The following are questions and answers from Dr. Tracy Gray on this topic.
Where can we find information about apps for the iPad in special education?
As more and more schools look towards integrating the iPad and iTouch into their classrooms, the range of educational applications available is growing. For specific apps that may be helpful for students with disabilities, you may want to check out iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch Apps for Special Education, an extensive list compiled by assistive technology specialists and helpfully broken down by category (communication, math, writing, music, art, etc.). For another view of how the iPad might be beneficial for students with disabilities, The iPad: a Near-Miracle for My Son with Autism chronicles one mother's use of assistive technology and educational apps with her autistic son; she has some great suggestions and videos of her son using different apps.
For older children, apps like The Elements are exciting examples of what is possible with the iPad, as students can explore the Periodic Table in an interactive, media-rich and engaging way. Penultimate is a popular note-taking app that students may enjoy; students may also do well with fun games that teach math skills, such as Alien Equation. Apps for astronomy, Star Walk and Solar Walk would also be good choices for older students. BrainPop has just released a free app that delivers a new featured movie every day, teaching students about a wide variety of topics.
There are so many educational apps available, with new ones coming out every day, that it can be hard to keep track of them all. You may want to check out reviews of educational apps from other teachers to help you find those that are worth checking out for your students. I Education Apps Review has a collection of reviews from teachers that can help get you started.
What cell phone applications can benefit students with ADHD?
There are many ways that students can make use of the features available on their cell phones to benefit learning, time management, and study skills. For example, if your students' phones are equipped with cameras (as most phones now are), they can use it to snap photos of the whiteboard/blackboard after class to make sure they don't miss notes or an assignment. Photos may also serve as a helpful visual reminder of what needs to be done (i.e. create a photo series of packing up homework, lunch, and other typically forgotten items).
Students can use text messaging, such as Google SMS, to get definitions, facts, weather, and conversions sent directly to their phones. As with Google searches, if a student spells a word incorrectly, Google SMS will generally prompt with "Did you mean ?" and provide both the correct spelling and the related information.
Online to-do lists such as Remember the Milk can send text alerts (or IM or email) reminding students of an upcoming appointment, assignment, or project. Unless the students have unlimited text messaging plans, it is important to discuss texting charges and how using these services can affect their cell phone bills.
Finally, many companies are capitalizing on powerful new cell phones and creating programs for sending flashcards and study materials directly to your phone or iPod. Students can browse flashcards created by others or create their own and study wherever they are.
Where can I find more books to use with a reading pen?
Your question depends a bit on what type of reading pen system you are using, as different companies use different technology. Products such as LeapFrog Tag and VTech's Bugsby Reading System use specially-designed books with their reading pens. In order to access more titles, you will need to purchase their books, most of which are targeted towards younger or early readers. The benefit of books like these is that the text is typically read by a human voice, rather than a computerized voice. Children can also click on different icons within the text to get more information or sound effects while reading. The disadvantage to such products is that they can only be used with a limited number of titles and so may not be a good solution for a student with disabilities who needs to access a wider array of books. You may also look at the different types of reading pen/scanners available — many of these tools you use like a highlighter, running over printed text and getting instant speech feedback. While most of these pens are not appropriate for reading an entire book, they can serve as a valuable support for difficult words, definitions, and pronunciation.
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 technologies can help a high school student with dysgraphia in science and math classes?
The writing involved in science and math classes can be challenging for a student with dysgraphia. Formulas and equations must be written down precisely to avoid errors, and drawing accurate diagrams can be a painstaking process. Additionally, if students are required to write observations in science journals during labs, a laptop with voice recognition software may not always be practical. If the difficulty with writing in journals is due to the student not being able to safely use their Alphasmart/laptop (e.g., when doing labs where spills or safety could be an issue) to take notes, you may consider allowing the student to take voice notes using a digital voice recorder. Current models are inexpensive and small enough to fit in a pocket. The students can easily voice their observations and use the audio file to generate typed notes later. If students are able to draw diagrams and graphs but struggle with writing lengthier notes, they may do well with a Smartpen, allowing them to combine audio notes with their drawings and graphics.
