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  1. #1
    Gena's Avatar
    Gena is offline Emerald level (3000+ posts)
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    Default Technology for handwriting difficulty: Alphasmart Neo/Dana, other?

    I know there are several parents here who have kids with dysgraphia or other handwriting difficulties. DS has dyspraxia (motor planning disorder), which affects his gross, fine, and oral motor skills. Handwriting - both printing and cursive - is very difficult to him. It's painstakingly slow, and his writing is very difficult to read. It looks like the writing of a much younger child. He's 9 and just started 4th grade. When he writes paragraphs for homework, I have him type it on his iPad with a bluetooth keyboard. When he has worksheets, it takes forever for him to complete them and make them legible. At school he handwrites, but I know it takes a long time and he has to concentrate on letter formation instead of composition. I'm wondering if it's time to request that he type his work at school. I've heard about the Alphasmart Neo and Dana, are those still used by a lot of schools? Or are they considered "old technology" is this modern age of tablets?

    If your child uses technology to help with handwriting problems, please share your experiences. Especially what device your child uses, how you and the school decided to start using it, and what age/grade you started. How has it helped your child? Do you feel that using a device is somehow "giving up" on your child learning good handwriting?

    Thanks.
    Gena

    DS, age 11 and always amazing

    “Autistics are the ultimate square pegs, and the problem with pounding a square peg into a round hole is not that the hammering is hard work. It's that you're destroying the peg." - Paul Collins, Not Even Wrong

  2. #2
    inmypjs is offline Sapphire level (2000+ posts)
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    I'm not totally sure where to start but I will certainly try to share my thoughts! Handwriting is our biggest problem. My son has dysgraphia and some other gross and fine motor issues. We are homeschooling, primarily because our school district made it very difficult for him to get assistance with this output problem. That is really how I view his dysgraphia - it is a problem of output. He cannot form letters automatically (or numbers) and therefore handwriting is not a tool for other learning. I wanted him to have a scribe for certain subjects, which would take the form of some sort of aid, but I was repeatedly told he didn't qualify. I probably could have pushed back more, but I have learned a lot since then.

    Here are some of the technologies we have tried so far:

    Dragon Dictation software for PC - I bought this and we used it briefly, but at the time we purchased it my son was not reading well enough to do the training for it. Basically you have to train it to recognize and get used to your voice. I've been told that once this is done, it works pretty well. I have also heard that this program works much better with adult voices than for children's voices. I should probably get it out and try again now that his reading is on track.

    Dragon Dictation for Ipad - This is a free app I believe. My son was given this to use at school. You just talk into the Ipad mic and it types what you say. I thought it had quite a few errors. If this (or any dictation software) is used I think it is important for the child to know how to edit their work. My son did not receive a lot of support with this.

    AlphaSmart Neo2 - We have this now and I really like it. I suppose it could be seen as outdated, in that it is just a word processor and not much else. But it is super light, very portable, and runs forever on AA batteries. We've had ours since Christmas and I have never changed the batteries! For kids and the school market, I think it is appealing because it does have a singular purpose - writing. They can't mess around with other apps or the internet. I do think some school districts still have them. It may depend on how much your school is into the Ipad in the classroom. Our school has a lot of Ipads, but would never give one just for one child to use exclusively.

    For us the AlphaSmart be worthless without the CoWriter add-on. CoWriter is basically a word prediction program that is similar to what you might find on a sophisticated cell phone when you text. When you type a letter, the screen generates 6 word possibilities for the child to choose from, numbered 1-6. The child has to hit the number key of the corresponding word and it will be entered into their document. CoWriter does a really good job of anticipating words (better than your cell phone). It also remembers frequently typed words. For example my son likes to write about our pets, who do not have common names, and they come up readily when he types the first letter. Most of the time he doesn't need to type more than 1 or 2 letters. I also feel this program has helped with his spelling some, just from seeing the correct spellings of words a lot. I have considered getting the text to speech add on for our AlphaSmart (it will read back what your child typed) but have not done it yet.

