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February 2018 Subscribe to the Struggling Learner newsletter >>

Tech Tools to Help Your Teen Become Independent and Successful

Faith Barens, M.Ed. Faith Barens, M.Ed.

by Faith Berens, M.Ed.
HSLDA Special Needs Consultant

At HSLDA, our Special Needs Consultants believe that all people can learn! But we recognize that for some, learning isn’t necessarily easy. In fact, at least 15-20% of the general population may find the skills of taking in information, information processing, organizing, and/or outputing what is being learned challenging.

According to a 2017 report by the National Center for Learning Disabilities, “One in five children in the U.S. have learning and attention issues such as dyslexia and ADHD.” Additionally, as noted in the new State of Learning Disabilities: Understanding the 1 in 5, “48 percent of parents believe incorrectly that children will outgrow these brain-based difficulties.”

However, with some simple supports and reasonable accommodations, bright but struggling students can succeed!

In an effort to assist you—the parent-teacher—to help your student meet his or her full potential and attain his or her goals, we would like to share a resource list of assistive technology tools and adaptive equipment that can help young people with their high school and college course work.

For students with executive functioning challenges—organizing, planning, task initiation, and memory

Most young people need some help with executive skills like time management, planning, and organization, but many students, especially those with executive functioning deficits and ADD/ADHD, find trying to master these skills incredibly difficult!

Struggling teens can benefit from learning how to strengthen specifically weak executive skills, as well as learning how to break down assignments into smaller chunks.

Investing time during the teen years to train your child in utilizing software or tech tools, such as apps, to help with these critical life skills can have a big payoff later!

Time management resources

Tech tools that can help a person plan, organize, store, and retrieve his calendar, task list, contact data, and other information in electronic form are available. Personal data managers may be dedicated portable hand-held devices, apps on a tablet or mobile phone, computer software, or a combination of those tools working together by “sharing” data.

Aids for studying, outlining, and organizing information

Many students have difficulty focusing on the most important details, outlining, and organizing, but there are software programs to help students with these skills. Utilizing graphical organizers can be a powerful strategy to help students with outlining and organizing as they are reading new information, note-taking, studying, or brainstorming for a writing assignment. This type of program lets a user “dump” information in an unstructured manner and later helps him organize the information into appropriate categories and order.

For students with dyslexia, low-vision, blindness, or other visual disabilities

Audiobooks allow your student to listen to narrators read text aloud and are available in a variety of convenient formats, from digital streaming and downloadable files to CDs. Whether your teen listens through an app on his tablet, mobile phone, or laptop, prefers a CD player, or uses a dedicated playback unit (such as many libraries offer), he’ll be able to search, rewind, fast forward, and bookmark pages and chapters. Subscription services such as Audible offer extensive electronic library collections, but you can find many audiobooks available free through your library or at some of the links below.

    Free audiobook sources

  • Every state library acts as a distribution point for the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, which has a large collection of books in audio format. You can search the catalog at their website. Certification of disability is required.
  • A growing number of local and university libraries are providing digital audiobooks for streaming or downloading through services such as NetLibrary, Overdrive, or Hoopla. Your student will need a compatible computer, laptop, or portable device and may have to download a free listening app from the specific digital content service(s) your library uses. Ask your library or check their website to see if they offer digital audiobooks.
  •—Volunteers from around the world narrate public domain books, including many classics. Your student can download as many books as she’d like.
  • Subscription, purchase, or membership audiobook services

  •—A monthly digital audiobook subscription service.
  • Bookshare—An accessible online library for people with print disabilities
  • Kurzweil 3000 Literacy and Reading Programs
  • PlayAway—A subscription service / purchase options for digital audiobooks preloaded onto a dedicated one-book player.
  •—Formerly known as Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic (RFB&D)
  • Unabridged is a source of digital audio books for people in California, Colorado, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Oregon, Texas, and Vermont who are blind, visually impaired, or physically challenged. Certification of disability by your participating local library is required.

For students with slow processing speed and/or auditory processing disorder

Teens with dyslexia and other specific learning disabilities may find that auditory processing and processing speed are areas of difficulty, making it challenging to listen to a lecture and to take notes. If your child is taking a live online course or a class at a community college or co-op, encourage him to ask the course instructor for permission to record the lecture/class or to make a recording of the lecture available for repeat viewing.

Digital or tape recorders—or even smart phones—allow a student to capture spoken information (e.g., a classroom lecture) and play it back later or to play the instructor’s recording. Variable speed control (VSC) recorders or apps speed up or slow down the playback rate without distorting the “speaker’s” voice. When instructors offer lecture recordings, they are usually available online for streaming or downloading.

  • If your student needs a very simple recording or playback device, you can find several options at Independent Living Aids.

For students who struggle with the physical mechanics of writing or dysgraphia

Speech recognition software will allow your student to dictate notes and compose orally.

    Speech Recognition Programs/Apps:

  • Dragon NaturallySpeaking (PC) or Dragon Dictate (Mac)
  • iListen
  • SpeakQ (integrates multiple AT techniques)

For students who struggle with writing (e.g., spelling, grammar, punctuation, word usage, and sentence structure)

These students may benefit from using the spelling and grammar checkers usually included in word processing software or from a special writing app such as Ginger.

  • Ginger—a writing app for desktops or mobile devices. Ginger analyzes misspelled words within the context of an entire sentence and suggests words based on the intended meaning of the sentence. (Most spell checkers simply suggest words that resemble the misspelled words.) Ginger corrects whole sentences, including multiple spelling and grammar errors all in one click, providing a potentially faster and more efficient way to work.

    Ginger’s technology was developed specifically to correct the kinds of spelling mistakes commonly made by people with dyslexia. Although other products have focused on dyslexia, Ginger’s online grammar checker is the first to operate as an online service that continuously adds “dyslexic misspellings” to its database. The more the technology is used by people with dyslexia, the more accurate it should become.

For students who may struggle with language processing or written language expressive disorder

Word prediction software can help your student by “predicting” a word she intends to type. Predictions are based on spelling, syntax, and frequent/recent use. This prompts kids who struggle with writing to use proper spelling, grammar, and word choices, with fewer keystrokes.

  • Aurora Suite
  • Co:Writer SOLO
  • WordQ + SpeakQ from Quillsoft (integrate multiple AT techniques)
  • WriterAACPocket—A text-to-speech and speech-to-text app that will allow two people to communicate if one person is deaf or hearing impaired. The speaker can speak into the iPad and the app will convert the speech to written words or the speaker can type into the iPad and the typed words will appear on both sides (the writer’s and the reader’s) of the iPad screen.

For students who struggle with math

Electronic math worksheets can help students organize, align, and work math problems on the computer screen. Numbers that appear onscreen can also be read aloud via a speech synthesizer. This may be helpful to people who have trouble aligning math problems with pencil and paper. Students with visual processing difficulties, dysgraphia, and dyscalculia may benefit from this type of program.

  • MathTalk—speech recognition mathematics software

Your student may want to consider using a talking calculator, particularly if he has dyscalculia. A talking calculator has a built-in speech synthesizer that reads aloud each number, symbol, or operation key a user presses; it also vocalizes the answer to the problem. This auditory feedback may help a student check the accuracy of the keys he presses and verify the answer before he transfers it to paper.

In Conclusion

We hope you find these recommended assistive technology tools helpful for equipping your student to be independent and successful in his or her endeavors!

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