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Assistive Technology (AT)

Assistive technology (AT) refers to equipment that is used by an individual with a disability to increase his or her functional capabilities. Many students with autism require strategies, equipment, and/or support to reach their potential (Schlosser, Blischak, Belfiore, Bartley, & Barnett, 1998). Research has shown that one such means of support, assistive technology, is effective for students with autism spectrum disorder.


According to the IDEA Amendment (2004), assistive technology (AT) is a broad term used to describe any item, piece of equipment, or product system that is used “to increase, maintain or improve the functional capability of a child with a disability.” Furthermore, IDEA recognized that AT is a critical instrument in meeting the educational and overall developmental needs of students with disabilities in school (Smith, Murphy-Herd, Alvarado, & Glennon, 2005). AT devices can be electronic or non-electronic. Three main types of AT, ranging from “low” and “mid” to “high” technology, can be used with learners with autism. Each type is described below.

  • “Low” technology. These strategies do not involve any type of electronic or battery-operated device. Such strategies typically include low-cost and easy-to-use equipment, such as dry-erase boards, clipboards, laminated photographs, photo albums, three-ring binders, Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS), etc. The strategies can be used to enhance expressive and receptive communication skills with autism.
  • “Mid” technology. These strategies use battery-operated devices or basic/simple electronic devices. Examples of “mid” technology devices are tape recorders, voice output devices, timers, and calculators. They are primarily used as a means to support expressive communication and enhance classroom participation, focus attention on various skill areas, and assist in the development of social skills.
  • “High” technology. These strategies are complex technological support strategies. They typically involve high-cost equipment such as computers and adaptive hardware (e.g., touch window, software, trackballs), accessory equipment (e.g., digital cameras, scanners), video cameras, and complex voice output devices.
It is essential to carefully train educators and learner on the use of AT devices to ensure that they are used correctly. When needed, AT should be incorporated into every aspect of daily living in order to improve the functional capabilities of learners with autism. Thus, it is important to consider that all AT devices, from “low” technology to “high” technology, should always be individualized to meet the unique needs of any learner with autism. Most important, the optimal goal of AT strategies is to increase the learner’s independent functioning skills by decreasing the amount of direct support needed from another person.

Research Summary

Ages (yrs) Skills Settings Outcome
3-21 Speech/language/communication (inclusive), academics, emotion recognition, executive abilities, social skills, theory of mind Computer-based instruction
*The information found in the Research Summary table is updated yearly following a literature review of new research and this age range reflects information from this review.

Outcomes:     Evidence-based     Emerging     No evidence     Comprehensive

Steps for Implementation


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