Advertisement

HomeLearning DifficultiesLearning Disabilities & ADHDIdentifying a Learning Disability

Could technology be the key to your child's success?

For students struggling with learning disabilities, software might be the answer.

By Valle Dwight

Chelsea Eubank has such severe learning disabilities that her mother resigned herself long ago to the fact that her daughter would never be a reader. In spite of that, Chelsea, 20, is in college, has started her own business, and was recently named a national finalist for the Global Student Entrepreneur Awards

How did she do it? Her mother, Linda Eubank, credits technology. Chelsea started using a laptop in third grade and has since worked with a variety of hardware and software to help her read and write, including optical readers, word-prediction software, spell checkers, and audio books.

Such tech tools are playing a larger and larger role in the world of disabilities, helping some students remediate their learning differences and giving others a way to work around their disability to access the general curriculum.

“Technology is not a silver bullet, says Heidi Silver-Pacuilla, deputy director of the National Center for Technology Innovation. “But it can make or break a child’s ability to keep up with the class and the general curriculum.”

According to Silver-Pacuilla, technology has been particularly successful in helping students who struggle with math, reading, and writing. If a 10-year-old is stuck at a first-grade reading level, for instance, but his classmates are plowing through the Harry Potter books, he is missing out on a whole world. And not just the world of wizards. He’s missing out on new vocabulary, increased background knowledge, and the chance to develop a love of reading. If that child listens to Harry Potter on tape, suddenly he is part of that experience.

A child who struggles with basic math facts is stuck at the starting gate while his classmates go on to learn higher math concepts. But if that child uses a calculator, he can move ahead with his class.

“Technology lets kids do more interesting things,” Silver-Pacuilla says. “Don’t let a lack of fluency hold them back.”

Saved by software?

Laura Close credits a computer reading tutor for changing her son’s life. He was diagnosed with dyslexia in first grade and went through five years of intensive intervention, trying everything from listening and vision therapy to tutors to a series of reading interventions to physical therapy.

“Everything helped a little,” Close says. “But nothing helped enough.”

After those five years, her son’s self-esteem was in the toilet — he was reading at a first-grade level and wanted to quit school. Then Close, an education consultant, learned about a phonics-based software program that systematically takes students through a series of more than 60 lessons that work on decoding, fluency, and comprehension. After using the program for eight months, her son was reading at a grade 7.5 level.

“He’s a completely different person,” she says.

Close thinks the software succeeded where other therapies failed because it is repetitive and does not let her son move to the next lesson until he has mastered the current one. Working with a human teacher introduces variables that can change the experience — the child might fool the tutor into thinking he’s learned something, or the teacher might be having a bad day or make mistakes the child picks up.

A computer running a research-based program can perform constant diagnostic tests on the child as he goes through the lessons, review the material, and target areas of weakness.“Also, in school it’s hard to get the minimum 30 minutes to an hour a day, five days a week, that these kids need,” says Close.“It really has been a miracle for him. My only regret is that we didn’t find it earlier.”

Lifting spirits as well as test scores...

Valle Dwight is a reporter, writer, and mother of two school-aged boys. She has written for many magazines, including FamilyFun, Wondertime, and Working Mother.

Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

10/27/2009:
"Thanks for sharing the article. Has anyone used the software (or others) for children with developmental/cognition delay for letter recognition/reading skill development? Thanks in advance for sharing."
10/27/2009:
"We are interested in all of the comments posted for this piece. For anyone who has had an experience with this product(My Reading Coach) we at MindPlay would love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me directly. You can reach me via email at brooke@kehcomm.com or via phone 410.975.9638. Also please feel free to contact me if you would like more information about our home products that you can use with your children or even adult learners."
10/20/2009:
"What computer reading tutor did Laura Close use for her son?"
10/19/2009:
"The software Laura Close used is called 'My Reading Coach' from Mindplay. The writer posted about why she chose not to include it in the article here: http://community.greatschools.org/q-and-a/651550/Name-of-reading-software? cpage=1#comment_651903 You may have to copy and paste the link into your browser. "
10/19/2009:
" what program did Laura Close use with her son?"
10/19/2009:
"As a parent of a severely dyslexic daughter, I would love to know the name of the program used by Laura Close. My daughter is now a freshman in college, and struggling because reading is still so difficult for her. Perhaps this could finally be the answer to our problems."
10/19/2009:
"It would be really nice to know what software program Close used with her child. any chance someone could tell us that?"
10/19/2009:
"What was the reading software that your school had? Sally Shaywitz M.D. wrote a book, Overcoming Dyslexia, and was on the National Reading Panel, and she talks of reading programs that work. Sir Jim Rose, The Rose Report, UK, wrote about a programs that work. The whole curriculum in Britian and Scotland has been rewritten because of Sir Jim's work. In Australia, Professor Kevin Wheldall and Dr Ken Rowe, collaborated to achieve a review of what works. It was called, national Inquiry into the Teaching of Reading. It was all about programs that work. I'll be very interested in your reply. Everything you say about the chop and change, one step forward - two steps back, ineffective remediation programs are exactly the same here in Australia. Kindest regards, Rhonda Roe"
10/19/2009:
"What was the name of the software program??? My son is having the same problem - he's reading at a 2nd-3rd grade level and is in the 5th grade (he was 'held back' 2 years, so he really should be in 7th grade). I would love to try this!!!!"
10/19/2009:
"What is the name of the software program that Ms. Close used?"
10/19/2009:
"In the article called 'Could Technology be the Key to Your Child's Success,' do you know the name of the reading software Ms. Close used with her son? I'd love to find something like this for my daughter. Thank you. "
10/19/2009:
"I would like to know what the name of the computer reading tutor program that Laura Close used for her son and where it can be purchased. I am hoping this will help my son. "
10/19/2009:
"I enjoyed this article. I would like to know what the software was that helped with the reading level. My 7 year old could use this software. Where do we find it?"
10/19/2009:
"My daughter is still reading at approximately the 4.5 level and she's in the 8th grade. I cannot afford to buy expensive technology and the school can only do so much with the resources they have. She's getting behind in science & social studies, where there are larger words than she can understand or read! All I can do is pray for her..."
10/19/2009:
"I am dying to know what the technology program was that the author describes that advanced that worked for her child. Can you share that info? My daughter has struggled for years and we have tried many interventions as well with similar progress. But we have never tried a computer-based program."
10/19/2009:
"My son used the software (My Reading Coach) that Laura Close's son used. It made a difference in his abilty to read as well. He had so many holes in his foundation that were not taught to mastery, so the information did not make it into his long term memory. He could not fool the computer and the computer did not allow him to go on. The computer was able to identify his deficits. Unfortunately he was quite old when he used the program. Start kids early on technology. Mine son doesn't want to use it because he doesn't want to be different."
10/19/2009:
"What was the name of the Phonics based soft ware program?"
10/19/2009:
"What software did Ms Close use?"
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT