Assistive Technology for SEN Students: How SENCOs Can Support Technology Use

by | Apr 9, 2023

Assistive Technology for SEN Students: How SENCOs Can Support Technology Use

 

As technology advances, more and more children with special educational needs (SEN) are benefiting from assistive technology in their education. Assistive technology refers to tools and devices that assist students with disabilities in their learning, communication, and independence. SENCOs (Special Educational Needs Coordinators) play a crucial role in supporting the use of assistive technology in the classroom. In this article, we will explore the benefits of assistive technology for SEN students and how SENCOs can support technology use in the classroom.

Understanding Assistive Technology

Assistive technology can be defined as any device or tool that helps a person with a disability to perform a task that they would otherwise find difficult or impossible to do. For SEN students, assistive technology can take many forms, ranging from simple, low-tech solutions such as pencil grips or highlighter tape to more complex, high-tech devices such as speech recognition software, electronic magnifiers, or communication aids.

Assistive technology can be particularly useful for students with disabilities that affect their ability to read, write, speak, listen, or move, such as dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyspraxia, ADHD, autism, cerebral palsy, or visual impairments. By providing specialised tools and accommodations, assistive technology can help SEN students to access the curriculum, participate in class, communicate their ideas, and develop their independence.

Benefits of Assistive Technology

Assistive technology can have a wide range of benefits for SEN students, depending on their individual needs and circumstances. Here are some of the key benefits of assistive technology:

Increased Independence

One of the most significant benefits of assistive technology is that it can help SEN students to become more independent learners. By providing tools that compensate for their disabilities, students can take more control of their own learning and feel more empowered to pursue their goals.

For example, speech recognition software can help students with dyslexia to dictate their ideas and complete written assignments without relying on a scribe. Electronic organisers or reminder apps can help students with ADHD or executive functioning difficulties to manage their time, tasks, and schedules more efficiently. Sensory tools such as noise-cancelling headphones or fidget toys can help students with autism or sensory processing disorders to regulate their attention and emotions in the classroom.

Improved Access to Learning Materials

Another key benefit of assistive technology is that it can make learning materials more accessible for SEN students. Many students with disabilities struggle to read, write, or see printed materials, which can hinder their academic progress and motivation. Assistive technology can help to remove these barriers and provide alternative ways of accessing information and expressing knowledge.

For example, text-to-speech software can read out textbooks and other materials, making it easier for students with visual impairments or dyslexia to access the content. Audio books or podcasts can provide alternative formats for reading assignments or research topics. Screen readers or magnification software can enlarge or clarify the text on a computer screen, making it easier for students with low vision or cognitive impairments to navigate digital resources.

Enhanced Communication

A third benefit of assistive technology is that it can help SEN students to communicate more effectively. Many students with disabilities struggle to express themselves verbally, nonverbally, or in writing, which can limit their social interactions, relationships, and self-esteem. Assistive technology can help to augment or replace their communication skills and provide more opportunities for connection and expression.

For example, communication aids such as picture boards, sign language apps, or voice output devices can help students with speech and language difficulties to express themselves more clearly and spontaneously. Text-to-speech software can help students with reading difficulties to convert written text into spoken words, which can improve their comprehension and expression. Social skills apps or games can help students with autism or ADHD to practice social cues and responses in a safe and structured environment.

How SENCOs Can Support Assistive Technology Use

SENCOs play a critical role in supporting the use of assistive technology in the classroom. As the lead professionals for SEN provision in their school or setting, SENCOs are responsible for identifying, assessing, planning, and monitoring the needs of SEN students, including their use of assistive technology.
Here are some ways in which SENCOs can support technology use for SEN students:

Assessment

SENCOs should work collaboratively with teachers and other professionals to assess the needs of SEN students and identify the most appropriate assistive technology to meet their needs. This can involve conducting formal assessments, such as a diagnostic assessment or an access assessment, as well as informal observations and discussions with the student, their parents, and other stakeholders.

Assessment should be ongoing and responsive to the changing needs and progress of the student, as well as to the availability and effectiveness of different types of assistive technology. SENCOs should also ensure that assessments are conducted in a fair and unbiased manner, taking into account the cultural, linguistic, and individual diversity of the student.

Training

SENCOs should ensure that teachers and other professionals are trained to use assistive technology effectively to support SEN students in the classroom. This can involve providing professional development opportunities, such as workshops, webinars, or coaching sessions, as well as creating resources and materials that support the use of assistive technology.

Training should be tailored to the specific needs and preferences of the teachers and other professionals, as well as to the specific features and functions of the assistive technology. SENCOs should also ensure that training is ongoing and accessible, so that teachers and other professionals can continuously enhance their skills and knowledge in this area.

