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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Maryland Study Examines the State of Assistive Technology for Children with Developmental Disabilities in the United States

Assistive technology (AT) (i.e., any item such as a communication or mobility aid that helps to maintain or improve the functional capabilities of people with disabilities) is essential in enabling children with developmental disabilities to better perform daily activities and to be more actively involved in their homes, schools, and communities. Although the Individuals with Disability Education Act (IDEA) requires consideration for the inclusion of AT in Individualized Education Plans for children aged 0 to 21, many continue to experience challenges. A recent article by Dr. Sue Lin, University of Maryland School of Public Health alumna and director of the Health Resources and Services Administration’s (HRSA) Quality Division and Dr. Robert Gold, professor and chair of the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the University of Maryland School of Public Health, examined the current status of AT with regard to the fulfillment of needs, functional difficulties, and services utilization and coordination among children with developmental disabilities.

[Photo: Dr. Sue Lin (left) and Dr. Robert Gold]

This study included 40,113 children with special health care needs, including developmental disabilities, from the 2009-2010 National Survey on Children with Special Health Care Needs, which is a national, cross-sectional telephone survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center on Health Statistics, with support from the federal Maternal and Child Health Bureau. Children with developmental disabilities were identified by their parents who indicated whether their children had an intellectual disability or mental retardation, Autism spectrum disorder, cerebral palsy, developmental delay, Down syndrome, or muscular dystrophy. The authors found that 90% or more of parents who have children with developmental disabilities or other special health care needs, reported that their child’s AT needs were met for vision, hearing, mobility, communication, and durable medical equipment.

Compared to other children with special health care needs, children with developmental disabilities were more likely to have public insurance and had higher odds of having their mobility and communication needs met, suggesting potential success in public insurance coverage for these items. However, children with developmental disabilities had lower odds for having their vision and hearing needs met, which can negatively impact the development of their learning and motor skills. The authors suggest a potential explanation for this may be the difficulties in detecting developmental delays early on and the availability of vision and hearing screening programs for younger children aged 0 to 5. This finding underscores the importance of regular and ongoing vision and hearing screening and treatment for children with developmental disabilities. The authors state, “Fulfilling the AT needs of a child with developmental disabilities has the potential to engender positive lifelong effects on their disabilities, sense of independence, self-confidence, and productivity.”

“Assistive technology needs, functional difficulties, and services utilization and coordination of children with developmental disabilities in the United States,” can be found in Assistive Technology (