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Technology

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

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 for a parent to be in; 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 NIMAS, the 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. It is a good idea for parents to become familiar with this information to ensure that their children receive the materials necessary for success in school.

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. CAST's resource Accessible Instructional Materials and the IEP may be helpful. As your son moves into high school, you should discuss his needs with the new IEP team and ensure that supplementary aids and services, such as accessible texts, are included if your son is eligible.

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.

How can I track down appropriate software for my daughter with multiple disabilities?

Finding the right software program, or programs, can be challenging, especially for students who have multiple disabilities or are struggling academically in a number of different areas. Some of the process of finding something that works well for your daughter might be trial and error, as you find the tools that work best for her; but a few resources can help get you started.

LD OnLine is a great source of information for parents. Checking out some of the many articles on teaching strategies for students may give you a better idea of what types of support your daughter would benefit most from. There are several resources that might help you figure out what technologies might work best for a student with an auditory processing disorder.

Though audio books may not be the best solution for your daughter, she may still benefit from hearing text read aloud, using a text-to-speech program and following along with text on the computer. Many reading programs that do this can highlight each word or each sentence as it is spoken, giving your daughter two ways to get the information. The highlighting can also help her focus on the information being read to her. Try looking for reading and writing programs that have text-to-speech, dynamic highlighting and allow your daughter to control the speed of the reading. She might also benefit from software programs that focus on early reading skills. Our article on Learning to Read with Multimedia Materials has some good suggestions.

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

As you may be aware, IDEA 2004 requires that IEP teams consider assistive technology when determining what accommodations, services, and aids your child may need to be successful. Check out Considering Your Child's Need for Assistive Technology and Knowing Your Child's Rights for more information on this process. 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 you with some solid information that you can bring with you to meetings with school staff.

You don't say in your email whether the school has considered whether assistive technology could benefit your son; if they haven't, you do have the right to request an assistive technology evaluation. Because IDEA includes both AT devices and services, the school would provide your son with training and support for any assistive technology deemed necessary. As part of this process, the school would: evaluate your son; investigate purchasing or leasing AT; and provide training for your son, your family, and other caregivers as necessary, as well as for any school staff that work with your son.

While peer support from the other kids in your son'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 your son's AT use. If you think that your son is not getting appropriate AT services, or you think that additional devices and services 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.

Where can I find information about software to help my child with Down Syndrome?

Children with Down Syndrome, as with other children, both with and without disabilities, are unique, and there is unlikely to be a 'one-size-fits-all' software solution for your daughter. For example, some students with Down Syndrome may struggle with distractibility and need a quiet place to work, away from possible disruptions. For other students, this may not be an issue.

However, there are likely several supports that will be helpful for your daughter as she learns new skills and moves forward in her education. Modeling, concrete representations of information, and multiple opportunities for practice and reinforcement may all be beneficial for learners with Down Syndrome. Check out Tips for Teaching Students with Down Syndrome for more information. Potentially challenging areas for children with Down Syndrome may include math, reading and writing, speech and language, memory, social interactions, or motor skills.

Your daughter may have difficulties with all of these areas or may only experience significant deficits in a few areas. Determining what her needs are is the first step to finding the appropriate piece or pieces of software for her.

Many children with cognitive impairments learn best from what they see, so videos or modeling may be a good option. Look for tools that break down the skill or skill being learned into smaller, concrete chunks. Educational Software for Children with Down Syndrome can give you a brief overview of the types of software tools available and what areas of need they may address. Other good resources for information on supportive software tools are local and national organizations for individuals with Down Syndrome. Many of these groups have online communities where you can post questions and share information with other parents.

These groups may be able to help you narrow down options to try with your daughter.

What technology options are available for home schooled children?

Homeschooling parents have to be creative and persistent in their search for funding for AT. Get some ideas in Finding Alternative Sources for Funding for Assistive Technology. You can also try out equipment, software, adaptive devices and telecommunications systems at local AT Centers before you purchase. Find those AT lending libraries through the national registries of the AT Alliance or through the National AT Technical Assistance Partnership.

What reading software is effective for students who struggle with reading?

Congratulations to your son's school for providing the opportunity for parent input! The TechMatrix can help you bring the perspective of an informed parent to the table. This matrix is intended to serve as a resource that matches technology tools with supporting literature on promising practices for the instruction of reading for students with disabilities. Through the matrix you will able to examine the features of reading software for students who struggle with various aspects of reading, as well as the research base on which such products are developed and used. You might also read Learning to Read with Multimedia Materials, and Reading Software: Finding the Right Program for some suggestions about selecting tools and identifying resources.

Are there any downloadable games or software available that are not timed?