Finally, for more complex tasks in both math and science, you may want to investigate software that allows the user to generate mathematical and chemical equations, graphs, and diagrams. One possibility is the math and science software from Efofex, with math and science programs for drawing diagrams, graphs, and generating equations. Efofex also has a program for students with disabilities, providing students with a free 10-year personal subscription to the software, allowing them to use it both at home and school. Another possibility for math classes is MathType, which allows students to enter math by hand (using handwriting recognition; Windows only) and create equations using templates, keyboard shortcuts, or copying and pasting from other applications (such as Wikipedia). Microsoft Word and Excel also feature a built-in program, Equation Editor, which would allow your student to create and enter mathematical equations into a document. This may be helpful for writing and creating math journals. Although the program is not as full-featured as some other software programs currently available, it may be an ideal solution depending on the math content.
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.
How can I track down appropriate software for my daughter with multiple disabilities?
Finding the right software program, can be challenging, especially for students who have multiple disabilities or are struggling in different areas. The process of finding something that meets your daughter’s needs involves a process of trial and error, but a few resources can help get you started.
The Tech Matrix is a great resource to help you find assistive and educational technology tools. You can search for software and technology tools by IDEA disability category, content area, and grade level. You can also compare up to four different products to find the product that best meets your daughter’s needs.
LD Online is another great source of information to consider. Check out some of the many articles on teaching strategies for students to get a better idea of the different types of supports that would be of benefit to your daughter. LD Online has numerous articles on how to select the right software in reading and in math. For example, there are several resources that might help you figure out what technologies might work best for a student with an auditory processing disorder and other learning disabilities.
Your daughter may enjoy hearing text read aloud (example), using a text-to-speech program (example) or following along with text on the computer. Many reading programs 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.
For additional ideas on different technology tools, be sure to check out PowerUp WHAT WORKS (www.PowerUpWhatWorks.org). This site provides a wealth of free, online resources on strategies and technology ideas to help struggling students in English Language Arts and Math.
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.
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 will learn and develop at their own rate. There is unlikely to be a "one-size-fits-all" software solution for your child. 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.
There are likely several technology tools supports that will be helpful for your child as they learn new skills and move forward in her education. Modeling, concrete visual and symbolic representations of information, and multiple opportunities for practice and reinforcement may all be beneficial for learners with Down Syndrome. Potentially challenging areas in education for children with Down Syndrome include math, reading and writing, speech and language, memory, social development, or motor skills.
Your child may have difficulties with all of these areas or may only experience significant difficulties in a few areas. Determining what his or her needs are is the first step to finding the appropriate technology supports for your child.
Many children with cognitive impairments learn best when they can see the material in the form of videos, modeling, or another type of visual presentation. You should look for educational technology tools that break down the skill or skill being learned into small, concrete chunks and that allow the student to go at their own pace. Investigating Free 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. Also explore some of tools for students using the Tech Matrix, or Understood.org's Tech Finder.
- National Down Syndrome Society
- Down Syndrome Education USA
- Down Syndrome Information Alliance
- Association for Children with Down Syndrome
How can a student who has a learning disability and no computer skills survive college?
Thanks for going the extra mile to help this young woman. There are actually several underlying issues related to your question: Can this student use any kind of computer technology?; Are there any assistive technologies (AT) that may be effective for her?; What accommodations can the post-secondary institution provide and what are her legal rights in regard to accommodations? An initial step to consider would be an assistive technology assessment, possibly arranged through the local Vocational Rehabilitation Center as an element of her Transition Plan. The next step would be a visit to a local college and discuss options with the Disability Resource Center. Here is some information on these steps:
- AT assessments: It may be that computers will work for her with appropriate accommodations, or perhaps some other type of assistive technology will be more appropriate. This student needs to know what she needs before she can request appropriate accommodations. If there are personnel in the school who can do this, seek them out. Otherwise, start with Step 2.
- If she is not currently a client of Vocational Rehabilitation Services in her state, she may be eligible to apply for services. Work with the Transition Coordinator at the high school who should have a connection with the VR system. They may be able to help provide an (AT) assessment for her and perhaps even assist with funding.
- Plan a visit to a Disability Resource Center at a local college. They can counsel her about expectations and assumptions, inform her of the types of accommodations they are able to provide students, and may have information about other colleges' programs.
The guide, Transition of Students with Disabilities to Postsecondary Education: A Guide for High School Educators will provide you information about students' civil rights in regard to post-secondary education. You may also want to check out the questions answered on this site by Matt Cohen regarding special education law. His answers on the legal rights of adults with LD may be particularly helpful.
