Despite its potential advantages, dyslexia too often gets in the way of the basic skills children need for academic success: reading and writing. Various methods of language remediation continue to go a long way in helping students become better readers and writers; but today, assistive technology (AT) is considered an important ingredient in the education of dyslexic children. Without AT, it will be difficult for your child to be independent in school and reach his or her academic potential. There are several things to keep in mind as you help your child figure out how assistive technology can lessen the difficulties of dyslexia.
Before the development of assistive technology, school was not fair to children with dyslexia. They either had to study subject matter that did not meet their intellectual abilities or they had to rely on others to help them complete their work. Today, you can help your children integrate AT use into their academic lives in order to level the playing field. Text-to-speech technology allows them to read the same books as their non-dyslexic classmates, and they can express their knowledge in writing using dictation or word prediction software. In short, assistive technology allows them to be independent learners despite their language difficulties.
Most of the time, your child’s teachers are not trying to give you a hard time about AT use in school. In reality, there are many educators that don’t have a complete knowledge of assistive technology and how it can help students with dyslexia. Take the time to educate your child’s teachers about the array of AT options and be specific about how the technology will allow your child to succeed in school. The best approach is to avoid confrontation and try to become a partner in your child’s education. Most teachers entered the profession because they care about children, and they will appreciate your diplomatic advocacy that will help them do their jobs better.
On the surface, it may seem that AT accommodations and language remediation are on opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to educating children with dyslexia. They are, in fact, complementary, and one should not be abandoned for the other. Many students are able to use AT tools more effectively and efficiently as their language skills improve. For example, if they can proofread their dictated work while writing it, speech-to-text software becomes more effective for them. On the flip side, reading comprehension and vocabulary development can often be learned more thoroughly with the aid of text-to-speech technology. The most successful students with dyslexia are those that find a balance between AT and remediation that is appropriate for their learning needs.
Yes, it does take more work to monitor and control a child’s iPhone or iPad use, and yes, sometimes they can be distractions in class, but Apple’s mobile devices can be invaluable learning tools for students with dyslexia. Not only do they have built-in AT features like Speak Selection, Speak Screen, QuickType, and Dictation, there are also many third party apps that help students organize and edit their writing, scan documents to be read aloud with text-to-speech, and manage difficulties with executive functioning. If you are willing to teach your child appropriate uses for an iPhone in school and get your child’s teachers on board, the educational rewards will be great.
In recent years, assistive technology has developed at a staggering rate. You may not always be comfortable with new devices, operating systems, and software, but for the sake of your child with dyslexia, make sure you stay up-to-date on the latest AT. It’s also O.K. for you to be excited about new technology for yourself. After all, the best AT is universal and helpful to everyone.
Unfortunately, there are some people who believe that using assistive technology in school is cheating. As a parent of a child with dyslexia, don’t be one of them. After all, children who have hearing difficulties do not “cheat” by using hearing aids, and children who have less than 20/20 vision do not “cheat” by wearing glasses. As many people have come to realize, fair does not equal the same. Fair means getting what you need. For children with dyslexia, getting AT accommodations in school is what they need in order to be as successful as their non-dyslexic classmates.
The term “digital native” only refers to a child born at a time of widespread computer use. While it does not imply that the child somehow exits the womb with the instinct to email, some people think that it does. Like most everything else, technology use needs to be taught, and when it comes to assistive technology, a child with dyslexia not only needs to learn how to use the software, but also how to apply it to school work in order to compensate for language difficulties. No matter how tempting it may be, resist the urge to just give your child a piece of AT and expect them to make full use of it independently. Find an educator who can help so that the technology becomes an integral part of your child’s learning experience.
As technology continues to develop, more and more jobs are being taken over by computers. That will never be the case in schools. No matter what kind of AT accommodations are put into place, your child’s teachers will remain the most important part of the educational experience. Only good teachers can read your child’s mood on any given day, figure out the best strategies to make learning meaningful, and provide the emotional support that many dyslexic students need in order to do well in school. Therefore, if your child’s teachers feel threatened by assistive technology, make sure to let them know how important they are and how much you appreciate their efforts.
While assistive technology has made the lives of students with dyslexia a lot less stressful, don’t insist your child use it for every academic task that is assigned. Students who make significant progress in their reading through remediation sometimes want to dive into a book without a computer, and after making gains in their spelling skills, they don’t always want to dictate their writing. Respect those newfound skills and help your child figure out when he should use AT in order to reach his academic potential and when he can complete assignments without it. In the end, AT is just a collection of tools to make certain jobs easier, and it should not get in the way of your child’s sense of accomplishment.
Dyslexia can be a major obstacle to your child in school. Nevertheless, today’s dyslexic students have many resources available to compensate for their learning difficulties. In addition to effective remedial programs, there are several assistive technology options that can make classwork and homework accessible to your son or daughter. With support from you, your child can use AT to reach academic success.
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