Special Needs

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The Connection Between Coding and Reading

Kids who are reluctant readers or who have special needs could be more engaged by learning to code first, asserts Kristen Brooks, a K-5 iPad lab teacher in Georgia. In an interesting blog post for parents and teachers, she suggests that coding can help students develop the skills needed to learn how to read, and shares several suggestions to help integrate coding in the classroom that also can be used by parents at home. An article on the National Public Radio site on coding for kindergarteners is also a useful read on this subject.

Simple Tech Supports for Students with Dyslexia

The website of the George Lucas Educational Foundation, Edutopia, features an article with 5 simple supports for students with dyslexia. These tech oriented supports include information on where to find free or inexpensive audiobooks, resources for note-taking apps, ideas for voice note players,  and suggestions on text-to-speech technologies. They also have a suggestion for teachers you might want to pass along - take away the stigma of “ear reading” by offering audiobooks as a reading option for the whole class. Kids may also discover that while often more enjoyable, listening to a book takes longer than reading it, giving them a new perspective on the challenges that dyslexic classmates face.

Use of Recording Devices By Students in Schools in Question

The 1st US Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston is expected to take up a case regarding a Maine student's right to carry an audio-recording device in school. The student in question has autism and a neurological syndrome that affects his speech and he cannot talk to his parents about his school day so the family is fighting for the right for him to carry an “always on” recording device to ensure he is being properly treated during the school day. In other states, parents of special education students have secretly placed audio recorders on their children to expose abuse, which have led to firings or settlements. Opponents say though that this raises serious privacy concerns for other students and that it would actually be “disruptive and detrimental” to his education.


Especially now that every cell phone has a recording option, you may be wondering is it legal for a student to record a teacher? That may depend on whether you live in a one party or two party consent state. While federal law allows for recordings as long as one party to the conversation consents (known as "one-party consent"), several states have stricter recording laws. California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Washington all require every party to a conversation to consent to recording (known as "two-party consent"). Most states make illegal recordings a felony. For instance Florida's wiretap law makes illegal recordings a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison. If you live in a one-party consent state, you (or your children) are probably OK recording a teacher or professor as long as you are present in the class, since you're a party to the conversation and by your action have given your consent to be recording. If you're in a two-party consent state, or are placing a secret recorder on your child, things may get a little trickier. Of course the easiest way to get around the issue may be to let everyone know you are recording, but as these parents in Maine are finding out even that may not satisfy everyone. If you or your children are thinking of doing any kind of recording at school or at college, be sure to check with the institution first.

The Power of Technology – What is Like to Read with Dyslexia?

The power of technology has recently been used to make it possible for everyone to glimpse what it is like for many with dyslexia to try to read and write. Created by a friend of a dyslexia sufferer, the website recreates the effort of reading a paragraph with the condition. While dyslexia affects every person differently, the site is an interesting way to simulate the learning difference that touches the lives of up to 15% of the world’s population.

Digital Note Taking – Summer is a Good Time to Practice

Does you child have trouble taking notes in class? If he or she has a 504 plan or IEP, they may be allowed to record lectures, but many students don’t have the patience  (or the time) to review hours of talk when they get home. Smartpens, such as Livescribe or Equil, may help. They can capture not only everything your child hears, but anything they write down in class. If any note is unclear, all your child needs to do is touch it with the smartpen and replay what was said at that exact point in the lecture. Some schools may even cover the cost of a smartpen if it’s part of a 504 plan or an IEP.

Although this sounds great, don’t send them back to school without some practice. If you get one of these pens, try it out at home. YouTube has lots of short videos on how each pen works (just type in the brand name or “smart pens” in Search). Have them take notes on a newscast or documentary of interest and see how it works in practice. Even if your child does not have specific accommodations, this kind of digital tool can help, especially for children who are just learning to take notes in class.

Assistive Technology – It’s Not Just for Kids with Disabilities

Jenny Grabiec, the Director of Technology at The Fletcher School, has a free book out called iCan with iOS: Apps, Tools & Strategies for Students with Learning and Attention Issues, but as she points out in an article on the Edutopia site, assistive technology can benefit all students. Grabiec states that for all students, with or without learning differences, using text-to-speech and speech-to-text tools are shown to read longer, write longer, and show a great improvement in spelling. Clock apps, with timers and alarms, can help students stay on task and be used for important reminders during the day. Interested in these kinds of apps? Take a look at the Edutopia Assistive Technology: Resource Roundup as well.

Tips for Helping Kids with ADHD Manage Screen Time

Understood.org, a web site for parents of kids with learning attention issues, is offering a new ”At a Glance” chart on how to help kids with ADHD make good decisions about technology and manage their screen time. The chart identifies common trouble spots – time management, social skills, lack of sleep, impulse control, distractibility and inattention – and offers a list of ways to help in the short and long term.

Coding for the Visually Impaired

Microsoft is working to adapt a coding program for students ages 7 to 11 to include those with visual disabilities . Project Torino aims to allow those children to work alongside their peers by using beads that snap together, similar to the way programming language is put together.  Researchers hope that programs like this will help bridge the “digital skills gap” and allow advanced students to gain the foundational computing concepts that will help them learn mainstream programming skills.