I know of a couple of resources that may be of help to you. MathTools is a community digital library that supports the use and development of software for mathematics education. Through this site you can search by grade level and math topics to find a wealth of games and activities. As you will see, some of them are timed, although many are not. Improving Basic Mathematics Instruction, a monograph published by the Technology and Media Division of CEC, offers resources and tips for selecting the appropriate technology for students with disabilities and includes a matrix of online games reviewed for several features, including whether it is timed. As noted above, the TechMatrix offers valuable information on the features of more than twenty math software products that will help you find math games and activities to motivate your son to increase his math skills.

Can you recommend an effective typing program for our son, who is dyslexic and dysgraphic?

As you noted, there are a variety of typing programs on the market. The best answer to your question is that there may not be one single program that best meets your son's needs. Keyboard development requires practice and unfortunately, repetitive exercises can be boring. Access to a variety of programs offers choice, lessens boredom, and increases motivation for practicing keyboarding skills. Find them through a Google search for 'free keyboard tutorials for children". A program that might work is Read, Write and Type by the Learning Company, which has been rated as an effective early reading intervention by the What Works Clearinghouse. Many dysgraphic students have difficulty with correct fingering in keyboarding skills. It would be best if your son used correct fingering, but he should not be forced. The ultimate goal is for him to type fluently, with speed and accuracy. Some students who type in their own style have been known to reach 60 words per minute. Others gradually begin to type with correct, or partially correct, fingering. The key to improvement is practice and consistency. I suggest that you encourage him to practice every day, but limit the practice time to 10 minutes. Let him choose which program he wants to use, what he wants to type and what fingering method works best for him.

Are there any scanning devices available that can help my dyslexic child improve his reading and math skills?

There are many devices that can scan and read. As with all assistive technology, the key is to find the right match for the individual user. You know your child better than anyone. You need to find out all you can about the various devices. The TechMatrix is a gateway to reading and math software products that provides a brief description, including a side-by-side comparison, and links to more product details that will help you identify the most appropriate software for your child. There are several reading pens on the market in addition to the ones listed on the matrices, such as the Reading Pen II, the LeapFrog Fly Pen and the Wizard. You might want to contact the distributors to ask for an evaluation copy or whether the company is displaying the devices somewhere close by where you and your child can go and try it out. You might want to pose a question on a listserv provided by Quality Indicators for Assistive Technology (QIAT), where parents and practitioners post their questions and comments about AT. There are currently several postings on the listserv related to reading pens. I recommend that you review the TechMatrix to compare the various products, search the Internet for product information for the different talking/reading pens, and also search the QIAT listserv by keyword to learn from the experiences of other parents and teachers.

Can you recommend any computer games that can help my daughter understand math concepts?

There are a lot of good computer math games. The challenge is to select the ones that best meet the needs of the student. There are numerous online math games that are absolutely free, Learning Mathematics with Virtual Manipulatives provides background information on virtual math manipulatives and links to several really great math sites appropriate for various grade levels. You can also search for age appropriate math software products and resources on the TechMatrix, an online database which can help you match up your daughter with appropriate technology tools. As you know, having fun while practicing and reinforcing concepts and facts is important.

I encourage you to look for software and online sites that offer scenarios that will hook into your daughter's interest and can make the concepts come alive rather than drilling only on equations and facts.

What treatment is needed for a child with dysgraphia?

This is a sticky question and one that causes a fair bit of disagreement in special education. Many teachers wonder the same thing — they want students to develop legible handwriting to ease their way in the world outside of school, but they also want students to be able to write and express themselves without being hindered by their physical difficulties with writing. And many parents and teachers worry that a student's hard-to-read handwriting will affect their ability to perform basic functions like writing down information on job applications, or filling out forms at the doctor's office. After all, while many things can be done with a computer, much of the world is still dominated by pen and paper tasks.

There isn't an easy answer to any of these questions. As with any technology tool used to assist students with disabilities, there is a concern that an 'assistive" tool may be used as a crutch. If a student always uses a calculator for math tasks, will they ever understand the underlying math? In the case of a dysgraphic student, it might be helpful to look at the tasks your daughter is being asked to do and what the goal is. If the goal is simply for your daughter to be able to write basic information as clearly as she can (her name and address for example), then handwriting instruction may be beneficial. However, if the goal is for your daughter to be able to use writing to express her ideas, demonstrate knowledge, or tell a story, then her difficulties with handwriting are making the writing process unnecessarily difficult. Perhaps a balanced approach will work best for your daughter. Try to find simple ways to eliminate the need for some handwriting tasks. Portable keyboards/laptops like the AlphaSmart can also be a good solution.

Such products are small and light and easy to take from class to class. Other options might include speech-to-text software to allow your daughter to more easily commit her thoughts and ideas to 'paper". Check out the Tech Matrix to search for different speech-to-text programs and possibly word prediction programs, depending on your daughter's needs.

You may want to check out this article on writing with technology by Richard Wanderman about his experiences with dyslexia and dysgraphia and how computers have affected his writing.

