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Working with Families

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 technology tools can my daughter use over the summer to practice her math skills?

Since your daughter will be using these programs over the summer, and she enjoys games, it's a great idea to combine fun activities with learning and skill building! There are many online math programs, games, tutorials, and lesson available, so it can be a challenge to find these most appropriate ones for your child. If you know what specific areas your daughter is struggling with, that can help to narrow your search (i.e., search for games that teach fractions). In addition, you can talk with her teachers to see if they can recommend some high quality, standards-based math programs. Two good choices for math games that are also fun are BrainPop (subscription-based; free trial) and Fun School (free). The games on Fun School may be a bit below your daughter's skill level; if she is need of some remediation, they may be just right. BrainPop features a wide range of animated videos, quizzes, games, and activities addressing a variety of topics in an easy-to-understand and engaging way.

If your daughter is interested in trying to catch up on her math during the summer, she may also enjoy watching the free videos from Khan Academy. With over 1400 videos covering topics from basic addition to the Pythagorean Theorem, your daughter can watch and re-watch these easy to follow visual lessons on a variety of topics where she needs help. Finally, check out our custom searches on the TechMatrix to find suggestions for math software for teaching geometry, money skills, algebra, early math concepts, and more.

How can I get accessible instructional materials for my son if the school will not provide them?

This is certainly a frustrating and confusing situation to be in for a parent. I hope some of these resources will be helpful for you. First, you may find it helpful to review some of the available information on Center for Accessible Instructional Materials site on the key provisions of IDEA with regard to accessible materials and the requirements of the IEP. IDEA provides a legal mandate for accessible materials for qualifying students, through high school. We suggest that you become familiar with this information so that you can ensure that your child receives the materials necessary for success in school. For additional information, go to Building the Legacy: IDEA 2004, a website developed by the U.S. Department of Education, for additional information and services for infants and toddlers with disabilities, and children and youth (ages 3-21).

If your son's IEP does not currently list accessible instructional materials as a recommended support, you may want to consider addressing that issue with his IEP team. Find valuable guidance at Bookshare and Accessible Instructional Materials and the IEP. As your son moves into high school, you should discuss his needs with the new IEP team to ensure that supplementary aids and services, such as accessible texts, are included, if your son is eligible, for this type of support.

Finally, I'd like to reassure you that there are many options for resolving disputes and disagreements with your son's school district, many of them spelled out in special education law. LD Online, Wrightslaw, and NICHCY have some excellent resources available on this topic. You may also want to check out the expert advice from Matt Cohen, Esq. on this site for more information about special education law.

Is peer support an acceptable substitute for assistive technology in the classroom?

The 2004 update of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA 2004) requires that Individualized Education Plan (IEP) teams consider the appropriate assistive technology when determining what accommodations, services, and aids your child may need to be successful in school. Check out Considering Your Child's Need for Assistive Technology and Knowing Your Child's Rights for more information on this subject.  You may also want to review the relevant sections of IDEA related to assistive technology and the parent resources on IDEA 2004 from Great Schools. Both resources can provide valuable information to bring to meetings with school staff.

In your email, you don't say whether the school has considered the benefits of assistive technology to support your child.  If the school has not made this decision, you have the right to request an assistive technology evaluation. This evaluation should be provided at no-cost. According to IDEA, the school should offer both devices and services, including training and support for the teacher and school staff who work with your child.

While peer support from the other kids in your child's class may be beneficial, their help does not replace needed assistive technology devices and training. It is important to discuss these concerns with your son's IEP team, as you have the right to disagree with their decisions regarding the use of assistive technology for your son. If you think that your son is not getting access to the appropriate tools and services, or you think that additional supports might be warranted, you should arrange a meeting with his IEP team to address your concerns.

For more information about special education law, check out the expert advice from Matt Cohen, Esq. on this site.

What online resources are available for a student in a rural area without access to special education services?

Finding help for your child can be difficult if you live in remote or rural areas without access to specialists. However, there is a wealth of resources available online through free websites. With the growing number of educational websites, students who live in such areas can now access a wide variety of tools, specialized information, and helpful hints for working with their struggling child. One great example of a website to explore is ReadWriteThink, a website that provides "resources in reading and language arts instruction through free, Internet-based content." Here you can find information on the best ways to teach reading and writing, as well as helpful tools and resources.

One of these online tools, a comic strip creator, may appeal to your child as a fan of comic books and superheroes. If you child enjoys these creative activities, you may also want to introduce them to Kerpoof, which allows children to create their own stories, animations, videos, and comics. Using these tools, your child can create stories of their own, perhaps with some help from you for some of the writing. It is possible that the high interest of creating his own comic strip may encourage him to try writing more. Such activities take advantage of your child's interests and help him engage in telling and writing stories; studies have shown that storytelling is the first step in learning to read and write, so encouraging your child to use technology tools and artwork to tell stories may help their build up his reading and writing skills.

Below is a list of other great websites for students with disabilities:

You may also want to explore the many free, online course providers now available to students of all ages and needs. For example, Khan Academy offers all online courses and instruction in traditional subject areas such as math, science, and English Language Arts, as well as other subject such as computer programming and art history. It is especially good for students with disabilities since the lessons are self-paced, allowing the student to take as much as time as they need to grasp the concept. If you child is more engaged with iPhone and handheld games, check out the many educational apps now available in the iTunes and Android store. To get started, explore the suggested resources on Children with Special Needs and their related resources.

How can I prepare parents for our new online curriculum?

