AT Story from Pre-Conference Speaker Douglene Jackson, PhD, OTR/L, LMT, ATP
As an occupational therapist, we are taught and exposed to various assistive technology (AT) throughout our educational training programs. Who knew that only a few years after finishing my degree that I would develop such a love for AT! I had the privilege to work in a school district that introduced technology to students early on, having seen the use of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) as early as the preschool years. They also supported all staff with AAC trainings ranging from Picture Exchange Communication System to more advanced systems using eye gaze with AAC. During that time, I confirmed my desire to focus on using assistive technology to promote performance and participation across the lifespan.
In thinking of my defining moment, one client comes to mind who was my biggest challenge and teacher all in one. I was working with a student who I first met when he was three and returned to work with him at the age of six. At that time, we were exploring using AAC to communicate, as he had cerebral palsy and challenges with speech and the use of his hands. He was an ideal candidate for eye gaze and I was charged with the task of building his proficiency with this skill to use a Dynavox. Not only was eye gaze an option, but I needed to have a secondary means of access for him due to fatigue, which I determined to be scanning with a pillow switch. On top of that, this student was bilingual and was able to go back and forth between languages using his AAC device. My defining moment was not just getting him proficient with this device, but demonstrating the power behind it for use in his psychological assessment to have him placed in the least restrictive environment to promote his development.
Back then, most people thought this student was best suited for a severe/profound self-contained classroom. However, those who knew him best helped to advocate for further testing to show his true abilities. In advocating for this student’s needs, we were able to work as an interdisciplinary team to have his psychological evaluation conducted with the use of his AAC device. This resulted in his scores indicating a mild intellectual disability and he was able to be included with his general education peers more and exposed to a more challenging curriculum. Working with this student, convening an interdisciplinary team, and advocating for his needs to promote his performance and participation not only in the school setting, but across environments and throughout his lifespan, was very rewarding for everyone involved. This truly confirmed the power of assistive technology for me and has been the defining moment that solidified my love for AT!