What social networking sites are safe and appropriate for a student with learning disabilities?

Social networking and online communication can be a great way for kids and adults to connect with each other and make new friends, so it's a natural choice for a student who is struggling to make friends.

However, you're right in being concerned about online safety and finding an appropriate place for a middle school student to socialize. Many of the more popular social networking sites (MySpace and Facebook) and virtual worlds (Second Life) may have questionable content. You may consider checking out kid-friendly versions of adult websites, such as Teen Second Life, or you may want to stick with websites that are especially for kids.

Fortunately, there are a number of new social networking sites designed specifically for teens and pre-teens. Imbee is one such site, designed for teachers, parents, and young children. As a teacher, you could also join Imbee and keep an eye on your student's interactions to make sure they're appropriate. Whyville is another popular website for kids. In this virtual world, kids can create their own character and chat, play games, and engage with kids from around the world. Students earn Whyville money by playing games, can explore the town, go to the beach, start their own business and engage in a variety of other activities with other kids. There are also sites affiliated with children's products and entertainment, such as Disney's Club Penguin that have online games, chat, and social networking features. Club Penguin is free to join, but advanced features require paid membership, so this may be a consideration.

Before introducing any student to an online community, be sure to talk to them about online safety and appropriate behavior online. There are a variety of excellent resources online about online safety and kids with LD:

Where can I calculate readability levels online?

Most methods of determining the reading level of a piece of text use a formula or algorithm — something that people would have done by hand. With the availability of faster computers and processing speeds, there are now many software programs that can calculate readability for you. For shorter pieces of text, you can use one of the many online readability programs available listed below. Most of them allow you to paste text into a window, or link directly to an URL (for determining readability of websites).

Before getting started, it would be a good idea to read about the different readability metrics and how reading level is determined. Once you have an idea of what might work best, you can check out some of these online tools for calculating readability.

For example:

  • Edit Central: includes suggestions for improving readability
  • Readability.info: readability for MS Word files and web pages
  • SMOG Readability Calculator: Can calculate up to 2000 words; includes detailed explanation of the SMOG formula
  • JuicyStudio: Test website readability; also provides information about different scales, what scores mean, etc.

Where can I find multilingual text-to-speech solutions?

Most text-to-speech programs feature multiple language options, however they may not always feature Asian languages. For these programs, you can generally purchase add-ons for other languages. For the Mac, you can try programs such as VisioVoice and GhostReader, or TextAloud for the PC, all of which feature a wide variety of languages (including Czech, Polish, Turkish, etc.). Asian languages can be more difficult to find, but they are available.

You might also consider using a program like Kurzweil 3000 if you need a more feature-rich program that would combine a speech synthesizer with the ability to create documents and tables, creating talking reminders, read websites, and work with a variety of file formats. Kurzweil 3000 is also available in a variety of languages.

Depending on your population of students, it may make sense to purchase a text-to-speech program that is compatible with add-ons, and purchase additional voices in other languages as needed from a third party.

Where can young adults with learning disabilities find social networks and dating sites?

Given the explosion in online dating in recent years, I did a quick search for sites that tailor to individuals with disabilities. There are a number of relevant websites to consider, but many of these seem to be geared towards individuals with physical disabilities. However, your nephew might want to check out a few to look at some profiles. The Whispy directory has a good list, with everything from dating sites for the deaf and those for individuals with neurological disabilities.

Depending on how your nephew's learning disabilities and social skills affect his relationships, he may want to consider joining a group locally for adults with LD. There he might find support and friendship from other adults in similar situations and perhaps get some dating/relationship advice. Meetup is a good choice for finding groups locally. When searching for Los Angeles, I found a number of groups for adults with ADHD, adults with high functioning autism/Asperger's, and others. Meetup is also a great way to find local groups that share your nephew's interests. Meetup groups exist for just about any topic or interest you can think of — from monthly wine and cheese parties to knitting clubs to hiking groups or Scrabble players. Your nephew is sure to find at least one group in his area, and it can be a great way to meet people and make new friends.

Finally, it might be helpful for your nephew to read a bit about how his learning disability and potential social skill deficits can affect his relationships and life beyond school. It can be difficult to make the transition from school to the "real world" and navigate new relationships on your own, but there a number of excellent resources and groups that can help.

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, with the number of resources available online, people who live in such areas can now access a wide variety of tools, specialized information, and helpful hints for working with their struggling child. For example, to begin with, you might check out ReadWriteThink, a website that provides "resources in reading and language arts instruction through free, Internet-based content." Here you can find a wealth of 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 son as a fan of comic books and superheroes. If he enjoys the simple creation of a comic strip, you may also want to introduce him to Kerpoof, which allows children to create their own stories, animations, videos, and comics. Using these tools, your son can create stories of his 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 son'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 son to use technology tools and artwork to tell stories may help him build up his reading and writing skills.

