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Speech & Language

The following are questions and answers from Dr. Tracy Gray on this topic.

What options are there for a teenager who needs a communication device?

Communication devices can often be large, bulky, and single out AAC (augmentative and alternative communication) users as "different" from their peers. This can be particularly frustrating for teenagers, who may want something more portable as they go about their day and something that doesn't set them apart from their non-disabled classmates. With advances in mainstream technologies, computing, and cell phones, there are now many options for the AAC user — from handheld devices to applications that run on a cell phone — that your daughter can choose that will fit her needs.

Many apps are available for the iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Nintendo DS, and Droid phones; Prolquo2Go is one popular option, but there are many more programs out there. You can also try a web-based AAC service that can be used on a variety of devices. Many children with speech difficulties have had success with these devices, so you may consider trying one out with your daughter. If she struggles with making precise movements, she may find that a larger screen (as on the iPad or similar tablet computer) is easier for her to use. Try out a few different options if you can to find the right fit. If you're interested in sticking with a traditional AAC device, many companies now make much smaller and more portable AAC devices; so there are a number of options there as well. Before you make any decisions, it may be helpful to review some of the features of AAC devices and think about what your daughter's needs are with regard to communication. With the many new choices for communication devices, you should be able to find something smaller, lighter, and more usable for your daughter.

What speech recognition programs work when the user's speech is inconsistent?

For users who struggle with reading clearly and precisely, training a speech recognition program like Dragon Naturally Speaking (particularly older versions) can be challenging. The good news is that Dragon 9 (the most recent version) does not require training. This allows users to get started right away without having to read lengthy texts or training scripts.

Other programs, such as SpeakQ, may also be helpful. SpeakQ allows users to choose from a list of training texts at various reading levels, or create your own training text. SpeakQ also has speech prompting if you have trouble reading a training text. Using this feature, SpeakQ will read the training text aloud, requiring the user to repeat the text aloud. This may be of assistance if you are struggling to read a training text correctly.

Another benefit of SpeakQ is that it is combined with WordQ, a word prediction program with text-to-speech capabilities. This feature means that you can directly dictate words, or opt to use the "speech-enabled word prediction" which presents your spoken words as a list of choices. This may help reduce errors and allow you to be more accurate.

What technology resources can be used for students with motor and speech limitations?

CITEd just recently updated the TechMatrix, a tool that allows you to search for information on assistive and learning software and tools. The TechMatrix now includes more than 190 products and tools in AT Access Devices, Reading, Math, and Writing. You can search for tools by subject area, learning supports, features, and product names.

It sounds like the "features" search may be most helpful to you. You can select one or more features (e.g. connection to computer, customizable interface, embedded resources, text-to-speech, word prediction, etc.), and then click the "Generate Matrix" to view a matrix of products having that particular set of features.

Popular types of products that have been successful as both AT for students with special needs and general classroom technology include portable notetakers, adapted keyboards that can be used by one or more student on a regular desktop computer, and text-to-speech functions on general computers that can stand in for dedicated speech devices and read a students' presentation or response. You can find out more about these technologies at the TechMatrix.

What technology helps math, handwriting, and spelling?

You mention several different concerns that you have with your son's performance in school. Based on your descriptions, it sounds like memory may be an area of significant difficulty for your son. This may be what is preventing him from learning his multiplication facts and remembering spelling words.

A low-tech solution is to provide your son with a multiplication grid to use while completing math assignments. Some teachers opt to provide these grids for all students, while others give them only to students who are having particular difficulties. Similarly, a list of spelling words added to a personal dictionary to use in the weeks after the spelling test may help him build confidence to use the words in his writing. These types of reference tools can be great resources for students who struggle with memory and accessing information quickly.

Without knowing more about your son’s handwriting and spelling issues, it is difficult to recommend a specific tool. Is there a physical issue that interferes with your son's ability to write legibly? Does he have difficulty holding a pencil? A student with these issues may require different technological solutions than a student who has difficulty placing letters correctly on the page, or who switches letters (b for d, or p for b, etc.).

However, for many students with difficulty writing, word prediction software, (see From Illegible to Understandable) can be helpful. Other writing tools (see Tech Tools for Students with LD) such as talking word processors and portable note-taking devices may also be helpful. With any of these tools, it is best to discuss them with your son's special education teachers, and the school's assistive technology coordinator to ensure you find the best fit.

Finally, another good resource for locating assistive technology tools for different student needs is the Tech Matrix. As with any of the other technology tools mentioned, it is best to look at the different options with your son's teachers and the school technology coordinator to ensure that tools selected will be appropriate.

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