Alfabet Soop (October, 2020)
Amy Traynor, OTR, M.A., ATP
A column dedicated to facilitating an understanding of the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework and Assistive Technology (AT) and what each might look like for individuals with dyslexia.
Released in the October, 2020, Issue 4 of The Dyslexia Revolution,
the quarterly newsletter by The Dyslexia Initiative
Messy handwriting. Poor spelling. Difficulty generating writing topics. Simple vocabulary. Disorganized. Writing difficulties are hand-in-hand with reading difficulties for individuals with dyslexia. Given the phonological skills that are required for reading (decoding) are the same skills required for writing (encoding), it should come as no surprise that writing difficulties are hand-in-hand with reading difficulties for individuals with dyslexia. Reading difficulties also complicate the writing process as they can prevent the writer from being able to identify errors and make corrections in their own product. Skilled writing also requires the cognitive skills of working memory and executive function, which are often difficult for an individual with dyslexia.
As a seasoned occupational therapist, my support was frequently requested due to “illegible handwriting”. Writing is a complex process that only ends with the transcription piece, how the final product is produced, either by hand or electronically. Rather than simply poor motor control, this “illegible handwriting” was more frequently the visual representation of the struggles this student already endured to get to this point. Coming up with an idea, organizing his thoughts, and selecting words he thought he could spell are just a few of the common difficulties individuals with dyslexia face when writing. In this article, I will share with you tools that support these steps of the writing process allowing the writer to generate a product of which he can be proud!
A good written product starts with a good plan. Ranging from no/low tech to higher tech, there are a variety of tools that a writer might employ to support the ideation and organizing of his thoughts, generating the plan for his piece. A graphic organizer is a tool that provides visual structure helping to illustrate relationships, simplify ideas and organize thoughts. No/low tech, this could be as simple as a printed worksheet or one that the writer sketches himself. Tech based solutions might include the Google extension, MindMaster. Available free in the Chrome store, MindMaster allows the user to create a visual mind map as they brainstorm. Ideas can be organized and moved around visually with the final mind map able to be exported as an image or in text outline form to a word processor. I wrote about Snap and Read Universal (paid, https://learningtools.donjohnston.com/product/snap-read/ ) in my last piece, but there is a feature in that tool that is an incredible support during the writing process. The study tool in Snap and Read Universal has over 60 ready-to-use outlines for a variety of writing needs. These outlines provide written prompts to support content as well as visual structure for organization. When writing, the user is able to type information into the outline or ‘drag’ text from an electronic source into the outline. When the text is copied into the outline Snap and Read also provides the complete citation in either MLA, APA or Chicago reference styles. After the outline is created in Snap and Read, the outline AND references can be transferred into a Google doc or other word processor to continue the writing process. Snap and Read universal also provides the text to speech support that is helpful for revising and editing.
Transcription, the actual writing, done either by hand or electronically. The benefits word processing provides stretch well beyond relieving the effort required when writing by hand. Adding, removing, or moving text are all revisions that are easily done with a word processor and the use of built in spell and grammar checks provide immediate feedback to the writer. Beyond traditional keyboarding, speech to text, is a beneficial feature that is built-in to many word processing programs and mobile devices. For ease of use, my personal favorite is the voice type tool in Google docs. Found in the ‘Tools’ menu, this tool when selected gives the writer the opportunity to speak their content for the computer to transcribe, freeing him from the effortful tasks of handwriting or keyboarding. Using speech to text has come a long way since the early days when voice files were required to be made, but can still require some getting used to. Accuracy is improved when used in a quiet environment and optimized when the user wears a headset with microphone. Speech to text is not ideal for users with speech articulation concerns. Word prediction is another helpful writing tool. There are several word prediction softwares on the market, but my favorite is CoWriter Universal (paid, https://learningtools.donjohnston.com/product/cowriter/ ). CoWriter is an intelligent word prediction program, meaning that it actually predicts what words or phrases the writer intends to use. Even phonetic and inventive spelling styles are no match for CoWriter! Using CoWriter also gives the writer an opportunity to create “topic dictionaries'' which automatically pull topic specific vocabulary for word prediction, enhancing the writer’s word choice. One final feature word processing provides has been highlighted during this period of virtual learning-turning in or sharing work! When the product is generated using word processing, it can easily be saved in and shared from cloud-based storage, such as Google docs or Microsoft OneDrive, for easy collaboration with others, teacher feedback or simply turning it in!
Information related to the benefit of technology for students with learning disabilities can be found on a multitude of websites including but not limited to understood.org and readingrockets.org. Just as I did in the previous issue regarding reading support, I wanted to provide a reference that you can keep on hand, when you need to address the written expression needs and assistive technology with your child’s school.
Hetzroni OE, Shrieber B. Word processing as an assistive technology tool for enhancing academic outcomes of students with writing disabilities in the general classroom. J Learn Disabil. 2004;37(2):143-154. doi:10.1177/00222194040370020501
Amy Traynor, OTR, M.A., ATP: Amy is an occupational therapist, assistive technology professional, and most proud of her role as mom. She began her occupational therapy career in August 2000, committed to success and participation for ALL students in the school setting. Most of her 20 years supporting students in public schools were focused on assistive technology supports for literacy and physical access. As a parent of a child with dyslexia, she has a deep understanding and appreciation for the role technology plays for students who learn differently. Amy is also the founder of E2 Alliance, LLC, providers for educational consultation, evaluation, advocacy and training. Given her commitment as a parent advocate, the National Center for Learning Disabilities has contracted with Amy to lead their Texas Parent Advisory and Advocacy Council. Feel free to share thoughts or ask questions by emailing Amy at firstname.lastname@example.org