It is also important that your son get plenty of practice in the basics of reading. A fun way to do this is through the use of online games that teach reading skills. PBS Kids has a number of activities that your son may find engaging. Check out the Raising Readers project for free games and suggested resources for parents. Check out the many beautiful children's books online at the International Children's Digital Library. Finally, you might consider purchasing audio books so your son can hear books read aloud while following along with the text. Audio books can also expose him to 'reading' books above his current reading level.

Check out this article for more suggestions about using technology to teach reading: Learning to Read with Multimedia Materials

How can I use software tools to teach my young adult son appropriate conversation skills?

Often kids with Asperger's or other autism spectrum disorders are extremely motivated by technology tools, and tend to learn very well from videos, software, and other visual representations of social situations. Because your son has already worked on social skills training, he is likely familiar with social stories, social modeling, and appropriate behavior for different situations. However, when in new, exciting or unfamiliar situations, he may forget what he's learned and have difficulty regulating his behavior or modulating his voice.

In novel situations, he may benefit from something more 'portable' to cue him about voice modulation and appropriate conversational behavior. Many young people have begun using everyday devices such as mobile phones and iPods to serve as portable reminders of the social skills they've learned in class. Kids can load social scripts, reminders, short video clips, cues about conversation skills, turn taking and social interactions right onto these devices to help them remember previous lessons. Technology tools such as these have the added benefit of being highly motivating for many teens, making them more likely to use them.

You may also want to consider multimedia tools or software at home to help reinforce the social skills lessons your son has learned in class. It could be that additional repetition and practice of the social stories and lessons he already 'knows' may help him generalize appropriate behavior when in new situations. Since you are particularly concerned with conversation cues and voice modulation, you might look into Model Me Kids, as they have videos on both topics. You should also talk to your son's teachers and see whether you can get copies of the videos and activities he uses in class, so you can continue to reinforce the lessons at home, and when out together in public places.

How can I get help with technology accommodations in graduate school?

As a graduate school student, you will likely find that you have access to many of the same accommodations you had in your undergraduate program. Your first step as an incoming student should be to meet with your university's disabilities services office. Policies regarding resources available for graduate students with disabilities may vary from program to program, but you with a documented disability you are eligible for accommodations.

Depending on the university, you may need to provide additional documentation, or updated testing regarding a learning disability. Contacting disabilities services early will ensure that you have all necessary paperwork submitted in plenty of time for your first class. If you are requesting texts in alternate formats, or other reading supports, contacting the office well in advance also gives the university time to prepare accessible materials for you. You may find that your university is willing to provide the reading software you need; some universities have computer labs set up with accessible software for student use.

If the university is unable to provide you with the software accommodations you need, they may be able to help you find additional sources of funding to help you upgrade your computer. Many universities have hardship funds for their students, providing small grants for medical needs, emergencies or other issues.

Your university's disabilities services may also be able to help you locate grants, loans, or other options. The booklet Learning Disabilities, Graduate School, and Careers: The Student's Perspective may provide you with some helpful suggestions for working with your school. You may be able to find additional helpful suggestions for getting the technology tools you need from the community on the LD Online Postsecondary Education forums.

How can I help my 14-year-old daughter who struggles with reading?

One difficulty with older struggling readers is that they can often become hesitant and anxious about reading, avoiding situations where they might read because reading is so challenging. A key strategy for older struggling readers is to find situations that make reading more enjoyable.

Though there's no replacement for instruction in basic reading skills, frequent opportunities for independent reading can be helpful for struggling readers. A good way to do that is to provide your daughter with high-interest (and lower level) reading material. There are a number of books available that are at a lower reading level, but are written with a style and topic selection that are more interesting for teen readers. You could also introduce her to book review Web sites by and for teens, to help her find books that she might find interesting and motivating.

Your daughter may also benefit from the use of reading software, or accessible books. Look into the many resources on this site and others (Bookshare) for more information about the types of accessible books available for young adults with print disabilities.

Another fun option that has been shown to be effective with kids with LD and struggling readers is watching subtitled or captioned television shows and movies. Find your daughter's favorite shows and movies, and put the captions on. Because your daughter will be watching something she enjoys, the reading of the captions will be less stressful and may encourage her to read. The captions can also help your daughter recognize words she hears when she seems them written.

Because all TVs made after 1993 have captioning built-in, this is an easy and free option that may help make reading a bit more pleasurable for your daughter. Your daughter can also watch captioned programming online, Web sites such as Hulu offer free viewing of most television shows, many of them with closed captioning.

Should I go back to school as an adult if I suspect I have a learning disability?

Many college students, both of traditional and non-traditional age, have learning disabilities and learning difficulties. You can absolutely still pursue your chosen career! The first thing you should do is discuss your concerns directly with your university's Disability Services. They can help you find resources at your school, explore avenues for being tested for a learning disability and recommend accommodations and strategies that might help you with your coursework.

