Assistive Technology and Tips for Parents

* The information below is part of the presentation “How Technology Can Support Students with Dyslexia” that I gave with Krista Bolen at the TNIDA 2018 RISE conference on April 7, 2018.

Assistive Technology

Assistive Technology (AT) is an important tool to help people with dyslexia be successful. We recommend you start using programs and apps similar to the ones below to assist your child with reading, spelling and writing. These programs and apps can be used at home to help with homework and worksheets, or at school if your child has access to technology. Additionally, Section X of the Tennessee Dyslexia Guide gives schools guidance for the use of Assistive Technology in the classroom for students with characteristics of dyslexia.

READING: Ear reading (listening to content with your ears instead of reading it with your eyes) is one of the most important piece of Assistive Technology for students with dyslexia. Reading can be slow and inaccurate. Listening to content can improve comprehension and give children access to books and material that they could not access with eye reading. There are many great resources for ear reading including traditional audio books and “play-aways” from your local library. Oftentimes, you can access digital content for ear reading from your child’s teacher. Many families use a mix of ear reading programs and apps depending on the type and availability of the content they are seeking. We encourage you to explore the programs and apps listed below.

Screen Shot 2018-04-17 at 12.51.33 PMThere are many digital resources from your public library that incorporate audio or text to speech.  Many offer storybooks to be read aloud along with great pictures.  Some are free and others have a small fee. Check with your local school or public librarian to learn more about the options.  Some examples include Reading Rainbow, BookFlix, Tumble books, Hoopla and OverdriveKids.

 

WRITING AND SPELLING: Writing and spelling can be extremely challenging for people with dyslexia. Writing by hand can be messy, frustrating and downright illegible.  However, with technology, students can be much more successful at writing and spelling.  We encourage you to explore the apps listed below.

Screen Shot 2018-04-17 at 12.51.05 PM

Technology Tips for Parents

WHERE TO START: INTRODUCING TECHNOLOGY

  • Identify what devices your child has access to at home and at school: computer, laptop. iPad or phone. All can support dyslexia in unique ways.
  •  Explore the programs and apps available for reading, wiring and spelling. Identify two or three that you think will help your child the most.
  • Try the program or app yourself so you can teach your child in a frustration-free way.  Make sure it is appropriate for your child’s age, ability level and deficit.
  • Introduce each technology when you have plenty of time. Show your child how it works. If it has multiple features, introduce several at a time but do not overwhelm her.
  • Let your child explore the programs or app with content they choose. If it is a reading app, let them find a book on their own to choose to read.  If it is a writing program or app, let them make up a funny story or spell silly words.  Do not force them to use it right away on a big homework project. 
  • Encourage kids to practice and not give up. Technology can be frustrating. The more they use each technology, the easier it will become.
  • Once you have success at home, talk to your child’s teacher to let your child use it in the classroom or for classwork and projects.

 

WHY EAR READING MATTERS: DICK AND JANE V. HARRY POTTER: Students with dyslexia often desperately want to eye read books like Harry Potter but can barely access books like Dick and Jane with their eyes.  Over time, this can have many negative effects. It may starve them for rich vocabulary and complex sentence structure. It also can make a child feel left out socially when kids on the playground are playing Hogwarts, but she can’t join the play because she doesn’t know they story and characters. Here are some tips to make ear reading successful:

  • Give your child with dyslexia access to as much ear reading as she wants at home for books that she cannot access with her eyes, especially books for enjoyment. Treat ear reading as you would with another child asking to read a book.
  • Try not to include taking away ear reading as punishment like you would other technology. Remember, if your child misbehaved, you would not typically take away a book as punishment. Consider using Parental Controls or Guided Access to turn off everything BUT the books.
  • Encourage your child to eye read books that he/she is able to successfully with low frustration. You still want to encourage eye reading. Get high interest, short stories that he/she can read successfully and complete.  Eye reading is always wonderful!
  • Talk to classroom teachers to let your child use ear reading in school for books or chapters that need to be read quickly and accurately (think homework and classwork).
  • When people tell you “that’s cheating!” you can confidently tell them that it is not.
  • Visit www.DecodingDyslexiaTN.org for more information about Assistive Technology resources and advice.

 

HOW TO MANAGE ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGY IN YOUR HOME

  • Allow lots of ear-reading for pleasure in free time.  Let your child pick the books he/she wants to read.
  • Create clear guidelines to encourage children to use their technology for homework and projects that they need to write, read or spell well.  Often kids will want to just complete a worksheet or write a story without their technology because it is quicker. Some parents make rules like “For any story you have to write over one paragraph, I need you to use your Co:Writer” or “I know you want to read that social studies article yourself, but it is really long and the answers count for a grade. So please eye read the first paragraph but then please try using your ClaroScan pen.” Talk to your child about your rules. It works best if you decide some guidelines beforehand to avoid nightly homework battles.
  • Build independence. Instead of always helping then they ask “How do you spell it?” Respond with “Please use your Easy Spelling Aid first. I am here if you still need help.”
  • Set clear technology rules and use Parental Controls. Check what they are accessing often. Be clear on the time of say they can use technology and for what purposes. For example say something like “I am excited you want to listen to your audiobook, but I need to trust you that you are not playing Minecraft while you listen.” Realize that inappropriate content can get through even the best parental control and that audiobooks may have inappropriate content.  Realize that if your family shares accounts on things like Audible, books you read can be accessed by your child. Stay vigilant.
  • If you have more than one child, explain to siblings why one child gets to use technology more often. Combat the “but it’s not fair!” argument before it starts.  You can also consider telling other children that they are welcome to type homework assignments on the computer and listen to audiobooks if they want to. Once they understand that technology does not mean games – they usually back off.
  • Talk to your child about how he/she feels using technology at school. Some kids feel embarrassed by being different. Some kids love feeling special. Let them know you are open to talk about it. The social stigma of dyslexia can be real. One teacher knew her student with dyslexia was feeling out of place so she announced to the entire class that any child could bring in a device from home to listen to audiobooks. After that, the student felt more comfortable. Be creative.

 

RESOURCES ON AUDIO BOOKS AND ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGY

 

Published by

Anna Thorsen

I am a parent, attorney and advocate. I and my middle school daughter both have dyslexia. During the 2015 legislative session I was a tireless advocate to help pass the much needed Dyslexia Legislation in Tennessee and am proud to participate in the 2016 Bill Signing. I now serve on the Decoding Dyslexia TN Leadership Team and serves on the TN Department of Education’s Dyslexia Advisory Council. I have been a presenter for the past two years at the Tennessee Association for Assistive Technology annual conferences. I also does frequent speaking engagements around Middle Tennessee on the topic of dyslexia. My family's dyslexia story has been featured in several articles, including Mindshift's October 15, 2015 article "Why Recognizing Dyslexia at School Can be Difficult."

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