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.
Where can I find multilingual text-to-speech solutions?
Most major software now automatically incorporates assistive features, such as text-to-speech, directly into the software. This includes the Microsoft Speech Platform for Microsoft Office programs (PowerPoint, Word, Outlook, and One Note) and VoiceOver for Apple IOS systems. There are also a number of free websites that offer text-to-speech tools, such as Read Speaker. Kurzeweil 3000 is another program option if you need a more feature-rich program that combines a speech synthesizer with the ability to create documents and tables, talking reminders, and website reader. Kurzweil 3000 is also available in a variety of languages. These programs usually have a limited variety of languages. Depending on your student population, 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.
There are also a growing number of text-to-speech apps for iPhones/iPads and Android with multilingual options. Text-to-speech technology on a mobile phone is an incredibly useful and helpful tool for students, especially with the growing number of schools incorporating iPads and tablets into the classroom. Speak it! Text to Speech is by far one of the most advanced text-to-speech options for a mobile device and offers language options in French, German, Italian, and Spanish. Other multilingual text-to-speech apps include Scan and Read Pro, Voice Dream Reader, and ClaroSpeak US.
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.
- Learning Ally: The site offers over 100 searchable audiobooks that can be filtered by grad level, subject, or year.
- Do2Learn: Students with special needs learn academic and life skills through songs, games, and activities.
- PBS Kids: Interactive activities and games to teach reading skills.
- Raising Readers: free games and suggested resources for parents.
- International Children’s Digital Library: online library of children’s books.
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 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.
Another option is to use mobile phones to access short video clips, social scripts, reminders, about conversation skills, to remind them of appropriate social interaction and conversation skills. You may also want to consider using these apps or other multimedia tools or software at home to help reinforce the social skills lessons your son has learned in class.
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.
What tools can help my son with LD learn a foreign language?
Learning a foreign language can be frustrating for a student with a language-based learning disability. Many of the same elements that may have posed problems in English (letter sounds, decoding, spelling, grammar), can cause difficulties in foreign language learning.
Since your son has been successful in his regular classes with the assistance of a paraprofessional, I would suggest that he use many of the same strategies he uses already to help him with language. What tools and support have helped your son succeed in his coursework? Some of these same strategies can be easily adapted to his foreign language learning. It is a good idea for your son to work directly with his special education and foreign language teachers about what areas are presenting difficulty for him, and discuss strategies and accommodations that may make language learning less challenging for him.
There are also a number of excellent technology tools for learning language that your son may find helpful. Beyond the familiar CDs and language software, many language learners are now taking advantage of social networking tools for foreign languages. A number of websites feature online chats and forums where users can practice language with a native speaker. User-created social networks on the Ning platform also provide opportunities to join a group interested in learning a specific language. Try searching Ning for "learning a language" to find a list of available groups. Many of these groups are full of others learning new languages that are happy to share tips, support, videos, and ideas for practicing vocabulary.
Finally, if your son is a visual learner, he may enjoy watching subtitled movies. He can choose to watch movies in the target language (i.e. Spanish) with English subtitles or watch English movies with foreign subtitles. Watching movies is an enjoyable activity and may lower your son's anxiety around language learning.
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 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 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 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 tools help students stay organized?
You have done a good job laying the groundwork for success by helping your student organize his binder with dividers and pockets. Now we have to figure out how to get him to use it!
Students who struggle with executive function tasks like organization often have difficulty remembering things, keeping track of time, and initiating tasks as well. Perhaps he does not remember to place papers into his binder until the last minute and is then forced to hurriedly throw everything in. Or maybe he does remember that he should organize his materials, but he's having a hard time actually getting started.Technology can help with these challenges.
A PDA, electronic organizer, or cell phone with an alarm function can remind him to perform a task, like place his notes in his binder or write down his homework, at the same time each day. You can program the alarms on the device itself, or use a free, online service like Remember the Milk to automatically send a text message, IM, or email reminders. The regularity of these reminders helps create positive habits, and the fun, high-tech nature of the PDA or cell phone motivates action.
I also suggest that you give your student fun opportunities to practice his organizational skills. Encourage him to create a new playlist on his iPod, coach a fantasy sports team on Sports Illustrated for Kids, or play a video or computer game that emphasizes organizational skills (see LearningWorks for Kids for suggestions and reviews). The categorization, memorization, and time management abilities he develops through these fun activities will serve him well both in and out of school.