If the parents in your school district are not familiar with online learning, and the platform you will be using, it might be helpful to start out with a discussion of why you chose to use technology to teach mathematics, and how the tool you're using might benefit your students. It's possible that parents will be skeptical about using online technology tools such as virtual manipulatives or math games, so highlight benefits for students, particularly those with disabilities or who are non-English speakers. In particular, parents should hear about how technology usage can help teachers differentiate instruction and meet the needs of a variety of learners.

An excellent way of preparing parents and helping them to understand the online system you are using is to make the workshop engaging and interactive. If teachers will be using interactive whiteboards during classroom instruction, ask parents to come up and manipulate objects on screen, or solve word problems. Parents should also have an opportunity to experiment with the various features of the online system and should be given access to the same things their students will see. If there is a parent section of your online program, be sure that parents understand how to use it. Be sure to also provide resources for parents to engage in mathematics activities at home with their children. If students will be using the online system outside of school, parents can participate in completion of activities or modules. You may also opt to provide parents with suggestions for math games they can play with their children to help solidify skills.

Possible sites to include on a parent resource list:

FunBrain

Math Playground

PBS Kids Play

Funschool

BBC Numeracy Games

Does technology affect learning in young children?

Technology definitely can affect learning in young children, and as with most things there are advantages and disadvantages of its use. Ultimately, the decision rests with the parent or caregiver, how often and under what circumstances their children should use video games, computers, and other types of technology tools. One point is consistently made by researchers and child development experts: young children's play with technology should be rich in conversation with peers and adults to help them make sense of the technology and the experiences. Adults who are playing and talking with children can help them make connections between the technology-based experience and other learning experiences. To help you make an informed decision you can find information on the pros and cons of technology for young children at Technology in Early Education: Finding the Balance.

What resources can help parents find technology tools for children with disabilities?

Without knowing more details about your son’s specific needs, I can’t make a particular technology recommendation. However, there are a variety of resources and professionals available to help you make that choice. Many schools have an assistive technology coordinator in the building, or someone who provides assistive technology support for the district. You might check with your school’s special education coordinator to find out if someone is available for a technology consultation.

If your school district does not have an assistive technology specialist, you can also contact your local children’s hospital. They will often be able to conduct assistive technology assessments and make recommendations about technology tools that might be helpful for your son.

There are also a variety of websites that sell software programs that may help your son build key academic skills. Tom Snyder Productions, Riverdeep and EnableMart all have excellent selections of software programs for improving core skills, supporting content area (math, science, social studies, and language arts) learning or engaging students in independent learning.

A great resource for evaluating software programs and finding the right one for your child is the TechMatrix – using this tool you can search for products by feature, subject area and learning support, as well as finding out information about where to purchase the tool. You might also check out some of the resources and articles on this website and the website for the Center for Implementing Technology in Education (CITEd). CITEd has a series of articles about using multimedia tools in the content areas. These tools (many of them free) might be helpful to try out with your son as a way of getting extra practice or helping him understand new information.

How can a parent choose a good speech to text tool that will help their dysgraphic child ?

Choosing a software program for your child can be a challenge. There are many programs available and it can be difficult to sift through the options and make the right decision. Unfortunately, every technology tool won't work the same way for every child, so without knowing more details about your son's needs for schoolwork, it is difficult to make a specific product recommendation.

Depending on your son's needs, a word prediction program with simple voice recognition, such as WordQ and SpeakQ might be appropriate. Or he might need a more robust program specifically designed for voice recognition only, such as Dragon Naturally Speaking, which would allow him to use voice recognition to send email, write documents, surf the internet and complete other computer tasks.

You can also find a variety of tools on the TechMatrix and compare features to find something that might best fit your son's needs. This article on choosing voice recognition software may also be helpful in identifying the different features available and determining which would be most helpful.

One of the best options for beginning your search is to talk to other users of voice recognition tools for dysgraphia. You should start with the assistive technology coordinator for your school or district. They can discuss your son's specific academic needs and help you find an appropriate tool. Richard Wanderman, who has several learning disabilities including dysgraphia, wrote an article, How Computers Change the Writing Process for People with Learning Disabilities, for his website about how he uses technology to help him write that you may find helpful.

Thanks to the Internet, you can also connect easily with parents of children with learning disabilities to discuss the available options. Yahoo! Groups has a dysgraphia message board where you can post questions and discuss options with other parents. Though selecting an appropriate tool can be time consuming, learning about other people's experiences with voice recognition software can help ensure that you find a program that will work for your son.

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.

What technology can help a ten-year-old child with learning disabilities?

Without knowing more details about your son's specific needs, I can't make a particular technology recommendation. However, there are a variety of resources and professionals available to help you make that choice. Many schools have an assistive technology coordinator in the building, or someone who provides assistive technology support for the district. You might check with your school's special education coordinator to find out if someone is available for a technology consultation. If your school district does not have an assistive technology specialist, you can also contact your local children's hospital. They will often be able to conduct assistive technology assessments and make recommendations about technology tools that might be helpful for your son. While you are online here at LD OnLine, check out the products in our store, LearningStore, to see if some of them address the issues you have identified.

There are also a variety of websites that sell software programs that may help your son build key academic skills. Tom Snyder Productions, Riverdeep, and EnableMart all have excellent selections of software programs for improving core skills, supporting content area (math, science, social studies, and language arts) learning or engaging students in independent learning. A great resource for evaluating software programs to find the right one for your child is the TechMatrix — using this tool you can search for products by feature, subject area and learning support, as well as finding out information about where to purchase the tool.

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