2001 Conference Proceedings

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SPrITE: Special Preschoolers Into Technology Exploration

Laura Taylor, Assistive Technology Consultant
Charlevoix-Emmet Intermediate School District
08568 Mercer Rd.
Charlevoix, MI 49720
Day Phone: 231-547-9947
Fax: 231-547-5621
E-mail: taylorl@svr1.pace.k12.mi.us 

Evelyn Howell, OTR
Charlevoix-Emmet Intermediate School District
08568 Mercer Rd.
Charlevoix, MI 49720
Day Phone: 231-348-5829
Fax: 231-547-5621
E-mail: howelle@svr1.pace.k12.mi.us

Introduction

Special education services are provided in the state of Michigan from birth to age 26. The Charlevoix-Emmet Intermediate School District provides those services in northwest lower Michigan, throughout a two and one-half county area. Services are provided in-home from birth to age three by the Intermediate School District personnel as well as through the services of Early On Michigan. A significant part of these services involves children who have an identified handicapping condition either in the area of speech/language development or a physical impairment, which impedes the child's ability to communicate his/her wants and needs or the ability to gain some control over their environment. With that lack of verbal or physical control, toddlers often become reliant upon others to meet their needs, both verbally and physically.

SPrITE, Special Preschoolers Into Technology Exploration, is a project designed for toddlers, ages 18-36 months, with special needs who will benefit from technology to increase expressive language and self-reliance with age appropriate hardware/software. Children are identified through the preschool team and referred to the Assistive Technology Team for inclusion into the project.

The goals of the SPrITE Project include increased expressive language, increased motor function, and the development of an inherent desire for independence. These goals are implemented throughout an approximately eight week period using two different computers and age appropriate software in the child's home environment or in a lab centrally located between two counties.

Process

The preschool team meets on a monthly basis to review children's progress and to determine effective methods of instruction. This team is comprised of speech therapist(s), occupational therapist(s), and developmental therapist(s) for each of the two county areas. Since one of the occupational therapists is responsible for the birth to 18 months and the other from 18 months to 5 years, there is a constant flow of information from one to the other. This connection aids in selecting children who will benefit from an intense effort to address the above goals. A referral is made to the assistive technology team for inclusion into the project. Parents are apprised of their child's possible inclusion into the project as well as their willingness to participate. Parents are requested to gather data for the duration of the project.

Information regarding the child's present level of educational performance is gathered, including speech/language development, cognitive development and physical ability. Once this information is compiled, appropriate software and input devices are gathered.

The initial piece of technology that comes to the child's home consists of an Macintosh computer equipped with a Touch Window (tm) and software that may include Key Wack, Laureate's Creature Antics and/or Creature Cartoons, and a Hyperstudio stack designed specifically for the child. The software is typically cause and effect in nature to encourage the child to interact and receive a response.

In the first phase parents are instructed as to how the computer works, what to do if trouble is encountered and the expectations for the software. They are requested to keep data on their child's interest level, method of interaction, duration, and initiation (whether the child or parent initiates the involvement).

At the end of the first phase, the team members meet with the family and observe the child interacting with the computer. The child has typically been successful at cause and effect interactions as well as demonstrating an increased expressive vocabulary.

The second phase consists of an iMac computer equipped with an iBall (trackball) and appropriate software that may include: Sesame Street Baby and Me, Jump Start Toddler, Fisher-Price Toddler, Sesame Street Toddlers Deluxe, Reader Rabbit Baby and Toddler, The Playroom, StickyBear Early Learning Activities and a Hyperstudio stack designed specifically for the child.

Parents are instructed as to the function of the iMac, iBall and CD-ROM use and care. Additionally, parents are requested to keep data on the child's interest level, and initiation and duration of engagement.

At the end of the second phase present level of expressive language development is determined using post-test information and language samples. Present level of independence displayed is gathered through parent observation and parent report. Areas of independence have included social skills, mobility and verbal expression.

Children who participate in SPrITE in a lab setting have the opportunity to engage in similarly equipped computers and software on bi-monthly basis for 90 minutes. The session was comprised of play time, computer time and parent education.

Equipment Needs:

A low end table or coffee table is sought in the home to place the computer(s). This table height typically allows for children to stand independently, or, if necessary, the child may use a Maddock standing frame. A small, child sized chair is also sought from within the home should the child desire to sit. The height of the computer in relation to the child's vision is considered when each of these items is used. This setup is designed for maximum parental involvement.

Another option for seating for children with hypotonia (low muscle tone), poor sitting balance or mild to moderate physical impairment, would include an adjustable chair that is lightweight, and provides lateral support to maximize good sitting posture.

For stability of the computer on the table, Dycem pad is used. A less expensive option for parents may include non-skid placemats or non-skid rug runners cut to size. This item may also be used for placement of the keyboard or iBall.

Electrical outlet adapters are often necessary as well as surge protection devices.

The CD-ROM cases are transported to the home in an insulated bag to help protect them from being broken or misplaced.

The Touch Window, though typically attached with standard velcro, may need to be attached with Dual Lock interlocking tape, as children tend to pull it from the monitor.

Results:

During the first year of SPrITE eight children have completed the project with positive results in all cases. Parents have noted that their children have begun to display:

Though parents have indicated growth in their children's development it is still unknown whether this project contributes directly or if the child is simply making this growth as a process of typical maturation. On-going studies will continue to address this issue.

Conclusion:

By addressing the early expressive language and self-reliance in toddlers, SPrITE has demonstrated that children exposed to such technology as a toy like any other can have positive benefits with a short-term exposure.


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