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.
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.
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, there are a growing number of technology tools and apps that can help check your writing to make sure that you have made these types of errors. Google Docs has a built in free grammar checker that works much better than Microsoft word. In addition, Google Docs has an add-on feature called the Consistency Catcher, which will catch any variations in spelling, abbreviations, titles, dates, etc. There are also a number of great apps, such as Ginger and Ghotit. There two contextual spellcheckers 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"). Grammarly is another free great technology tool that helps catch errors in writing, especially for adults that are looking to enhance the clarity and readability of their work. Find other software and technology tools that could help with your writing in the TechMatrix.
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 software helps students improve their typing on a keyboard?
There are a number of excellent programs available for teaching typing on a keyboard or for helping students practice their typing. You might want to check with your son's school and see what (if any) software they use to teach students typing. Using the same program would give your son the added benefit of continuity as he practices both at home and at school.
If you are interested in purchasing off the shelf software, you might check with some of the big educational publishers such as Scholastic, Broderbund, and RiverDeep. Broderbund makes a typing program called Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing that is used by many schools. While it is often used by older students and adults, there are games built in that may be engaging and motivating for younger users.
Riverdeep also has a program for young typers called Read, Write, & Type that teaches students vocabulary and reading skills along with typing. Sunburst has a program used in many schools, Type to Learn, that is available for purchase directly from them, or as a download for home use from Scholastic.
Another program used in schools that also has a version for home use is UltraKey released by Bytes of Learning. Because several of these programs are used in classrooms already, you may be able to find one that your son is using already in computer class.
If your son is not using typing software in school, or you would like to purchase something different, there are also several websites that review software and may help you evaluate some of the products out there. Top Ten Reviews has a table comparing features of typing software programs for kids, as does the website Super Kids.
Finally, one great typing practice game that your son might enjoy is Typer Shark. The game is released by Pop Cap Games and is freely available online. While it won't teach your son proper finger placement or technique, it is a great tool for practicing speed and accuracy for a student who already knows how to type.
In this game, users play the role of a deep sea diver and must type letters, numbers, words and symbols as they appear on sharks and piranhas. Type too slowly and the diver gets eaten (no blood or gore — the diver merely disappears and reappears). Because the game is fun, challenging and feels like a real video game, it can be a motivating way of getting kids to practice typing skills.
What software can help me with financial planning?
This is a difficult problem that many people struggle with, whether they have a disability or not. Particularly as we get older and perhaps begin investing money, saving for retirement, paying back student loans, buying a car, thinking about buying a home or other major purchases, our finances get more and more complicated. Fortunately, because it is such a common problem, there are many tools out there to help us make sense of it all.
A first step might be to educate yourself about financial planning, retirement, investing, whichever topic you feel you might need additional information on. Many adult community education centers will offer inexpensive courses on everything from financing a home to balancing your checkbook. While you may know much of this information already, it might not hurt to have a refresher on a few topics. And you may learn some new strategies for keeping things organized.
You can also find much of this information online on one of the many financial help websites out there. The Motley Fool is particularly well-known and they tend to write things in a way the average person (i.e. one with no background in finance) can understand. They also provide a number of calculators, worksheets and planning tools that may be helpful.
Another source for calculators and planning tools is Bankrate.com. These calculators may not help you with the organization part of financial planning, but they may help you with running numbers and figuring out what you need to do to achieve certain financial goals.
This would also be a great time to evaluate what you want from personal financial software. There are a variety of options out there, from the fairly simple to the incredibly complex. Do you need something to help you create a monthly budget? Would you prefer software that can track all of your assets and spending? Do you need a tool that can connect to your online banking information?
When it comes to software to assist you with financial planning and organization, it is really a matter of choice and needs. Some people are fine with creating an excel spreadsheet to track their spending and create budgets, others prefer to use a software program that does most of the work for them.
Because people with learning disabilities often struggle with organization, you may want to keep an eye out for tools that track spending for you by category. This way you can see exactly what you are spending and where. Many programs can update your records automatically with information from your bank statement. This means you don't have to be organized enough to remember to enter things on your own. Simply download your bank statement and load it directly into the software program.