With a documented disability, you are entitled to accommodations and support, so it may be worthwhile to get tested and identify your areas of strengths and weaknesses. Working with Disabilities Services, you can identify strategies and resources to help you succeed. Check out the wide variety of resources on LD Online for more information about LD, testing, and learning strategies that may help you.

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

How can public libraries better support people with learning disabilities?

Many public libraries have grappled with the same issues, so looking at how other librarians have worked to make their libraries accessible is a good start. Many libraries provide their patrons with online resource lists (on accessible websites), in addition to offering a wide variety of accessibility options within the library building. It may be helpful to get in touch with other librarians, either online or in person to ask how they met their patrons' accessibility needs. The American Library Association has a number of excellent resources available to assist librarians in thinking about and respecting the needs of their patrons with disabilities. The ALA also has several options for connecting with other librarians, from online forums to an island in Second Life.

Some accessibility options for your patrons may include providing helpful links on your library website, pointing users to both local and national disability groups. Within the library, it is important to make sure that media is accessible — books on tape, audio books, captioned videos, descriptive videos, magnifiers and large print books can all help ensure that a variety of media is accessible to many of your patrons. Many librarians also provide patrons with assistive software and hardware where needed. This may include reading and writing software, software capable of reading text aloud (text-to-speech), software that can enlarge text on the screen or Braille embossers for blind patrons. Check out the Montgomery County Public Library website for a good example of the types of tools you might offer. For further ideas, check out the ALA's disability-specific Tip Sheets on Learning Disabilities, Children with Disabilities, Autism & Spectrum Disorders, and many others.

What resources are available for assessing student use of technology?

Technology and media skills have increasingly been recognized as a necessary component of education for today's students. As more and more teachers integrate 21st century skills, new media, and web 2.0 tools into their classrooms, the challenge of assessing these skills has become a hot topic among educators.

In looking for ways to assess your students' learning with technology tools, start with the groups that are at the forefront of determining technology standards and practice: the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) and the Partnership for 21st Century Skills. Both organizations have written extensively on what children must know to be productive members of a technological society. Both groups have also produced guidance on assessing technology skills.

A number of teachers have used these materials to create their own rubrics and ideas for assessing student blogs, Twitter use, or wiki creation. Digital Age Assessments lists a variety of rubric suggestions; the forums in Classroom 2.0 can also be an excellent place to confer with other teachers about how they assess their students' work with technology.

What resources are available for adults with nonverbal learning disorders?

Resources on nonverbal learning disorders often focus primarily on children and issues related to school success. However, many young adults with NLD are making use of blogs and discussion forums as a way to share their experiences and help other adults with NLD. An NLD blog or discussion board may be a good suggestion for some of your students — they can share experiences, post questions and discuss with other NLD teens and young adults what life is like beyond the classroom.

NLDLine is one of the most popular sources of information on nonverbal learning disorder online. In their section on NLD Adults, you can find a number of resources and personal stories shared by adults with NLD on topics ranging from dating and relationships, employment, independent living, treatment plans and socializing with peers.

Yahoo Group NLD in Common can be another option for your students to learn from other young adults with NLD and post questions or concerns as they transition out of school and into the workforce. Finally, a number of books have recently come out about adults living with nonverbal learning disorder, you may want to purchase a few of these books for your classroom and make them available to your students.

What technology tools can help my son with spelling?

Spelling can be challenging for students with learning disabilities, especially if they struggle with reading. The types of tools you might want to try with your son depend both on his difficulties with spelling and the importance of spelling to the task that he is trying to complete. For example, on a writing assignment, it may be more important for your son to get his words out on paper and express his ideas than to spell every word correctly. In those situations, your son could benefit from a writing program with word prediction or the use of a contextual spell checker. By using software to remove the need to know how to spell every word correctly, your son can focus on the act of writing as a way of demonstrating his knowledge.

If the assignment for your son is to improve his spelling, it is important to give him a number of opportunities to practice and reinforce his skills. In addition to practicing at home with flash cards and rewriting words multiple times, there are a number of online spelling games and practice sites that you could try. Some online sites let you test your spelling skills with pre-generated lists, while others allow you to enter in your own spelling words to practice. Check out a few different options until you find one your son enjoys.

How can I find information about creating readings for blind or dyslexic students?

Providing accessible text to students with disabilities has received a lot of attention in recent years as both technology tools and publisher standards have modernized. The increasing availability of digitized texts from a variety of sources make it easier than ever before to find most materials available in multiple formats. For harder to find texts, software and hardware options are available to help you convert texts into formats more readily accessible by individuals with print disabilities.

