Tri-Village News

Schools work to match technology, students' needs

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A new process has been put into place to help a team of Grandview Heights City School District technology specialists and instructors who work with special-needs students determine whether an assistive technology device is beneficial and necessary for a student.

Team members presented an overview of the system they have developed at the school board's April 16 meeting.

The key is determining whether a device is necessary in order to provide a student with independence and success in the school environment, said Nancy Schott, director of pupil services.

The district applied and was accepted for training through an Educational Service Center program, Schott said.

In the district's procedure, the first step is for a staff member to fill out a referral form stating a child has needs that can't be met but that may be helped with technology, said Sarah Louters, occupational therapist at Stevenson Elementary School and Edison Intermediate-Middle School.

After the referral "we will perform an evaluation ... that is meant to be holistic but also student-specific," she said.

The evaluation could include assessments of such factors as fine and gross motor control, seating and positioning, mobility and access, communication and language, vision and hearing, cognition and academic performance, Louters said.

The team then will consider devices that might be helpful for the student, she said.

"We try the (selected) device (to) determine if it is the best fit for the student," Louters said.

Once a device is selected, "it's brought in to the district like any instructional technology," said Marc Alter, the district's instructional technology specialist team leader.

The technology specialists will preview the proposed device and work with the special-needs team to maximize the device's potential, he said.

"We meet with the intervention specialists to go over how to use the device and the best method for measuring (the positive impact on a student)," high school technology coordinator Tammy Segraves said.

As part of its training at the service center, the team had to conduct two case studies with students, Stevenson speech teacher Susan Gafford said.

The first involved a third-grade student with autism who has difficulty communicating, especially with written language, she said.

The team chose to use PixWriter, a word-processing program that displays a combination of speech, text and images as a student writes, Gafford said.

Before the device was given to the student, he was writing 44 words during a given time period, she said. The next day, using PixWriter, the student wrote 87 words during the same amount of time; on the second sample, he wrote 119 words.

But as he got used to using the device, the number of words began to fall, down to 49 during the ninth sample, Gafford said.

"Our conclusion was that with this particular student, he liked using (the device) but it was not a necessity" for him, she said.

The other trial involved a fourth-grader with Phelan-McDermid syndrome, a genetic disorder that makes it difficult for people to understand what he is saying, Edison Intervention Specialist Alex Beekman said.

The student also has poor motor control and behavioral issues resulting from his frustration with not being understood, he said.

Proloquo2Go was selected for the student, which is an alternative and augmentative communication application for Apple devices, Beekman said.

The student "did not want to use it," Edison Intervention Specialist Sara Karl said, adding he could not pull up images fast enough to communicate what he was trying to say.

Although neither of the trial cases proved successful in matching the student with a device, the process in place is still valuable, because "it gives us an opportunity to be very objective as to whether or not (a device) works" for a student, Schott said.

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