Some of these types of programs include Quicken and Microsoft Money. These programs are well-known and fairly easy to use, so they may be a good place to start. Most software titles such as these will offer you a free 30-day trial, so you can shop around a little.
If you are looking for a tool that allows you to analyze and forecast your financial future, in addition to creating monthly budgets, you might look at a tool like Financial Fate. Financial Fate features tools to help you look at the months and years ahead as well as evaluate the impact of your financial decisions.
Finally, there are also a number of free (or mostly free) online budgeting and financial planning tools, such as: Clear Checkbook, Pear Budget, Buddi, Cashbox, and Gnu Cash. Some of these programs are designed to interface with your mobile phone, meaning you can access or change your budget or financial information whenever you need to. Others are designed with very simple interfaces and limited features to give you only what you need. Because you can try these all out for free, you might want to play around with a few and see if anything clicks.
Of course, each of these programs requires some degree of effort from the user. If you have a hard time staying organized, or remembering to balance your checkbook, it may be difficult to remember to upload the information into your planning software. If your struggles are more in the realm of staying on top of things and keeping organized, you might also supplement your use of personal financial software with an online tool like Remember the Milk.
Remember the Milk allows you to create reminders, to-do lists and manage tasks from anywhere and have them sent to you via text message, email, and instant messenger. You could set up a variety of reminders related to financial planning (i.e. once a month upload bank statement, every two weeks check balance, etc.) and ensure that no matter where you are, you keep your financial life organized.
What recommendations does the Tech Expert have for students with short-term memory difficulties?
Difficulties with short term memory are very common for students with learning disabilities or cognitive delays. Several strategies can be helpful for students who struggle with short term memory. These articles on memory tips and strategies for students may provide some helpful ideas. While many of the suggestions in the articles are for low-tech solutions to memory issues, there are also several wonderful higher tech solutions that may work out well for your son.
For example, it can be helpful for students to represent information graphically or visually, by creating idea maps, word webs, charts, graphic organizers or drawings to help them remember information. A variety of software tools are available that can help students do this. Software graphic organizers help students create graphic organizers and outlines in preparation for writing. Organizing his notes in this way may help your son remember the information more easily.
Another tool, Evernote, allows users to copy and paste information from websites, upload photos, create diagrams, record audio notes and add comments and tags to information they find. Users can then access their notes on their computer, cell phone or handheld device. Organizational tools can help your son connect and categorize new information making it easier to remember. Other organizational tools can be found by searching the TechMatrix by the learning support Means to Organize and Plan.
Another strategy that can be helpful for students who struggle with short term memory is to give them opportunities for frequent practice and skill building. This can be especially helpful in math class, where information retrieval is a key element for success. You can find a variety of math practice tools by searching the TechMatrix by Subject Area: Math and Learning Support: Practice and reinforcement activities. It can also be helpful to work with your son’s teachers and see if they can help create study guides and graphic organizers in advance of lessons, so that your son knows which information will be most important and can focus on that.
What software will assist a manager who wants to overcome a learning disability to write better?
Because it sounds like your strengths lie in verbal communication, voice recognition (speech-to-text) software that helps you make the most of your skills would probably be your best bet. Several options are available that would be suitable for an office environment. One of the most well known, Dragon Naturally Speaking, has business and professional versions available as well as options for specialized language for the legal and medical fields.
You may also find it helpful to read reviews on a website like CNET. Because CNET focuses on consumer and business technology tools, these reviews may help you make a decision about what tool would function best in your office environment. Some users opt to include a digital audio recorder as part of their voice recognition set up. This allows them to record notes, ideas and presentations and then transcribe them later using a voice recognition program. If you are serious about using voice recognition as a productivity tool, you might consider working with a consultant or coach who can help you set up templates, wizards, and macros to meet your particular needs. The article, From Speech to Text, reviews products in a business environment.
If voice recognition is not an appropriate option for you, text-to-speech software may also be helpful. While you would still need to do the actual writing on the computer, text-to-speech would allow you to hear your writing read back to you. This may help you identify misused words, confusing elements or missing words and thus clarify your writing. Both Macs and PCs have tools available that can read text aloud, as well as software available for purchase. If you will be using Microsoft Word, WordTalk, a free-plug-in, is available to read any word document aloud.
