Learning disabilities affect a person’s ability to successfully or effectively use language, math, and movement skills. Children with learning disabilities frequently find schoolwork challenging to keep up with, and traditional learning leaves them struggling to find the same academic success as their peers. Alongside diagnosis and intervention, assistive technology can support students struggling to keep up due to a disability and help them focus on learning material rather than use all of their effort on menial tasks.
The Assistive Technology Industry Association defines assistive tech as “any item, piece of equipment, software program, or product system used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of persons with disabilities.” The type of assistive technology a person uses depends on their learning disability and capabilities- for example, a kindergartener should be given age-appropriate accommodations instead of a computer. In this article, we provide assistive technology suggestions for three learning disabilities: dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia- with cost-effective, non-tech options alongside advanced alternatives for those who can access them.
Dyslexia is a learning disability that causes reading and writing to be challenging. People with dyslexia struggle with reading fluently and identifying letter sounds to spell words correctly. Therefore, assistive technology should give people with dyslexia aid in spelling and reading at a higher speed with accuracy.
One of the simplest forms of assistive technology a dyslexic person can use is a whiteboard with dry-erase markers. A whiteboard allows a person to practice spelling a word before writing on paper and can be used to break apart words into phonemic sounds. Using a whiteboard can reduce the number of spelling mistakes while writing and encourages independently breaking apart words when reading.
Dyslexic people often find attaching sounds to letters or digraphs (letter pairs) challenging. Having representations of letters and their sounds handy can help a student read and write faster. An example could be a flashcard with the letter “p” and a picture of a pig or a “th” with a thumb.
Text-to-speech programs are a more advanced option that older students may prefer to use. While this doesn’t replace the specialized reading lessons dyslexic students need, they may be able to use this technology to simplify their schoolwork and focus on learning information. Text-to-speech is an excellent option for students who need to learn information but find it strenuous and time-consuming to read through passages. Dyslexic people find reading comprehension difficult because reading accurately takes a large amount of effort, so hearing information read out loud can increase their information retention as well.
Most computer writing programs come with autocorrect and word suggestion software. These tools can make writing and spelling much faster and more accurate, which benefits dyslexic people greatly. Autocorrect is common and accessible, but only children who have learned how to type can use it.
Dyscalculia is a learning disorder that weakens a person’s number sense. Number sense is the ability of a person to understand the number system and how numbers relate to each other. People with dyscalculia find it challenging to remember math-related concepts and solve math problems, among other number-related issues. Accommodations for people with dyscalculia aim to help the person focus on math concepts rather than totaling smaller parts of the equation or remembering formulas.
Graphic organizers are an effective tool that anyone can make themselves. They use colorful designs and organization so students can easily reference their material and remember the information. These graphic organizers from Understood.com help students break down problems into smaller steps so they can practice equations step by step and easily reference what they’ve learned.
Like graphic organizers, charts of equations and formulas can help students recall information and learn math concepts without the struggle of memorization. People with dyscalculia find it challenging to remember math processes and equations, so having this information available is necessary.
Calculators are necessary for a person with dyscalculia, and talking calculators can be even more of a help, especially for children or people with low vision. Talking calculators read inputs and outputs aloud and can describe the steps to solve an equation. Along with a standard calculator’s benefits, the vocal aspect of these calculators can be beneficial for children who are learning math symbols and adults with dyscalculia who have difficulty recalling math terminology.
Equation-solving tools don’t answer problems- instead, they show how to solve them. The benefits of an equation-solving tool are similar to having equation and formula references, but they are not limited to a certain quantity and what the student has already learned. This tool is widely available online, but young children need help using it.
Dysgraphia is a movement-based learning disorder that impairs a person’s ability to write quickly and legibly. People with dysgraphia find writing neatly difficult and naturally have writing that is messy, misspelled, and sloping up or downwards. Assisted technology for dysgraphia aims to encourage neat handwriting or remove the need for handwriting.
Raised paper usually takes the form of a classic lined paper design with ridges where the lines are printed. People with dysgraphia can use these lines to keep their writing organized and structured. The textured element of raised paper physically stops the writing utensil, which serves as a reminder of when to stop writing a letter.
Because dysgraphia impairs motor functions, people with dysgraphia have difficulty holding writing instruments. Therefore, pencil grips are an everyday accommodation for dysgraphia because they encourage a person’s fingers to sit in the proper place. Some pencil grips like this cause fingers to be placed in a specific way, which significantly helps with handwriting.
Typing is often a more straightforward exercise than handwriting for people with dysgraphia, but their disability can still hinder typing speed and accuracy. Speech-to-text can be a more practical option, especially for note-taking or other activities that require a person to write quickly. Many smartphones already offer this tool for texting, and speech-to-text computer programs are becoming more advanced and accurate over time.
Pen scanners are the priciest option on this list, and while not necessary, they can eliminate the need for copying down notes. Some also have other helpful features like text-to-speech and built-in dictionaries if you encounter an unknown word. Pen scanners like this one allow the user to “highlight” lines of text that they would like saved and send to their chosen device. The text can then be modified for note-taking use.
Learning disabilities come from differences in a person’s brain structure and genetics, so access to the proper accommodations for their disability is imperative.
If your child needs a Dyslexia assessment or support for their learning disability, call READ Academy at (916)258-2080 to learn about what we offer.