Mobile Apps Making a Difference to the Disabled

Software, particularly mobile apps, that often start out as games or have other novelty uses are now being harnessed to help those living with disabilities complete day-to-day tasks. Apps like Aipoly, which uses artificial intelligence to identify common objects with remarkable accuracy, is opening whole new worlds for the visually impaired. All you do is point your phone camera at an object – perhaps the coffee cup on your desk – and the app will tell you what it is. Totally free of charge, Aipoly also tells color-blind users the specific shade of any given item.


Apps such as Be My Eyes take it a step further. Invented in 2015 by the partially-sighted Hans Wiberg, the Danish non-profit app allows blind or visually impaired users to send a live video of the text they cannot read to a volunteer, anywhere in the world, who will help them. It currently has over 32,000 blind users, and over 450,000 sighted volunteers. For those living with Alzheimer’s, the Book of You app will store details of their personal story, complete with precious moments, photographs of their grandchildren and key information about their history. And autistic children can learn to identify various facial emotions with Learn with Rufus, designed by US clinical psychologist Dr. Holly Gastgeb. All of these are crucial steps in the right direction, but experts say many disabled people still need assistance in getting connected and in acquiring digital skills.

Would a Stylus Be Better than a Keyboard?

Would your child do better working with a stylus to communicate with their computer or tablet? Peter West, director of e-learning at Saint Stephen's College in Australia writes that research on the subject may point to that notion. For example, recent studies found that students who took hand written notes performed significantly better than those who typed lecture notes. Other research has shown that student performance solving science and math problems improved when using a pen or stylus rather than a keyboard, as well as all around creativity and problem solving. Looking at a stylus ready device is perhaps something to think about when purchasing a new tech device or computer for your children.

Special Needs, Technology and Job Prospects

New research shows that students with intellectual disabilities such as Down Syndrome or autism have unique strengths that make them ideal for some technology jobs. Giving students with cognitive disabilities access to technology training can improve their learning and post-graduation job prospects, say experts like Michele McKeone whose startup, Digitability, has developed an online curriculum that teaches technical skills. Companies such as Microsoft and SAP are beginning to look at the strengths, rather than focusing on the weaknesses, of individuals on the autism spectrum. The companies have begun tailoring their job applications and hiring practices to recruit people with autism who have technical skills their companies need, but may never have made it through the interview process.

AudioBooks for Struggling Readers (and Everyone Else)

Lots of articles have been appearing lately about the power of audiobooks for struggling readers, something that parents with a dyslexic child are probably well aware. The affirmation that listening to a book is a valid alternative is great news for parents of children who struggle with reading . KQED recently posted an article titled How Audiobooks Can Help Kids Who Struggle with Reading, going into some of the latest research on the topic and offering a list of some excellent audio books and podcasts for all ages.

Teachers Are Getting Savvy About “Getting Around” Student Passwords

Using passwords to keep student data safe is important, but teachers are getting smart about helping young students by using QR codes instead coping with impossible to remember and often difficult to type nine or ten digit passwords that are needed to start up computers and other digital devices. Lots of other changes in the classroom this fall are giving teachers more ways to use apps based on their student’s needs as well, including using sites like Newsela, a program which takes news articles and rewrites them for reading levels from second grade through high school. Right now, more than 850,000 teachers and 9 million students in the U.S. use the program.

Audio Books – Listening isn’t Cheating

Many popular books, including many that kids are required to read in school, are now available as audio books. This technology can be a great option for older students who already have learned to read. If you have concerns, take a look at Ki Sung’s article, Listening Isn't Cheating: How Audio Books Can Help Us Learn. In fact, listening is actually a critical component of Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts, and as many dyslexic students who rely on audio books point out, it actually takes longer to “read” a book this way.  This may be a good article to have in your arsenal if you have a child who might benefit from listening to books.

Virtual Schools and Students with Disabilities

A memo that was recently put out by the US Department of Education states that virtual public schools must meet all the requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Officials say it is the responsibility of the state to provide children with access to a free, appropriate public education and that children with disabilities should be given any support needed to be successful in school - even if that school is online. The memo also states that all students must be included in standardized tests and given the accommodations they need. This memo is important for parents of children with special needs to read if they are considering the option of a virtual school.

Using Voice Typing in Google Docs

Do your kids have great ideas for projects but have trouble translating their ideas onto paper? It might be fun for them to try speech to text dictation on the computer for free with Google Docs. The summer is a great time to try this out before the pressure of schoolwork makes it hard to try something new. All you need is an inexpensive microphone, a computer with the Chrome browser installed, and Google Docs (free). Here is a step-by-step set of instructions on how to get started.

Writing and Assistive Technology

The web site Understood, a place where parents can connect with experts on learning issues such as dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalcul

Internet Searches on Topics of Personal Interest May Help Kids Learn How to Read

Students who have difficulty reading may benefit from searching the Internet for articles and websites on topics of personal interest,

Comparing Digitally Based Reading

A recent analysis by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development finds