assistive technologies Archives - Lexercise

Dyslexia Therapy: Evidence and Emotion

blue checkAbout a year ago, Dr. William O. Young wrote two guest posts for Lexercise on how not to treat dyslexia — Part I and Part II. These articles generated considerable reactions and continue to spark inquiries even after all this time. This interest has led me to today’s post, which looks not at specific treatments, but more generally at the challenge of making good decisions.

A parent or teacher notices that a child is struggling to read, write or spell. But children don’t all learn at exactly the same rate as their peers or siblings, so the difference is, at first, accepted as normal. After a while, as the child’s difficulties continue or become more acute, parents begin to acknowledge that there may be a problem. By this time, considerable time has been lost, the child is unhappier and the parents are beginning to feel desperate. They want answers, but they also realize that if the school or the pediatrician really understood the problem, they would be doing something about it.

The parents start to realize that help is not likely to come from the school. They talk with other parents, consult with “experts,” sift through online information, and even look in the yellow pages. Maybe, along the way, they get lucky and someone advises them to get a language processing evaluation for their child so they have an actual diagnosis to work with.

But parents are still faced with the problem, every step of the way, of knowing what questions to ask and how to judge the answers. Even if, intellectually, they want treatment for their child that is validated by scientific evidence, emotionally they want to believe the messages of hope offered by practitioners who promise miracles.

For best results, a skeptical consumer mindset is essential. Here is a checklist of things you should look for in language processing therapy:

  1. Does the therapy address speech sound (phonemic) awareness and memory?
  2. Does the therapy address reading accuracy and speed and oral reading expression?
  3. Does the therapy address spelling patterns based on word structure (phonics plus word analysis)?
  4. Does the therapy address transcription (handwriting and/or keyboarding)?
  5. Does the therapy address written language (i.e., narratives and expository essays)?
  6. Does the therapy address assistive technologies and legally required accommodations (e.g., text-to-speech and speech-to-text technologies)?
  7. Does the provider have a professional degree in clinical science (psychology, speech-language pathology, special education)?
  8. Is the evaluator’s training and experience consistent with the Knowledge and Practice Standards of the International Dyslexia Association?
  9. Will there be regular, formal progress monitoring and written progress reports?
  10. Will the provider take into account the priorities of parents and children when planning therapy?
  11. How long will treatment be likely to last, and how much will it cost?

At the 2012 convention of The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), Dr. Gregory L. Lof* presented a poster to help clinicians in communication sciences and disorders (CSD) distinguish between science and pseudoscience. Dr. Lof has generously allowed us to offer this link to a PDF of his poster, Science vs. Pseudoscience in CSD: A Checklist for Skeptical Thinking. Perhaps it will help you to evaluate claims as you seek care for your dyslexic child.

If your child is struggling to read, write or spell, the critical first step in effective treatment is a professional evaluation. Take a look at the Lexercise Online Dyslexia Testing and Treatment pages or contact us at or 1-919-747-4557.

*Gregory L. Lof, PhD, CCC-SLP, ASHA Fellow, Professor and Chair, Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, MGH Institute of Health Professions, Boston
. . . . .
Lof, G.L. (Nov., 2012). Science vs. pseudoscience in CSD: A checklist for skeptical thinking. Poster presented at the National Convention of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, Atlanta, GA.

FAQ Friday: Can struggling readers benefit from technology?

handwriting comparison

Can struggling readers benefit from technology? The answer is a resounding YES! However, from there, we are left with many further questions: What is assistive technology? Which technology works the best for struggling readers, writers, and spellers? At what point do we introduce technology to help a child overcome reading deficits? How do we balance technology with “regular” instruction?

Connecting Technology with A Struggling Reader

In today’s post, which is co-written with assistive technology consultant Beth Sinteff, we’ll focus on the third and fourth questions — the “when” and “how” of assistive technology. For more information on the first two questions, see our earlier posts here and here, and watch these Live Broadcasts by Mary K. Alexander and Miki Feldman-Simon.


When and How to Use Assistive Technology

Sandie: With regard to the third and fourth questions, I don’t think there is a single or simple answer. There is very little current research to support a specific approach to the use of assistive technology, such as keyboarding, in therapy for dyslexia, dysgraphia, or other language-processing disorders. In practice, it is a matter of carefully assessing the child’s needs and support infrastructure, where the blocks are, and what can be done to deal with them, and then exercising clinical judgment.

Beth: I have not found a good guideline that says specifically when to introduce these tools. I generally let families know that I believe that technology should be introduced very early to support learning — much earlier than we currently do for students who are working grade levels below their age. I do not introduce these tools to overcome reading or writing problems, but as a support for making reading or writing more enjoyable and, hopefully, easier.

Sandie: Here’s an example of what I mean by clinical judgment. You may remember Emerson, our homeschooled 9-year-old “word wizard.” Emerson has just re-started treatment. While his spelling has improved, he has a lot of transcription issues with handwriting (dysgraphia) and also really needs some structure for proofreading. So I decided that Emerson needed to type his academic writing projects. That way, the editing would not be so laborious and he could access Ginger Software for spelling and grammar checking. (Typing and Ginger Software are just two of many assistive technologies.)

But Emerson is only 9 and keyboarding is not generally taught to 9 year olds. So, in deciding whether this was an appropriate approach, I considered that Emerson is very bright, has an incredible “need for speed” and has a foundation of six months of structured literacy treatment. It seemed to me that assistive technology could make a huge difference in his academic performance.

