Let's Play! Project Abstract:

Play is an integral part of the young child's life; it is the medium for early social and academic learning. Infants and toddlers with significant disabilities are often limited in their play skills, resulting in serious difficulties with attainment of developmental skills. During the time when typically developing children are learning that their actions have an effect on their environment, and on individuals within their environment, children with significant physical, sensory and cognitive disabilities are learning that they are limited in their ability to produce action from, and interact with, the environment. The long term effects of these deficits negatively impacts the motivation to continue the attempt at play, interaction and communication. While the need to find options that will promote play and development in this young population of individuals is apparent, innovative intervention ideas have been slow to develop.

The very early use of adaptive toys and switches has been suggested to be effective in forestalling the development of learned helplessness and learning deficits. Technology may be the only means by which some significantly involved children can be engaged with the physical environment. Unfortunately for many service providers, the "how-to's" of such low-tech assistive technology, as well as the application of technology within daily living environments, have not been forthcoming. The proposed project is designed to begin the unraveling of the "how to's" in the application of low-tech assistive technology to the birth to three year old population of children with disabilities, in their natural environment. It is also designed to produce data pertaining to the details of toy and switch adaptations most attractive to this population.

The Let's Play! Project proposes to develop, implement, evaluate and replicate a demonstration model to enhance the ability of infants and toddlers with significant disabilities to play as independently as possible. Five goals are specified. Three deal with project and product outcomes, one with family and child outcomes, and one with service coordinator outcomes. The uniqueness of this model comes from five distinct yet interrelated strategies: 1) the assessment, choice of adaptations, and implementation of the play plan will be family directed; 2) play will be the focus of the intervention; 3) the selection of low-tech assistive technology will be the critical intervention tool used in the facilitation of play and development; 4) these concepts will be extended into natural environments 5) a toy and assistive technology lending library will ensure that families have immediate access to appropriate toy and play adaptations.

We anticipate serving 45 families and children, ages birth through two at the original site and an additional 44 families at replication sites in Years 4 and 5. These children will be experiencing significant physical, sensory and/or cognitive disabilities which interfere with their ability to interact with objects and people in their environments. Activities during Year 1 will focus on recruitment of participants, piloting assessment and reporting procedures, and identifying items for the Toy and Assistive Technology Lending Library. In Years 2 and 3 , there will be ongoing play assessment, intervention and follow up. By the end of the third year, an effective model will be working, resulting in positive child and family outcomes. Replication sites will be supported by the development of procedural guides.

With this emphasis on the use of assistive technology to support parent/child interactions in natural environments, the Let's Play! Project can make a difference for very young children with disabilities and their families in New York State.