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Dysgraphia: Assistive Technology Recommendations for Middle School?


Marie1207 October 9, 2012

My son is a 7th grade honors student. In 5th grade he was diagnosed with severe dysgraphia. If you are familiar with this diagnosis, you are familiar with the heartache of watching a child struggle to put on paper what comes easily in a verbal conversation. (Not to mention the degree to which it interferes with sports, art assignments and everyday tasks like tying his shoes) My son had follow-up testing a couple of weeks ago only to discover that he has actually gotten worse rather than better. His handwriting is simply not legible, no matter how hard he tries. Despite the 504 accommodations put in place by the school, he consistently feels like an outsider in a world that is dependent on the written word. From Math class to standard fill-in the blank classroom worksheets and exchanging papers for grading, my son is constantly reminded that he is different. He is tenacious however and continues to do well in school despite the fact that it requires extraordinary effort on his part. My concern is that the gravity of fatigue will wear on him emotionally and academically. My husband and I have read a great deal and have gathered a lot of information about dysgraphia. At this point we are trying to focus on solutions that may prove helpful to our son. I am looking for suggestions on assistive technology and any specific therapy that may be useful. He does some keyboarding but gets frustrated by being slow and is frustrated that his fingers do not move on the keyboard the way he wants them to. He has tried Dragon Dictation (version 4.5) but is equally frustrated by the extent to which you need to train the recognition software. He is also in puberty so his voice continues to deepen and change which throws off the software. I read a conversation on this site from 2010 ("Assistive Technology for Elementary Student with Dysgraphia"). The dialogue was helpful but I suspect dated. Does anyone have any current information about assistive technology or other useful strategies for dysgraphic middle school students? I would deeply appreciate any insights that you can provide.

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TeacherParent October 9, 2012

My husband downloaded a free version of Dragon onto his Iphone - it works beautifully and needed no training. It takes my dictation and without training as readily as it takes his and I've given it to my students to use in school and it takes their dictation as well.
Is this just on an Iphone? I tried several versions of Dragon for my own dysgraphic son on our home computer and like your son, those versions did not work.
Perhaps try the free version/app for Iphones on an Iphone? Other than that, I scribed for my own dysgraphic son. I typed as he spoke, together we wrote everything that needed writing in middle school and high school. We asked his teachers to give take home exams whenever possible. My son got better at typing when he could and can type with just his thumbs on his own Iphone. He types fairly well when its just his thumbs that need to type.
There are also some pens and types of pencils that work better for dysgraphic children but you should try those on a one-to-one basis. There's something called the Ph.D pencil with a very thick barrel that worked for my son in terms of filling in the bubbles on tests and circling true/ false on tests. But I've found with my dysgraphic students that felt-tipped thick barreled writing markers can help- medium tipped vs. fine-tipped. Pens and pencils with rubber barrels or padded barrels or certain grips - there are more than a few to try. Any Staples will have several different kinds of pens or markers - anything marked 'ergonomic' is worth trying.
My own handwriting is not legible to this matter how hard I try.


rseykora October 15, 2012

Middle school can be so tough on all students. Here are some ideas/strategies and tools that might help. First see if he can get extended time for an accommodation. Also ask about access to computer/ipad. If so, typing answers to questions will be a lot easier; although math still remains difficult. I know you said he gets frustrated with keyboarding because of finger isolation. There are many word prediction software programs out there. My favorite is WordQ (you can get a free demo). Word prediction will make guess at the next word he plans to write/type based upon his past writing examples and frequency of word choices. Thus he only needs to type the first 2-3 letters before his word appears and then select it from the drop down. This will increase his work production by limiting the frustration and stress of keyboard.

I've worked with Dragon naturally speaking for years. The software has much improved. However, you still need a noise canceling microphone and quiet environment. Using it in a classroom will not be ideal for student or the class. As for his voice changing; consider making two or three different voice profiles. One for when his voice is deeper or when he is fighting cold. I think this is something you'll want to explore again, especially as he moves into high school and post secondary. The Microphone does make a big difference.

Another tool to use is a product called LIvescribe. This is a recording pen. Although students in some environments use it to record their classes, your child could use it to record his answers. This would eliminate the need to write any short answer or essay. When he records, he could give the pen back to the teacher and she could listen to his answers.

Math will continue to be the most difficult. There are some math writing software programs out there, but they are difficult to work with. Large amounts of space often help. You might need to make this request in a 504 meeting as well.

Good luck

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