Assistive Apps

Assistive Apps

- in 2014 Editions, Education, July 2014, Magazine
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Special Needs Apps iPhone Android Northeast OhioTechnology helps students with special-needs reach educational goals.

Technology is making it easier to help kids who struggle with speech and language skills.

And parents and children with tablets and other smart devices have many options to choose from. For example, “Cake Doodle is free and lets kids ‘bake’ the cake and then decorate it,” said Stefanie Peck, a speech and language pathologist at The Center for LifeSkills in Solon. “We can work on following directions with it, so it’s great for speech and language therapy.”

Two other apps, My PlayHome and Pogg, which have been mentioned in the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association’s monthly newsletter, are helpful when learning vocabulary and language.

“The My PlayHome has a house and family members,” says Kathy Darga, a speech pathologist at Therapy in Motion LLC in Cleveland. “You can move through the rooms and have people do activities in each room. This is a great way to work in vocabulary and language.

“The Pogg app has a creature that acts out different verbs, such as jumping, sleeping and eating. You can talk about what he is doing while he is acting it out.”

A Digital Advantage at School

Lawrence School helps students with learning differences at two campuses — Broadview Heights and Sagamore Hills. The staff prepares its students for a career or college with technology and apps.

The school uses Microsoft OneNote, a software tool from Microsoft Office Suite, which has both free iTunes and Android app versions available. OneNote is one of Sally Garza’s top 10 programs. She is the technology director of the Lawrence School’s upper campus and says the program is a digital Trapper Keeper, or a digital binder with customizable sections for classes. Students can take pen ink notes or type notes and import them into their OneNote binder. Pictures, audio and video can be added to the binder as well.

A similar program for iPad users is Notability ($4.99 on iTunes).

The app is especially beneficial for those students who might be going off to college.

“It’s a note-taking app that allows the note-taker to sketch ideas, record a lecture, import worksheets and books or make a list. Then, any of the text can be read aloud,” Garza says.

Google Docs, a free web-based office suite, is one type of technology that is helping many special needs students, she adds. The service has a read-and-write feature that will dictate everything uploaded into Google Docs.

Kids and Parents Gain Free Time

Using technology and apps to assist in the learning process is helpful not only to students, but to parents as well.

“The biggest thing I’ve seen over the years is that technology frees up the parents and the kids,” says Garza, who has been with Lawrence School for 14 years. “A lot of our kids come to our school in grades seventh through ninth  and they’ve struggled in other schools. Their parents had to support them the entire time. They were reading and scribing for their kids on a daily basis. It’s funny, the first year they’re here, the parents say, ‘I don’t know what to do with my time. I don’t have to read to him anymore because of Read&Write GOLD, and I don’t have to type stuff for them because of Google Docs. It’s a huge step back from the daily grind because of the tools available to the kids.

“The kids, they’re happy because they don’t have to ask their parents constantly for help,” she adds. “It’s a huge boost to self-esteem and self-pride to say, ‘Hey, I’m getting As and Bs. I guess I am smart.’ They were always smart.”

Using assistive technology is also becoming less stigmatic since it’s the norm for those who don’t have special needs.

Many people use speech-to-text assist for sending text messages and rely on their phone’s GPS to get them from point A to point B.

“Some technology tools are becoming more and more mainstream,” Garza says. “It’s moving from assistive technology to just technology. These aren’t special tools, just tools that help everyday people.”

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