Handwriting difficulties are common among children with special needs. They make school difficult for children with special needs because they interfere with their ability to take notes in class, do homework and take exams. Handwriting problems also affect the substance of children’s written output.
Many of us take handwriting for granted, but the process of writing is complex. Handwriting requires students to use multiple skills simultaneously including planning, hand eye coordination, visual perception, attention and motor skills. Children with handwriting difficulties use a great deal of physical and mental energy for the writing process leaving little for the substance of their answers or essays. In addition, struggling writers take longer to produce written work.
If your child struggles with handwriting, have a professional assess her. In the meantime, see if assistive technology helps her. Assistive technology refers to devices and systems that help people with disabilities function. Here is an overview of technology to help children with writing difficulties.
1. Outlines are a low tech way to help students with writing difficulties
One of the simplest methods to help with note taking is for teachers to give students outlines of their lessons. During class, students add notes to the teachers’ outlines. This method helps students get important information written and keep their notes organised.
2. Portable word processors
Portable word processors are less costly than tablets or laptops and more durable. Children with handwriting difficulties use these devices for homework and note taking. Then, they transfer their work to a computer. The Neo by AlphaSmart, shown below, is popular in schools, but is no longer manufactured. It is still used in schools.
3. Laptops and tablets help children with special needs who have writing difficulties
Keyboarding is easier than handwriting for some children. A laptop or tablet gives students access to a range of technological tools to help with handwriting including word processing, word prediction, text to speech, voice recognition and graphic organisers. If children plan to use laptops or tablets, make sure they learn to type properly.
4. Word prediction software
Word prediction software works with children’s word processors. It suggests words for users based on what they are typing and their past use of the program. Besides helping with spelling and grammar, this software increases students’ output.
5. Voice recognition programs/Speech to text software
The accuracy of voice recognition programs improved a lot over the past few years. This software types the words a user is speaking. Dragon Naturally Speaking is one of the most popular programs in this area. There are also free programs for Windows, iOS and Android devices.
6. Graphic organisers
Graphic organisers are low tech and high tech items which help students to learn visually. They allow students with writing difficulties to plan and organise their ideas before they start writing. Teachers use them for all different subjects. Mind mapping is an example of a graphic organiser. Students use mind maps to generate ideas or create outlines for stories. An example of a low tech mind map is in the centre of the photo below.
In the high tech area, software programs helps students organise their notes, and plan essays, reports and other written work. Many programs have functions such as mind mapping that help students visually brainstorm and organise their thoughts. Inspiration Software offers different paid programs for students of all ages. Their programs are easy to use and most offer free trial periods.
7. Digital Pens
Digital or smart pens convert handwritten notes to typed text on students’ tablets or PCs. In addition, Some smartpens record audio directly and send it with students’ notes to their your PCs. This feature allows students to fill in any missing points in their notes by listening to the recorded audio.
The amount of technology and techniques available to help struggling writers is overwhelming. One of the best ways to learn about assistive technology and its uses is through webinars. The Center on Technology and Disability has a free webinar called Note Taking Technologies for Middle School, High School, College, and Beyond. Both Enable Ireland and Dyspraxia DCD Ireland include information about assistive technology on their websites.