AT: Building a Better Toolbox

By Shelley Lacey-Castelot, MS, ATACP


As your child with LD enters higher grades, it’s important to re-evaluate his or her Assistive Technology plan The need for tools that offer a greater range of options and portability increases as classroom demands evolve

1.4.6-ToolboxWe live in an age when students are accustomed to having technology available wherever they go, always on, and instantly accessible. For students with learning disabilities, it’s important to ensure that the Assistive Technology (AT) they need is as readily available as the rest of their technology.

Students with LD are increasingly finding that the technology they use at home may not be well-suited to the classroom.

A student working on a paper at home may need the full power of a computer with speech recognition software and an electronic reading system that provides language and study skills support. However, at school where time to complete assignments is limited, the same student may prefer a light, always-on system that enables him to work more portably. As students move up, having a range of AT options becomes increasingly important for them to succeed independently.

Real-Life Application

If your child has a language learning disability, his learning profile might include average to above average intelligence, slow and inadequate decoding skills, language processing difficulties, poor reading fluency, and deficient working memory. He may be bright, interested, hard-working, and capable. Given extended time and appropriate AT, he can meet his IEP goals, benefit from instruction provided to him, and access the curriculum and curriculum materials.

In the resource room and at home, he may use Dragon NaturallySpeaking Professional Speech Recognition software to dictate papers, complete essay tests, and respond to short-answer homework questions. With Dragon he can quickly dictate what he wants to say before he forgets it; he can take his time, practicing what to say prior to dictating it; when he tires, he can close the programs and his document, return to them later, and listen to the playback of what he said when he needs to correct errors.

This student may also use textHELP Read&Write Gold to spot recognition dictation errors, do research on the Internet, read textbooks and handouts, proofread his dictated compositions and short answers, check his verb usage, find the meaning of an unknown word, and highlight important information. He may use WhiteSmoke Writer as a final editing and proofing tool for finding and fixing grammar, punctuation, and word errors and using higher level words.

These three tools, combined in one powerful suite, enable him to complete work approaching grade level, while he receives remedial services to improve his areas of deficits. However, without these tools, this same student performs poorly.

Evolving Technology Meets Evolving Needs

In elementary school, this student was able to dictate to a computer rather than to a scribe in his classroom; in middle school and high school, that became difficult. In elementary school, his computer was always on and always at hand; in middle school and high school he was faced with shutting down and booting up his computer, packing it up, and lugging it from class to class. It’s no wonder he resisted using the tools that enabled his earlier success.

Fortunately, technology has evolved to meet his changing needs. His team can work with him to find solutions suitable to his more mobile and faster-paced academic world.

In the classroom, this includes lightweight and versatile laptops and tablets, tools on an iPad to draft his initial thoughts and ideas and to do preliminary readings. On the iPad, he can use Siri dictation, along with iWordQ (a word prediction app) and the Inspiration app to begin writing assignments, choosing one or all of these writing tools, depending upon the setting.

He can use Voice Dream Reader, and/or Read2Go to read textbooks, Web information, PDF files, and Word documents on his iPad. He can use TextHELP Web Apps on his iPad or any computer with an internet connection to read and write, look up word meanings (including picture images), and collaborate with other students using Google Docs. When he returns to the resource room or to his home, he can take his early drafts and expand, refine, and complete them using his more robust tools. On his iPhone or Android phone, or on his iPad, he can use Dragon Anywhere to dictate on the run in a more robust way than on his iPad.

Because this student’s AT toolbox contains a range of options—many that are highly portable—he can select the tools he needs at the time that he needs them. He no longer must complete all of his work in the resource room; he now has tools to begin (and sometimes finish) his work in the mainstream classroom, yet he can still rely on more powerful tools should he need them to perform at a level that is close to or commensurate with his grade and cognitive ability.

Shelley Lacey-Castelot, ATACP, M.S. is the Director of Literacy Solutions in Oxford, and Norwalk, CT, and an expert in the evaluation and use of assistive technology for students with learning disabilities and attention disorders.

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