If you are trying to find electronic text and audio books, there are several free options available for students with documented print disabilities: Bookshare and Learning Ally are both popular options for finding texts for students, and may be a good place to start if looking for academic texts and grade-level literature. Project Gutenberg is another option for free eBooks, and Librivox has free audio books available for download. Both websites offer books in the public domain, so they may not always have everything you are looking for.

If you can't find the texts or the materials you need, or if you prefer to create your own alternate formats for student readings, a number of software programs and scanning options are available; see this customized Tech Matrix for digital text. For students who are blind, you may be interested in purchasing a Braille printer or refreshable Braille displays; check out the customized Tech Matrix on Braille for suggestions.

How can our school make our arts programs (music, art class, etc.) more inclusive for all students?

The arts, whether as part of a separate program or integrated into your content area lessons, can offer a variety of benefits for diverse learners. Research has shown both academic and social benefits for students with disabilities and students who are at risk; integrating the arts and technology into your teaching can help differentiate instruction and provide more individualized learning for students with diverse learning needs.

You may want to check out two organizations that focus on students with disabilities and the arts: VSA Arts offers a curriculum for early-grades arts instruction called Start with the Arts, as well as other educational resources that may be helpful. Art Partners offers sample lesson plans and units on their website.

Technology tools can also play an important role in making your arts programs more accessible. Many art museums feature virtual field trips, allowing your students to view important exhibits from around the world. Software programs that allow students to draw and paint, animate, manipulate images, and create music are becoming more readily available and can provide a way for students with a variety of learning needs to interact with content and express knowledge.

What virtual worlds are appropriate for kids?

Many schools and teachers are beginning to think about how to harness their students' innate interest in gaming for educational purposes. With the popularity of virtual worlds like Second Life, many companies (including the makers of Second Life) have set about to create similar platforms appropriate for a younger audience. Virtual worlds and simulations for kids represent a continuum of educational benefits. Some are clearly designed for educators, or with educational purposes in mind. Others are designed more for entertainment value than educational merit, and still others fall somewhere between the two.

If this is your first foray into using these types of technologies in your classroom, you may want to stick to strictly educational sites such as Whyville or Secret Builders. Generally, such sites will have pages dedicated to teachers and may even include lesson plan ideas or activities for your classroom.

For much younger students, check out PBS Kids Island. It isn't a 'virtual world' in the technical sense, but it does introduce students to the concept of another world where they can complete activities, challenges, and earn 'tickets' to use towards prizes. Just because a virtual world isn't necessarily designed for education doesn't mean it can't be used in your classroom, but it may mean you need to use it creatively.

Second Life didn't initially start out for classroom use, but many educators have found ways to build it into their teaching. For older kids, check out Teen Second Life or Free Realms. Other popular entertainment-based websites, like Club Penguin or Tootsville, may be places your students already spend a lot of time. Though they are generally for 'fun' you can certainly find ways to incorporate some of the activities into your lessons. For example, players must generally earn in-world money by playing games or completing activities, and these can be good ways to teach students early skills for adding, budgeting, and planning.

Additionally, these sites allow chatting with online friends and have a clearly outlined code of online conduct, so they can be a good way to begin teaching young kids about online safety and etiquette. These sites may also be good recommendations for parents to explore at home with their children.

How can I help a student with dyscalculia learn two-digit addition?

Color coding is a low tech but very effective strategy to use with students who have difficulty keeping their numbers in the right place. Use a different color for the ones' column and the tens' column, and give the student a crayon or pencil of each color. Help him add the numbers of the same color, then write the solution in the appropriate place with the matching color.

As he improves, you can begin to omit the color from one column at a time until eventually he can perform the task without the assistance of color-coding. Strategies to Facilitate Math Concepts and Homework contains a visual and detailed explanation of this method.

Consider showing him one of several free, online videos that visually demonstrate two-digit addition, as well. Simple Flash files or videos, like those from Math Is Fun or Math Mastery, show the continuity between steps better than we can using pencil and paper. Seeing the big picture and the movement of the numbers may help your student catch on. A free, online game, like Callum's Addition Pyramid or Who Wants to Be a Mathionaire, is also a great way to encourage him to practice this skill.

What technologies can help my third grade daughter organize her writing?

Your daughter's challenges echo those of many struggling writers, and while there are no quick and easy fixes, there are technology resources that can help. Tools known as "graphic organizers" may be particularly useful to your daughter as she works to get her ideas on paper in a coherent manner. These tools help students generate and organize their ideas through building visual relationships among them.

Graphic organizers can be as low tech as an arrangement of sticky notes on a sheet of paper or as high tech as online, interactive tools like bubbl.us, a free website which allows you to create and share colorful mind maps, and ReadWriteThink's Essay Map, a free step-by-step guide to organizing essay content. View this list of graphic organizers from our sister site, AdLit, for more free options.