    I could not get our district to provide an AlphaSmart for my son. I asked for it, they did bring one in and told me he was not ready for it and it was too hard for him. He was in 2nd grade at that time. My son indicated he wasn't given much time to try it. I spoke to a friend working in a nearby public district and she stated kids use them quite often in her district as an accommodation. Again, I could have fought more on this - it just got tiring. My son is one of those "techie" kids who loves anything technology related and is very good with computers, so I had a hard time buying that it was really to hard for him.

    One of the reasons I like Cowriter so much is that it takes the stress of my son to learn to type. He does need to learn keyboarding, but we have tried several methods and programs and it's just hard at this age. He can do it a little but it's not fluent. I have read that kids with gross and fine motor skills often take awhile to acquire good keyboarding skills. So right now for us, AlphaSmart with Cowriter combined with me as a scribe seem to be the best way for him to get out his thoughts.

    I also tried to get keyboarding instruction for my son at school and this was also not very successful. They agreed to it, and put it into his IEP, but it just wasn't happening. The computer lab teacher would be out, there was an assembly, he would go down to find her and she might have run out for a minute so he'd go back to his classroom, etc etc. It was supposed to occur twice/week and we were lucky if it occurred twice a month. Clearly I could have pushed back about this as well.

    I hope this helps some! I do think it would be totally reasonable for you to ask for his any of these things at school. If I could do it again, and if we were planning to keep him in school, I would be much firmer and not give up. I think we kind of knew that we were going to homeschool so that factored in to not pushing back.

    Another bit of technology I've found helpful is the Type on PDF app for Ipad. We don't do a lot of worksheets, but if I do have something I want him to complete, I can take a picture of it and then he can type on it like a pdf document. I hope to use this more in the future as he becomes more independent in his work.

    I personally don't feel that scribing for my son or allowing him to use AlphaSmart is giving up - but I do know others who feel that way. At least at my school, no one knew anything about dysgraphia. They just think of it as poor handwriting, which basically means lack of effort. They do not view it as a brain-based, neurological challenge. Our school psychologist just wanted my son to do repeated HTW programs, as if somehow continual repetitive practice of letters alone was the answer. It wasn't, and it still isn't. If I thought repetitive practice would permanently improve my son's handwriting to the point that it became automatic, I would have him do that. The school psych and other friends and family who have heard me talk about dysgraphia have responded with remarks such as "But he has to learn to write! What are you going to do?" Well, we keep working on it. We do practice handwriting. But we don't ever use it as a way for him to show what he knows. We keep handwriting practice very separate from writing composition. And we work on typing/AlphaSmart skills just as much.

    Hope this helps! And sorry it got so long!!!
    Last edited by inmypjs; 08-29-2013 at 02:42 AM.

  3. #3
    Gena's Avatar
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    Thank you for your detailed reply! I appreciate it very much.

    Dictation programs won't work for us because DS does not speak clearly enough. He gets frustrated that Siri can't understand him.

    He does have a scribe as part of his accommodations for standardized testing. Sometimes his aides scribe for him in the classroom, but they are trying to get him to work more independently.

    The Neo2 & Cowriter sounds very interesting and I'm going to have to look into that some more. I do like the fact that it has only one function, and so has less distractions than a tablet. I also like that it seems very rugged and durable. DS does well typing on the iPad, but even with an Otterbox case I would worry about it going back and forth to school in his backpack. Plus I would not want him to access to all his games and other apps while he is supposed to be working. How is the screen on the Neo? I'm concerned about DS's visual issues and if the display has enough contrast, is easy to read, is large enough, etc for his visual needs.

    We do have to work on DS's keyboarding skills, although I know it will be slow going.

