford’s inclusion at Pine Street. The district hired a classroom assistant who had worked extensively with children with physical disabilities and a speech language pathologist to provide speech therapy and consultation to the Pine Street staff as they began to include him in a regular education classroom. All these personnel decisions were truly inspired because Bradford improved dramatically within the first two 6-week grading periods.

The district ordered a computer workstation, Intellikeys, Touch Window, and Boardmaker Overlay software. We duplicated this order through SC State TEFRA funding for his use at home.

There is no way to express the impact that assistive technology has had on Bradford’s education and his social development. Assistive technology, with the right support and services, has enabled Bradford to experience inclusion in the continued spirit of the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA), as reauthorized in 1997. We are committed to seeing this happen for other children as well as Bradford.

His doctors were optimistic about Bradford’s cognitive skills based on his receptive language and persistently suggested that we pursue augmentative communication. His first trip to the AT Expo was on his fourth birthday. Stu is an engineer who uses technology and automation on a daily basis, but this was different. While it was enlightening to see all the technology, it was also hard for us to come to grips with the fact that Bradford might require many of these tools in order to progress in his cognitive development.

The South Carolina Assistive Technology Program has been instrumental in helping us identify the technology Bradford needs, and in advocating for its use effectively in the classroom.

Stu Teffeteller
Reprinted from the South Carolina Assistive Technology Program’s Assistive Technology News
January 2000

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