Because there are a wide variety of tools available, you may find it helpful to contact the Job Accommodation Network. The Job Accommodation Network is a free service of the Office of Disability Employment Policy at the U.S. Department of Labor. They provide free consulting services to help identify the most appropriate worksite accommodation as well as technical assistance regarding the Americans with Disabilities Act and other disability 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.
How can we e-mail a textbook page home to a student with dyslexia?
There are several options that might be appropriate for this student or for others in a similar situation. Some scanners come with software enabling the user to scan directly into a PDF document; however, it is more likely that you will have to purchase either Adobe Acrobat or third-party software that will allow you to convert scanned documents into PDF.
Converting the scanned image would enable you to maintain the original layout of the document and still work with Natural Reader since it is capable of reading PDFs as well as MS Word documents. Having the capability to convert documents to PDF could also be beneficial for other students, as the newer versions of Adobe Reader have improved read out loud capabilities. This could be helpful for students who don't have access to a screen reader at home. You could convert any text to a PDF and students could hear it read aloud using the free Reader program.
If purchasing additional software is not a feasible option, you may also try searching for a digital version of the text online. Learning Ally has audio versions of many textbooks, and websites such as BookShare and Project Gutenberg have electronic books freely available for download (BookShare provides books free for users with documented print disabilities).
Where can I find software that can read websites aloud to me?
Depending on your needs, there are several products available that can help you with being able to hear text on your computer read aloud. Some options are free, while others require software purchase.
If you are regularly downloading articles or documents to read that are in PDF, you can use the built in screen reader in Adobe Acrobat Reader called Read Out Loud to hear any text in the document read aloud.
If you need assistance with reading MS Word documents, or to have the text of your writing read back to you for editing purposes, one good option might be WordTalk, a free program text-to-speech program for Microsoft Word. You can also use the built-in screen reader/text-to-speech features on your computer.
Both Microsoft and Apple have simple text-to-speech programs built into their operating systems. Microsoft's Narrator is relatively limited in features, and is intended for users with visual impairments. However, some of the features may be helpful for you. Apple's VoiceOver has similar capabilities and can assist users with reading typed text, windows, menus and controls.
If you are mostly concerned with being able to hear text on websites read aloud, you might consider Talklets. Talklets is a small web-based application that allows you to hear any web text read out loud. Because it is web-based, you don't have to install software, which may be useful if you are using different computers (at the library, in the classroom, etc.). Talklets is free for a few websites (Google, Wikipedia, the BBC) and charges a monthly fee for unlimited access to any website. ReadPlease and Natural Reader also have free text-to-speech programs with limited functionality that may be sufficient for your needs. Several options are available from a basic copy for free download, to a more full-featured version for purchase.
If these free tools don't provide you with the level of functionality you need, you can also try searching the TechMatrix to find other text-to-speech products and compare features by selecting the Subject Area of Reading and the Learning Support of Access to multiple formats of text, notation, and symbols.
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.
Is there an audio-system that helps the student to focus on the teacher's voice?
You are probably referring to an auditory trainer (also called an FM System) which is a type of Assistive Listening Device. Auditory trainers allow students to focus on what the teacher is saying, eliminating distractions from background noise. These tools can be used with students with Central Auditory Processing Disorder, students with hearing impairments, or other students (such as those with ADD/ADHD or learning disabilities) who may have trouble filtering out classroom noise. There is a brief description of auditory trainers in the article Auditory Processing Disorder in Children.
Boystown National Research Hospital has a good description of FM Systems that may be helpful in understanding how auditory trainers can be used in the classroom. There can be drawbacks to using an auditory trainer as it may keep a student from hearing questions or comments made by other students in the classroom. However, these tools can be helpful in a lecture format, or if the teacher is sure to repeat questions asked by other students.
There are many places online to find companies that sell Assistive Listening Devices; The Hearing Review has a good list, as does ABLEDATA. However, you may want to discuss your child's needs with the assistive technology specialist for your district, or work with a specialist at your local children's hospital to ensure that you select the right product.
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.
Where can we get recorded books for our students who read slowly?
Fortunately, there are now a number of fairly inexpensive ways to provide struggling readers with access to printed materials by providing text digitally, see An Educator's Guide to Making Textbooks Accessible and Usable for Students with Learning Disabilities. Once you have digital text, you have many options.