    Thanks for the tip about converting worksheets to pdf and typing them on the iPad. I have several pdf annotation apps I use for work, so that would be great for DS too. I don't know why I didn't think of that!
    Gena

    DS, age 11 and always amazing

    “Autistics are the ultimate square pegs, and the problem with pounding a square peg into a round hole is not that the hammering is hard work. It's that you're destroying the peg." - Paul Collins, Not Even Wrong

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    o_mom is offline Red Diamond level (10,000+ posts)
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    I'm wondering if an iPad just for school would be an option for him. If it was set up with ONLY school apps to eliminate distractions and the various restrictions on. Keeping it at school would help with the concerns about transporting it. An older model iPad even may be found as cheap as the other options and would have more flexibility in the display, etc. It could also be used for the PDFs that way.
    Mama to three boys ('03, '05, '07)

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    inmypjs is offline Sapphire level (2000+ posts)
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    The AlphaSmart screen is small, but my DS has visual processing issues and so far it's been fine for us. The type is easy enough to read. The screen can show maybe 5 lines at a time. Would think your school would be able to get one for you to try?

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    Gena's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by o_mom View Post
    I'm wondering if an iPad just for school would be an option for him. If it was set up with ONLY school apps to eliminate distractions and the various restrictions on. Keeping it at school would help with the concerns about transporting it. An older model iPad even may be found as cheap as the other options and would have more flexibility in the display, etc. It could also be used for the PDFs that way.
    Quote Originally Posted by inmypjs View Post
    The AlphaSmart screen is small, but my DS has visual processing issues and so far it's been fine for us. The type is easy enough to read. The screen can show maybe 5 lines at a time. Would think your school would be able to get one for you to try?
    You've both given me a lot to think about. I'll have to talk with DS's teacher and get her opinion. I really like what I've heard about the Alphasmart Neo, but I'm concerned about whether it will work with DS's visual impairment. The iPad does give more flexiblity with display, and I know at least one other student in his class uses one at school (as a communication device, not a typing tool). I hadn't thought about buying one just for school so I'll have to look into that too.
    Gena

    DS, age 11 and always amazing

    “Autistics are the ultimate square pegs, and the problem with pounding a square peg into a round hole is not that the hammering is hard work. It's that you're destroying the peg." - Paul Collins, Not Even Wrong

  7. #7
    inmypjs is offline Sapphire level (2000+ posts)
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    Let us know what you find out. I would be concerned about using the Ipad for typing anything very long, unless it was connected to a keyboard or it had a really good word prediction program. When he was in school, my DS did use to use the Ipad for spelling tests, and then he'd email it to the teacher. (He actually figured that out on his own, she was shocked to get his email!) For shorter typing the Ipad could be fine, or math worksheets too. At home, I often scribe the writing assignment for DS and then he will use the Alphasmart to type it up.

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    Gena's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by inmypjs View Post
    Let us know what you find out. I would be concerned about using the Ipad for typing anything very long, unless it was connected to a keyboard or it had a really good word prediction program. When he was in school, my DS did use to use the Ipad for spelling tests, and then he'd email it to the teacher. (He actually figured that out on his own, she was shocked to get his email!) For shorter typing the Ipad could be fine, or math worksheets too. At home, I often scribe the writing assignment for DS and then he will use the Alphasmart to type it up.
    DS uses a bluetooth keyboard with the iPad at home, so that's not a problem. I don't really know how important word prediction is for him though. Spelling is his savant skill, so that's not an issue. (During his re-evals at the end of 2nd grade his achievement tests put him at the 14th grade level for spelling and that was the ceiling of the test. He hasn't had spelling as a school subject since then. He's been correcting my spelling since he was 5.) Other than spelling, what does word prediction help with? Is it to increase typing speed or does it help with composition?

    This is more complicated than I originally thought.
    Gena

    DS, age 11 and always amazing

    “Autistics are the ultimate square pegs, and the problem with pounding a square peg into a round hole is not that the hammering is hard work. It's that you're destroying the peg." - Paul Collins, Not Even Wrong

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    inmypjs is offline Sapphire level (2000+ posts)
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    If he's a good speller and/or typist, than you may not need word prediction. My DS's spelling is really bad, but he can recognize correctly spelled words. His fine motor skills are also not the best so typing instruction is really slow. That's why word prediction has been so critical for us. Honestly it sounds like your DS just needs to type, so maybe it's not as complicated as you think...maybe I have just made it seem that way because output is such a huge problem for us. If he uses the bluetooth keyboard/Ipad at home and it works, can he just do that at school?

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