More complex software solutions, like Draft:Builder or Inspiration, have features that help students arrange their ideas, create an outline, and transition from an outline or concept map into a draft. This customized matrix from the www.TechMatrix.org shows many software solutions that use graphic organizers to support writing. Compare products' features, and click on a product's name in the column header to see a full review of its capabilities and purchasing information.

What assistive technology tools could we use with a middle school student so he doesn’t feel singled out and different from his peers?

Using assistive technology tools can be a challenge for students as they enter middle and high school. Many kids that age are incredibly aware of how they look, and what their peers are doing, and want nothing more than to blend in with the other kids. Using a device or "different" technology tool than the rest of the class can certainly make a student feel that they stick out.

One solution is to make all technology "assistive" technology in your school. Creating a creative technology environment in your school can help students remove the separation between "regular" technology and "special" or "assistive" technology. Learn more about various technologies that support the writing process in the article, Using Assitive Technology to Support Writing.

This is one benefit to using technology to differentiate instruction in your school. If all students are using a computer to write an essay, then it isn't all that noticeable that some students are using word prediction software, others are using text-to-speech software, and others are using voice-recognition software. Technology is just something that everyone is using. For example, every student in your class could be using a literacy software package (see several compared in the TechMatrix).

Strong writers could be using the built-in word processor and spell checker, struggling writers could be using text-to-speech to edit or word prediction to help them compose, other students may use the graphic organizers or the audio notes. Each student is using the same program, but different students make use of different features according to their needs. See more ideas for differentiating instruction through technology at the free online course offered by CITEd.

Would a portable book reader be appropriate for a child with visual processing issues?

Amazon's Kindle is a wireless reading device that does allow the user to adjust font size, so it might be appropriate for your son. The Kindle offers variable font size, with the largest font appearing to be about the size of a typical large print book. Currently there are 200,000 books available, but most of them are targeted to adult readers.

The Kindle is also rather expensive, so you may want to do a little research first. If your son needs something larger than a typical large print book, the Kindle's largest font may not be what he needs. Another good place to do some research and ask questions is the Kindle discussion board on Amazon's website. Here you can ask other users about their experiences, talk to other parents who may use the Kindle with their child, or even arrange to see a Kindle in your city so you can try it before you buy. Find other reading hardware and software options in the article, Reading Software: Finding the Right Program.

If your child has a diagnosed print disability, he is eligible to receive texts in alternate formats through his special education program. Discuss this option with the school. Learn more in these articles for parents: Accessible Textbooks: A Guide for Parents of Children with Learning Disabilities and Making the Written Word Easier for Readers with Print Disabilities.

What options are available for audio versions of textbooks?

Scanning and converting a text to audio can be time consuming and expensive, depending on the software you use. If you only need one textbook (and all of his other textbooks are available in audio format), it may not be worth it to purchase software for yourself. Start with Learning Ally or Bookshare.org; they often have textbooks available when you may not be able to find them elsewhere. If your son has a documented disability, he can access any books from Learning Ally or Bookshare.org.

If you cannot find his textbook through a source such as Learning Ally or Bookshare.org, or you think you'll need to scan and convert texts on a more regular basis, you may want to consider purchasing a scanner and accompanying text-to-speech software. What you end up purchasing will depend on your needs and how much you want to spend. Solutions for having text read aloud range from the incredibly simple — scanning in text and using built-in voices to read — to the more complex — scanning in text and using human sounding narration and converting to an mp3.

For example, Adobe Acrobat Reader and Microsoft Word both have very simple text-to-speech capabilities. If your son just needs to have the text read aloud to him while sitting at the computer, and doesn't mind synthesized speech, this could be a very basic solution. However, if you'd prefer something with more natural-sounding narration, you might need something with more features. Find a variety of solutions for scanning and text-to-speech in this customized search on the TechMatrix.

How can I use the SMART Board in my math classroom more interactively to meet the needs of all my students?

One of the great features of interactive whiteboards (such as the SMART Board) is that you can use them to allow students to manipulate objects on screen, add text and diagrams to math problems, and save work. These features can have several benefits for your students, particularly those who are struggling. Because you can save the lessons and activities you present on the interactive whiteboard, you can upload your lessons to a classroom website for student review at a later date. This can be helpful for students with disabilities who may benefit from repetition. It also allows any student to revisit the lesson from home to refresh their memory about how to solve a problem.

The interactivity of the whiteboard is also a benefit for kids with LD, as well as students with a variety of learning styles. Because students can come up to the board to add diagrams, highlighting, arrows, text and move objects on screen, it addresses the needs of students who are more tactile and kinesthetic learners. Providing a colorful visual representation of math problems can also be helpful for visual learners.

You might consider using interactive applications for math that will enable students to participate more during lessons. Virtual manipulatives and applets are a good choice. Check out some of these resources for ideas:

You might also check out some teacher-created websites on the use of interactive whiteboards, they can be a great way to share lesson plans and ideas.

