Using Technology with Dyslexia

A smartpen that follows along with lectures. An app that types as you speak. For students who struggle with dyslexia, current technology can help them overcome considerable obstacles in the classroom.

Dyslexia is a language processing disorder, and the goal of assistive technology is to help eliminate the hurdles that dyslexic students face – including difficulty reading, trouble listening and writing at the same time and trying to put thoughts to paper.

“The latest technology is getting exciting,” says Melodie Hornickel, Director of Family and Tutor Services with the Dyslexia Institute of Indiana. “You’re getting down to what the student really knows by taking away some of the obstacles to learning.”

Help with reading

Whether it’s a textbook or a Word file, dyslexic students often process and retain information better when they can hear what they’re reading.

Popular audiobook programs include Learning Ally, Audible and Bookshare, which are each available online and through apps, cataloging thousands of textbooks and other required reading.

“We import Bookshare files into an app called Voice Dream, which highlights the text as it’s being read,” says Nanci Sears Perry, founder of grassroots education group Decoding Dyslexia-IN and mom of twin high school freshmen sons who are dyslexic. “The boys can adjust the speed of the voice, which is great for students who like to ‘ear read’ a little faster or slower than the pace of the typical speaking voice.”

When it comes to hearing electronic content, screen readers like Read&Write can vocalize everything from websites to worksheets, and Word also comes equipped with its own text-to-speech feature.

Help with note taking

Taking notes in class can be a multitasking challenge for students with dyslexia, requiring them to listen and process at the same time, often while struggling with writing letters and spelling.

Fortunately, technology has advanced significantly since the bulky cassette recorders of generations past. In the iPad age, note taking help is wireless and discreet. “Some apps simply record the audio, while others put it back into print,” says Lisa Hoffman, Director of the Children’s Dyslexia Center of Indianapolis. “The student who struggles with auditory learning can listen and follow along with the text, which is so powerful.”

The Echo Smartpen by Livescribe, a wireless, lightweight pen about the size of a marker, records as a student writes on special paper and then allows them to go back to a specific spot in a lecture simply by tapping on their notes. “It’s probably one of the most exciting things I think to help with lecture note taking, and it’s great for study groups, too,” Hornickel says.

Help with writing and spelling

While students with dyslexia are often bright and creative, the process of putting thoughts to paper can be a challenge.

“For students who struggle with writing, something like, ‘The white stallion gallops,’ often changes to, ‘The horse runs,’ because it’s easier to spell and write, but you’re losing so much creative expression,” Hornickel explains.

With speech recognition programs like Dragon Naturally Speaking, students can say what they’re thinking and it is automatically turned into text. Some computers come pre-loaded with similar software.

Hornickel also recommends graphic organizers, such as Inspiration and Kidspiration, which help dyslexic students assemble their thoughts before they start writing.

The future

More options mean more opportunities for students with dyslexia to excel. Wearable, voice-controlled technology like Google Glass could be the next frontier of assistive technology, with new apps developed every day.

“Technology in the classroom is much more accepted now than it was even just a few years ago,” Hoffman says. “There’s a lot more understanding and awareness about dyslexia and how we can accommodate those students.”

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