I want to emphasize that we are not discounting the importance of handwriting. We are continuing to work on very specific and directed handwriting practice with Emerson. We’ll talk more about handwriting in another post.

Beth: I believe firmly that keyboarding could be taught to younger children. Some schools now have keyboarding classes in Kindergarten. If a child knows about letters, and sounds and that these combine to make words, there is no reason that child cannot begin to learn keyboarding skills. I have successfully introduced keyboarding to children as young as 3 1/2 years of age who could not yet speak but knew about letters and sounds.

Sandie: I’d have to add that Emerson is not typical in any way. He is very bright and has a very organized and attentive mom.

Beth: Oh yes, parent support is imperative. I work with a number of parents who know it may be a bit harder to use technology initially but are able to see the future in its use and the reduced dependence on others (parents, aides, etc.). Those parents are generally very organized or they take instruction very well from the therapist. I’ve even worked with some parents who soar and get way ahead of me (yeah!) and have helped their children achieve even more.

I consider the technology an independent tool. If a parent or other adult is doing the writing, reading, or typing for a child, then it takes away the child’s ability to do this independently. If independence is something the parent wants to nurture, then introducing technology earlier is better.

Sandie: Beth makes a good point about taking the long view. We may think that because children are so adept at technology they “get it” or “know it” from birth. In fact, just like reading itself, technology has to be taught to the child in an organized, systematic way.

When we evaluate an individual’s progress, we use a statistic called Correct Writing Sequences (CWS), which is a way of monitoring writing progress that goes beyond spelling and also includes grammar and writing conventions such as punctuation and capitalization. In his handwritten examples (shown above), Emerson went from 0 CWS to 33 CWS after 20 online Orton-Gillingham treatment sessions. In his typed exercises, Emerson has advanced from 54 CWS in December 2011 to 142 CWS in September 2012. (The 4th grade expectation is 27-38 CWS, so he has more than quadrupled that!) Emerson’s mom, Julie Barney, reports that his typed draft of one week’s writing assignment took about the same length of time Emerson had spent on each of his handwriting samples. You can see that his progress is very significant, but it doesn’t happen overnight — or without a lot of focused practice and parental support!

Beth: That’s right. The use of any technology requires good instruction (reading or writing), training on the technology to support the process (literally the key presses needed), and training on how to use the technology to be a better reader or writer. The technology itself does not teach reading or writing. It requires all of the above to be useful. When I introduce technology, I am not shifting emphasis away from instruction. I use the technology to support learning to read and write and incorporate specific instructional goals to go with the technical skills I am teaching. If we can use technology to support the academic achievement of a child who is bright enough but is working two grade levels below his or her age — and if we have the support from parents and teachers — there is an opportunity to make a great change in that child’s life.

Sandie: Absolutely. The clinician has to decide for each individual, given the child’s life circumstances, school situation and language processing skills: what role might assistive technology play, and how and when.

Beth: This is an individual decision. But if you have a plan for how to introduce technology that is systematic and you know the features of specific technologies, assistive technology can make great changes in the lives of students. Plus, very importantly, many students want to use technology. Students who use technology are often more accepted by their peers because they can keep up better. And, teachers will often raise their expectations of students once they see technical abilities increase and support learning.

Sandie: Thank you, Beth! And thanks again to Emerson and his mom, Julie!

If your child has symptoms of dyslexia, such as difficulty reading, writing, or spelling, Lexercise can help. Take a look at our Online Dyslexia Testing and Treatment page or contact me directly at or 1-919-747-4557.

Beth Sinteff is an assistive technology (AT) consultant for Lexercise. She is a certified speech-language pathologist (CCC-SLP) and holds an M.S. from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. Beth provides speech-language therapy services in a school for students with autism and social-emotional challenges as well as to private clients through her consultancy.

Broadcast 32: Ginger Assistive Technology for Struggling Writers

ginger software logoMiki (Michal) Feldman-Simon, Vice President, U.S. Operations, Ginger Software Inc., spoke with us about how struggling writers can use GingerSoftware.

Miki has varied experience in education, entrepreneurship, and organization management and has lectured on these topics worldwide. Miki has worked with children as young as kindergarten to adults in various educational programs in Israel, Australia, and the US. She has been managing the educational operations of Ginger Software since the start of the company in 2008.  Miki has a B.A. in Psychology and Educational Counseling and an M.Sc. in Organizational Behavior (graduated Magna Cum Laude) from Tel Aviv University. Miki’s passion is education and innovative educational programs.


Watch the video below to learn more or click here to download the presentation for this Live Broadcast in pdf format.


Broadcast 31: The Role of Assistive Technology in Dyslexia Treatment

picture of Mary K Alexander Mary K. Alexander of Learning Ally (formerly Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic) shared how assistive technology can help students with Dyslexia and other learning disabilities succeed in education.

Mary K. Alexander is the National Program Director for Learning Ally.  Having worked with the organization for the past eight years, she has seen the national non-profit evolve and grow.  She has a passion for assistive technology, accessible instructional materials, and helping schools and states serve their students with print disabilities in the most effective manner.  Her interest is driven by her desire to make sure her youngest son, who is blind, has the best chance at a great education. Learning Ally has been a big part of his success. Mary and her husband live in North Texas with their three children.


Watch the video below to hear from Mary or click here to download the presentation for this Live Broadcast in pdf format.