What strategies are there to help kids with LD in gym class, sports, etc.?

Students with learning disabilities and ADHD can often struggle with motor control, movement, rhythm and directionality (i.e., telling right from left), which can make certain physical activities in gym class or team sports challenging. Motor challenges can also affect academic performance as they can hinder writing and other activities. Additionally, recent research has led some researchers to conclude that there is a link between poor sense of rhythm and dyslexia.

Given the links between learning disorders and motor coordination, it is an excellent idea to think about how to address these issues within gym class or as part of a team sport. It might be a good idea to check out information about adaptive PE (or speak to an adaptive PE teacher if your school or district has one) for some ideas on activities.

Another option is one that has been discussed by parents and caregivers on our forums — using video games as rhythm, sensory integration and directionality training. A number of individuals with ADHD and learning disabilities have some success using Interactive Metronome (IM, a computer-based training program used by therapists to help improve coordination, timing and attention.

Some parents and therapists have found that children who do well with IM also seem to do well with video games like Dance Dance Revolution and the interactive sports games on the Wii Fit. While the use of these types of games with kids with LD and ADHD is fairly new, anecdotally it seems to be helpful for some students. As many schools are starting to purchase the Wii Fit for use with their students, it might be an idea to try.

Video games are often inherently motivating for young people, and may encourage them to try different activities. Each of these games tells players how to move using a combination of visual and auditory cues in addition to watching movement on screen. These cues may help students who struggle with movement and directionality.

Note from LD OnLine: Visit Dr. Silver’s Accommodations and Modifications section to see a Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist’s response to the same question.

What technology tools can I use in my work writing to make sure I haven’t made errors?

This is a common issue for adults (and kids!) with dyslexia. It can be particularly challenging when you have a word spelled correctly, but your usage is wrong. Swapping “their," "they're," and "there" is a great example. A traditional spellchecker won't identify the mistake, so you may not discover it.

Fortunately, two new contextual spellcheckers are available that might help you with your business writing: Ginger and Ghotit. Both programs work in a similar way, by identifying both incorrectly spelled words and those that might be incorrect based on the context of the sentence (i.e. saying "they're dog" instead of "their dog"). Give each tool a try and see if one of them works for you! Find other software tools that could help with your writing in the TechMatrix.

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 software can help students keep track of deadlines and organize their work to send it in on time?

Keeping track of multiple assignments can be a challenge for many middle and high school students. As students enter the higher grades, having a different teacher for each class can make staying on top of assignments and quizzes difficult. For some students with learning disabilities, difficulties with organization and task management can make keeping track of work even more challenging. It might be helpful to do some reading on organizational strategies for your child so you can get an idea of some of the different ways of building organization and study skills.

There are also a number of tools (both high tech and low tech) that can help your son stay organized. One of the simplest and most frequently used tools is a basic day planner. One benefit to using an assignment book or planner is that it is inexpensive and easy to use. However, this does require that your son either consistently writes down his assignments, or that he ask his teachers to check his planner each day to ensure that he has everything down properly.

An alternative to using a planner or assignment book is to use a web-based calendar or to-do list. Google Calendar is one option. It is simple and free to use; users can share calendars and get email reminders before events or tasks. Again, your son would have to reliably enter information into his calendar, but he may find the use of technology more engaging than a pencil and paper planner. Because Google Calendar enables you to share calendars, this could also be a great way for parents to keep an eye on approaching deadlines.

Another popular program for reminders, to-do lists and project planning is Remember the Milk. Remember the Milk is a free task tracking and organizational program; users can receive reminders via email, instant message, and text message. Adding tasks can be done online or via email (even sent from your phone). Remember the Milk interfaces with both iCal (Apple) and Google Calendar, so you can add tasks to your personal calendar as well.

If students have a web-enabled cell phone, they can even access their lists that way. Like an online calendar, your son would have to be sure that he enters his assignments. However, young adults are active users of text and instant message, so they may find these features motivating. As with Google Calendar, you can share to-do lists with others, so as a parent you can check your son's assignments for the week.

Finally, many teachers are starting to use online calendars and assignment tracking for their students. Some teachers use more feature-rich programs that allow students to upload assignments directly, rather than printing them out and handing them in the next day. Others may use a simple online calendar for assignments and quizzes. It might be worthwhile talking to your son's teachers to see if they are using a program like this. If they aren't, you may ask them if they'd consider it, both as a way to help your son stay more organized, and as a way to help other students and their parents keep track of important assignments.

There are a variety of different programs, many of them free. They range from programs that track grades, attendance, test scores, assignments and lessons such as TeacherEase, SmartGrading, or Engrade, to programs that are a classroom calendar only, such as Assign-a-Day. Many schools are using these types of programs system-wide, so you may also want to talk to administrators and see if this is something they're considering.

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