The Apple iPad (and the host of other tablets that followed in its wake) has changed the world of technology, including the world of Assistive Technology (AT). With its intuitive interface, long battery life, instant access to learning apps, small, portable size, and big cool factor, this readily available, relatively inexpensive little machine has become as ubiquitous in Special Education classrooms as it is everywhere else.
And why not? There are iPad programs that teach, compensate for weaknesses, bypass deficits, and provide hours of just plain fun.
There’s An App For That
Is spelling or writing a problem? Not when you have apps that create text from dictation, include word prediction, read the word you are trying to spell, coach sentence creation and composition, combine sound notes with text notes, or graphically organize a writing draft.
Is reading difficult? Not with apps that read the text to you, provide the meaning and/or pictures of words, allow you to highlight notes in the text, and offer instant access to books.
Does math put you over the top? There are apps to help you practice math facts, graph problems, and make math visual.
Is learning English and grammar tough? Download language-learning tools, grammar tools, and instructional apps.
In so many ways, the iPad and the others level the playing field for students with learning disabilities, and in ways that students find acceptable. For the student who can’t seem to find a power outlet, wait for the laptop to boot up, or thinks technology is intrusive, the iPad can bring great success and comfort.
Before you rush out to get your child a tablet, it is critically important to remember that technology works best when it’s matched to a student’s needs. The evaluation process to determine what AT a student with LD needs involves reviewing records, interviewing student, family and school staff, determining deficits and strengths, trying various ATs (and collecting data while doing so), until an appropriate match is found.
As tablets continue to evolve, there are likely to be new and better apps with more features that students with LD will find helpful. In the meantime, there are already many wonderful apps that students with LD are using to accommodate their needs.
But parents, beware. The tablet may not be a one-size-fits-all answer. Students may need different solutions for different settings and tasks; one might need an iPad app in one setting and a full computer software program in another. There is a lot to be said for having multiple tools on one’s tool belt for the varied educational day of a student.
Shelley Lacey-Castelot, ATACP, M.S. is the Director of Literacy Solutions in Oxford, CT, and an expert in the evaluation and use of assistive technology for students with learning disabilities and attention disorders.