In June 2022, the UK Government found that just over 1.5 million children in schools had special education needs. With such a significant statistic, schools have had to work incredibly hard to ensure children have all the provisions necessary.
When working as a Teaching Assistant, knowledge of what technology is available to support pupils is crucial. Now more than ever, we have greater opportunity to use technology as a tool to better support our students with SEN. Using technology, we can offer children greater independence, increased social and emotional skills and better learning environments.
In this article, we’ll take you through the role of assistive technology in supporting students with SEN.
The UK Government has stated that a child who is permitted to attend school by law, ages 5-16, has special education needs if they find learning much more difficult than those within the same year group or they have a disability that prevents them from accessing or using the same facilities as their peers.
Typically, SEN is sorted into four main categories:
When it comes to SEN, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Each individual need should be tailored for.
Going through school with SEN can be tricky for students, particularly those with undiagnosed needs, however, keep a look-out for any issues with behaviour and socialising, poor reading and writing skills, as well as their concentration levels. In most cases, the issues are linked. But students aren’t just being ‘bad’ or ‘slow’, they just aren’t able to access the content in the same way that their peers can.
So, what’s the answer to tailored solutions for individual needs?
Assistive technology is the use of products or systems that help to support individuals with disabilities, mobility issues or impairments to achieve actions that they otherwise might not be able to.
Some uses can be extremely general, such as subtitles when watching video clips, but other products, applications and technologies are incredibly advanced and specialised to overcome a specific difficulty or need.
Typically, assistive technology is mostly used through mobile phones and applications. In 2023, most people are using smartphones which all come with accessibility features, such as the iPhone and its blind assist mode.
But other technologies and products can be incredibly advanced such as the use of embossing machines used to create long information text pieces into braille format.
Under the Equality Act 2010, every school within the UK must make reasonable adjustments for all students to prevent them from being at a disadvantage. Whether that be providing auxiliary aids and services for children with disabilities, or providing each student with a laptop - each and every school must abide by the Equality Act.
Assistive technology (AT) is one of the leading solutions in decreasing the disadvantage gap. And whilst AT alone certainly doesn’t put students with SEN and their peers on a level playing field, it at least allows students to access the content they otherwise wouldn’t be able to.
So, what are the uses?
AT is helpful for:
Through the use of AT in aiding students in these areas, teachers have found that young people with SEN have been able to improve at much greater rates. Teachers have commented that assistive technology has helped them make their teaching materials more accessible to a greater range of students.
It’s important to note, that assistive technology isn’t only available for students with SEN, but for all students to help them better understand content. Teachers all around the globe understand that repetition and rehearsed practice have a positive impact on students learning, motivation and self-esteem. AT gives them this opportunity to practise the skills they’re being taught.
The short answer is: yes! AT improves students with SEN in 3 main areas:
By being given access to tools that enable them to access content, students are able to become more independent in their learning environment. By giving students the ability to practise and use the information in front of them with AT rather than constantly asking for teacher and peer support, students with SEN no longer have to rely on outside influences and therefore are able to transfer the information in their short-term working memory, into their long-term memory, eg. a child who can now scribe their own essays!
AT gives students the opportunity to output a higher frequency of communication. Through the use of specific AT software such as speech recognition and the use of modified keyboards or tablets, students are able to express themselves more freely. In doing this, they can naturally and effectively communicate in the classroom just like their peers.
Studies have shown that students with SEN who have made use of AT have greatly improved their organisational skills and focus. In doing so, they have greater self-esteem and confidence in themselves and their learning. Through the use of AT, students can make better notes and can complete class assignments independently. Through the consistent practice of independent work, students are able to implement their learning, shifting it from short-term into long-term memory where it can be stored and used later on.
Assistive Technology certainly helps students with SEN. Whilst it doesn’t remove the barriers to learning completely, it enables students to output content in a different way. Teachers are then able to acknowledge where student gaps might be more easily through increased communication, and tailor a plan for that student to overcome the barriers to their learning.