Many publishers now offer their textbooks on CD-ROM and teachers can easily scan print materials into their computer to create digital versions of texts. One of the easiest (and least expensive) ways to provide students with recorded text is use text-to-speech features built into your computer's operating system to read digitized text. These simple programs can read text files aloud for students and are freely available with all Windows and Macintosh operating systems. Although they lack more sophisticated control options and choices for speaking voices, they may be an appropriate solution for helping students read short pieces of text.
Another free option for helping students access text is to download books from a website such as Project Gutenberg or LibriVox. The books available from these sites are in the public domain, so you will not be able to find newer books here. However, they are freely available to all and may be a good solution for providing electronic versions of popular classics (Pride and Prejudice, A Christmas Carol, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, etc.). Files are usually available in HTML, PDF or Text format, which can then be read aloud using any text-to-speech program. The Adobe Reader has a built in Read Out Loud feature which allows the user to have any part of a PDF file read aloud. You could also use this feature with any hard copy text that you scan and save as a PDF.
A third option is to obtain audio books from Learning Ally. Membership is required in order to access audio books and a special player or software is necessary to play the books. Another site, Bookshare provides digital talking books for students of any age with disabilities. Students with qualifying print disabilities can now access the entire Bookshare collection free of charge. Additionally, audio books can be ordered from websites such as Amazon, Audible, or Barnes & Noble. However, this option will likely be more expensive than the cost of a Learning Ally membership.
The most flexible option (and also the most expensive) would be to purchase software capable of converting text files into audio files. A quick internet search will reveal several downloadable programs for running text to audio conversions. However, for a school purchase, it might make sense to investigate programs that can be used for a variety of reading and writing tasks such as Kurzweil 3000, Proloquo, TextAloud and WYNN. With these tools, you can convert any text file to a sound file; students can then listen to text using an MP3 player, their computer or CD player. Using a scanner, you can easily scan any print material and create recorded text for your students for any book, textbook, handout, or article you use in your teaching.
What technology helps students take notes in lectures?
It can be challenging for many students with disabilities to take notes while listening to teacher lectures or instruction. A couple of different options may be helpful for your son, depending on the resources available at your school and his teacher's instructional style. If your son's teacher regularly uses overheads or slide presentations, it may be helpful for your son to have access to the slides during the lecture. He can view the slides on a laptop and add his notes to them as the teacher presents information.
Another option if your son's teacher doesn't use slide presentations during lectures would be to ask the teacher to create electronic note-taking tools or graphic organizers for the lecture material. Depending on the specific content being covered, these could include partially completed outlines, concept maps, or story analysis webs. Your son could have these available on a laptop and fill them in as the teacher presents material. This article on Tech Tools for Students with Learning Disabilities offers some suggestions for students that may be helpful.
There are also several software options available for creating concept maps or online note taking. Inspiration and MindManager are both tools that allow users to create visual representations of information. These tools could be beneficial for writing activities or connecting concepts.
Online note taking software such as EverNote would allow your son to create searchable notes and diagrams using digital images, handwritten text from a tablet PC, text from websites or text from Word documents and PowerPoint presentations. If a laptop is unavailable for your son to use in the classroom, a portable note-taker might be a good solution. AlphaSmart and Fusion makes portable note-taking devices that are popular in schools; other options can be found on the TechMatrix website.
Can you recommend programs to assist students in the third to fifth grade who are struggling with math?
There are many programs available for students who struggle with math. The key is to select programs that are rich in content that also match the specific needs of the students.The Tech Matrix provides reviews of math software programs and related research. Products and research are categorized by the content areas identified by the National Council for Teachers of Mathematics to help you find software that address the topic of concern: Number and operations; Geometry, Measurement, Data Analysis and Probability, Algebra.
Features in the reviews may also help you identify products that can meet a particular need. A growing number of software programs offer a variety of features to help struggling students learn math skills, such as speaking the problems aloud, taking dictated answers, or adjusting the speed of expected responses.
Another valuable resource is the Learning Mathematics with Virtual Manipulatives that discusses how online manipulatives activities allow students to interact with and test concepts. The many free resources linked in this article are engaging for students and can help make abstract concepts more real. In addition, I suggest that you work with your child's teacher to identify activities that could reinforce classroom work in an alternative manner.
10 Tips for Software Selection for Math Instruction are resources that may help you in your search for activities that can reinforce your child’s math lessons.
You may also find MathTools, an online community library of technology tools, lessons, activities, and support materials for teaching and learning math.