No two people on the autism spectrum are alike. Just because they may share the same characteristics – such as age, gender, IQ, medication use, even the autism diagnosis itself – does not imply that they will both respond similarly to the same methods, tools or treatments1. This demonstrates the need for personalization. One field embracing personalization is the field of Assistive Technology. Given the wide range of assistive technologies available for those on the spectrum (see the CTG Resource Directory2, a database of tools), this personalization process might seem daunting, and only possible through trial and error. Fortunately, this does not have to be the case. The SETT Framework, a four part model, can be used to assist IEP teams in making more informed assistive technology decisions that are based on the specific needs of each learner.
The SETT Framework enables those teams to simultaneously consider the Student, his/her Environments, and the Tasks the student needs assistance with, to eventually select appropriate Tools3. Once the abilities, interests, and needs of the Student, the details of the usual Environments he/she spends time in, and the Tasks demanded of the student in those environments in order to participate actively in them, have been determined, effective assistive technology tools can be identified for that student that address those factors4. The following figure summarizes the framework and its use:
Effective implementation of assistive technology needs to be the result of thorough planning because it has such a direct impact on the student’s progress. Using the proper tools enhances the student’s existing strengths and supplements the areas he/she needs help in. Some other areas to consider are a student’s intrinsic motivation and levels of support at home. A fully engaged student is more likely to participate fully and productively in his/her environment5.
Once tools have been tried and determined the next step is developing an effective implementation plan. An implementation plan avoids unnecessary frustrations parents/caregivers/teachers may face, in terms of using the newly selected tool. Lack of training and implementing assistance by qualified personnel produces higher levels of tools and product dissatisfaction. One implication of poor planning and implementation strategies is increased rates of product abandonment6. Regular use of decision making Frameworks such as SETT is more time and cost efficient7.
Such Frameworks also allow for personalization, and personalized technology seems to work best for those with autism8. Studies propose that there is a reduction of reduced anxiety, improved motivation, and deeper understandings of self and surroundings may be observed when treatments are personalized9. Personalization allows for empowerment because of its tailored support. This is exactly what AutisMate does. It focuses on both communication and life skills, not just one or the other. Autismate can be modified to meet the student, exactly where he/she is.
Finding the right assistive technology tools for students with autism does not have to be a challenge. By using the SETT Framework, the needs of the student can be determined more systematically. This lends itself to personalizing the student’s experience for a better outcome from the beginning.