Adaptive Equipment for a Special Needs Child

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For children with disabilities, adaptive equipment is used in both regular and special needs classrooms. This equipment can be anything a child needs or uses to ensure success at school, as specified in the the child's Individual Education Plan (IEP). There are no federal guidelines in the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) for adaptive equipment; instead, each school must assess and evaluate the needs of each individual in order to provide adaptive equipment that bests suits the student's special needs.

1 Modifications

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The first step involves evaluations of a special needs child by occupational, physical and speech therapists. As part of the educational team--which also includes parents, the special needs and regular education teachers, an administrator and the student, if appropriate--the therapists will report on any adaptive equipment needed to help the child succeed. In the IEP, a modifications page can list some types of equipment that might be recommended. Small adjustments might be recommended, including preferential seating, taped texts and special writing supplies, such as pencil grips, thicker pencils or an easel to adjust the angle of the paper.

2 Communication Devices

Speech therapist working with young student at desk.
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If a child has a speech impairment, adaptive equipment, known as augmentative communication devices, might be supplied. These can range from simple devices, such as Mayer Johnson Picture Symbols and communication boards, to high-tech choices, such as speaking devices or computers. A speech therapist helps the student learn to use the devices, while a special needs teacher or teaching assistant might work with the child and the devices in the classroom.

3 Positioning Devices

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For the child with a temporary disability or a permanent one, special positioning devices may be needed. For example, a child with a broken leg might need an extra chair and special support pillow to elevate the damaged leg. A child with cerebral palsy might need a bean bag, bolsters or wedges in order to take her place at circle time with classmates. The physical therapist works with the educational team to provide and use the equipment safely with the special needs child as well as with adults who might help move the student to and from the equipment. Another positioning device is a stimulation pillow for students with ADHD. This allows a certain amount of "wiggle room" when the student sits on the air-filled pillow and might increase attention span.

4 Wheelchairs and Positioning Chairs

Young boy and his brother sitting in a custom-made wheelchair.
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Some special needs children cannot use regular chairs or desks and might require a personalized wheelchair or positioning chair. These are usually custom-made for the individual's needs and can be expensive. A customized wheelchair will have vinyl-covered supports that help make the student comfortable and able to participate in classroom activities. A positioning chair, or modular seating, is designed with side bars, back support and straps to maintain the best sitting position and comfort for the user.

5 Personal Needs

A bathroom with side rails and extended toilet seat.
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Sometimes, adaptive equipment is needed in the restroom. Side rails and extended toilet seats help those who have trouble getting up and down off a standard toilet. Some students might need a changing table or other equipment; it's critical to provide privacy and preserve the individual's dignity when choosing equipment of this type, while still ensuring maximum independence. Adaptive equipment also could be needed for grooming, such as brushing hair or teeth. Modified eating utensils, such as non-skid plates, also are types of personal needs equipment.

6 Standing Equipment

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Therapists might recommend that a child remain standing for a certain portion of the day. This is usually done to strengthen leg muscles and improve balance. Standers are special adaptive equipment that provides back and leg support. Standers are made for children of all ages and usually can be adjusted as the child grows. They can be equipped with a work table that allows a student to do classroom activities from a standing position.

7 Walkers

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Some students might be able to walk but have balance problems. Walkers can be something as simple as a cane or crutches, or a more complex device with seating in the frame for a student who tires easily. Book bags can be hung from older student's walkers but could disrupt the balance of a younger special needs child.

Susan King is a teacher with 27 years experience with all ages, grade levels and ability levels, including teaching in China. She has written a book, "The Road to Rebecca," about adopting from China. She graduated from Texas A&M University. She also has a ThM from Colorado Theological Seminary in Christian Counseling and recently received her PhD.