 

Implementation

SENCOs should work collaboratively with teachers and other professionals to implement assistive technology in the classroom and ensure that it is used effectively to support SEN students. This can involve providing technical support, troubleshooting, or maintenance services for the assistive technology, as well as creating policies and guidelines that promote its safe and ethical use.

Implementation should be based on a shared understanding of the goals, strategies, and outcomes of using assistive technology, as well as on a flexible and responsive approach to adapting and refining its use as needed. SENCOs should also ensure that students and their families are involved in the implementation process and that they have the resources and support they need to use the assistive technology at home and in other settings.

 

Evaluation

SENCOs should evaluate the effectiveness of assistive technology for SEN students and make any necessary adjustments to ensure that it is meeting their needs. This can involve collecting data, such as student progress, satisfaction, or engagement, as well as feedback from teachers, parents, and other stakeholders.

Evaluation should be systematic, objective, and evidence-based, using valid and reliable measures of the impact and cost-effectiveness of assistive technology. SENCOs should also use evaluation as a learning opportunity, reflecting on the successes and challenges of using assistive technology and using that knowledge to improve their practice and inform future decisions.

Challenges of Assistive Technology

While assistive technology can be hugely beneficial for SEN students, there are also some challenges to be aware of. These challenges can include:

Cost

Assistive technology can be expensive, and some schools may not have the resources to provide it for all SEN students who would benefit from it. This can create inequities and disparities in access to assistive technology, which can perpetuate existing inequalities in educational outcomes and opportunities.

To address this challenge, SENCOs may need to advocate for more funding and resources for assistive technology, as well as to explore alternative sources of support, such as grants, donations, or partnerships with community organisations. Sometimes it’s good to remember to include the human cost to any intervention, while some may seem cheap to purchase, when you add the cost of a Teaching Assistant it becomes far more.

Technical Support

SEN students may require technical support to use assistive technology effectively, which can be a challenge for schools to provide. Technical support can involve installing, configuring, or troubleshooting hardware or software, as well as training users on how to use it.

To address this challenge, SENCOs may need to collaborate with IT departments or external vendors to provide technical support for assistive technology, as well as to ensure that users have access to appropriate documentation, manuals, or help desks. SENCOs may also need to develop their own technical skills and knowledge to be able to provide basic support and guidance to teachers and students.

Stigmatisation

SEN students may feel stigmatised or different from their peers when using assistive technology in the classroom. They may worry that others will perceive them as “disabled” or “inferior” because they need extra help or accommodations to learn.
To address this challenge, SENCOs may need to foster a culture of acceptance, diversity, and inclusion in their school or setting, where students with disabilities are valued for their unique strengths, talents, and perspectives. SENCOs may also need to promote the use of assistive technology as a normal and beneficial part of learning, and to educate students, teachers, and parents about its benefits and limitations.

Conclusion

In conclusion, assistive technology can be a powerful tool for supporting the learning, communication, and independence of SEN students. SENCOs play a crucial role in facilitating the use of assistive technology in the classroom, by assessing student needs, training teachers and other professionals, implementing assistive technology effectively, and evaluating its effectiveness.
By addressing the challenges of cost, technical support, and stigmatisation, and by promoting a culture of acceptance and inclusion, SENCOs can help to ensure that all SEN students have access to the tools and resources they need to achieve their full potential in school and beyond.

FAQs

1. What is assistive technology?
Assistive technology refers to tools and devices that assist students with disabilities in their learning, communication, and independence.

2. What are some examples of assistive technology for SEN students?
Examples of assistive technology for SEN students include speech recognition software, electronic magnifiers, communication aids, text-to-speech software, sensory tools, and social skills apps.

3. How can SENCOs support the use of assistive technology in the classroom?
SENCOs can support the use of assistive technology in the classroom by assessing student needs, training teachers and other professionals, implementing assistive technology effectively, and evaluating its effectiveness.

4. What are some challenges of using assistive technology for SEN students?
Challenges of using assistive technology for SEN students can include cost, technical support, and stigmatisation.

5. How can schools promote a culture of acceptance and inclusion for SEN students?
Schools can promote a culture of acceptance and inclusion for SEN students by valuing their unique strengths, talents, and perspectives, promoting the use of assistive technology as a normal and beneficial part of learning, and educating students, teachers, and parents about the benefits and limitations of assistive technology.

Abigail Hawkins FCCT

Abigail Hawkins FCCT

Director of SENDCO Solutions

Abigail Hawkins was a SENCO for over 25 years and has worked with pupils with all types of needs.  Abigail has worked with Ed-Tech companies on developing their software and also been chair of governors for a multi-academy trust. Abigail now runs SENsible SENCO and SENDCO Solutions, with the aim of working with SENCOs and inclusion leaders across the UK to improve their support for SEND pupils. See our school services for more information.

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