For dyslexics, digital writing tools are a ‘double-edged sword’

After watching his youngest son beg to attract on a household buddy’s iPad, father Joseph Turner grabbed a screenshot of the alphabet and uploaded it to a drawing program on his Floor laptop computer. Then he handed his son a stylus and confirmed him how you can hint the letters.

Turner is an grownup with dyslexia and already sees indicators of his studying dysfunction in his two little boys. The digital tracing exercise, designed to assist his son study to put in writing, was a hit. In contrast to all of the paper exercise books mendacity in smash on the ground, this held his little boy in a sort of trance.

However regardless of this success with a easy program, Turner feels hesitant to include an excessive amount of tech into his boys’ studying surroundings at residence.

“It’s a sort of double-edged sword,” Turner says. “It’s a lovely time to be dyslexic now. There’s tons of tech accessible. Now we have YouTube, these studying packages and cartoons [kids] can delve into, however then they’ll get into one thing that’s not applicable. With dyslexia, [Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder] is all the time current—they’ll simply flip from one factor to the subsequent each few seconds.”


Turner stated he loves seeing new items of expertise popping out for dyslexics to make use of however by no means lets himself rely on it. His resolution to make use of expertise to assist his younger boys study is a difficult one: Whereas a proliferation of tech tools equivalent to voice transcription have made it simpler than ever to navigate dyslexia, getting too reliant on expertise can finally make the problem of unassisted studying and writing even more durable. It’s a dynamic that the pandemic and the transfer to on-line studying has put to the check.

A brand new age of studying and writing

Anybody who’s ever wanted to ship a fast message whereas strolling down the road is aware of the worth of the voice be aware. A fast chat together with your smartphone sends a recording of your voice, with all the correct pauses and inflections, to a buddy or member of the family with little likelihood of any misunderstanding.

Many people reap the benefits of voice typing, ordering up semicolons and exclamation factors as we navigate busy streets, however to a dyslexic individual the device is a godsend. Moreover voice transcription, there are tons of recent applied sciences that may cater on to a dyslexic’s wants, together with extensions equivalent to Grammarly, a writing app that factors out inconsistencies in verb tense or spelling errors.

It’s a lovely time to be dyslexic now. There’s tons of tech accessible.”

Joseph Turner

Nationally licensed academic diagnostician Juliana Weidemann has one she loves—a Chrome extension referred to as Learn and Write. The device lets customers select a phrase from a toolbar somewhat than sort it out, avoiding points with spelling. Then, a image dictionary may also help the person affirm she’s chosen the right phrase.

Image dictionaries, one other lifesaver for dyslexics, let younger readers work out which of two comparable phrases they need by displaying them visible illustrations of what every phrase means. As dyslexics learn, they have an inclination to skip one or two letters within the heart and guess the phrase based mostly on the primary and final letters.

“Cloud and will is a widespread one,” Wiedemann says, referencing incessantly confused phrases. “These phrases visually look comparable, however they don’t imply the identical factor in any respect.” Utilizing a image dictionary might be useful for college kids with studying disabilities as a result of it helps them match their psychological picture to what they learn on the web page.


These sorts of tools may also help dyslexic college students in the course of the college day. But many academics who deal with studying disabilities don’t need their college students to only obtain an extension that may clear up all studying and writing issues.

The issue with an excessive amount of tech

A instructor in a well-funded college can simply hand a pupil who struggles an iPad or laptop computer that may learn to them, give them their image dictionary, and transfer on. However in accordance with Amy Gulley, a dyslexia specialist and grasp teacher on the Institute of Multi Sensory Schooling, mother and father equivalent to Turner are proper to hesitate earlier than resigning themselves to hours of display time, significantly when college students are younger and of their first years of college.

Gulley stated that if she had dyslexic college students in a classroom at this time, she’d favor paper and pencil over a gadget.

“As a substitute of them simply seeing it on a keyboard, they’re really forming these letters, which helps them make the connection from the sound that we hear in spoken language,” Gulley says. “We are able to’t depend on simply expertise . . . as a result of they’re not getting something sensory—they’re not making these connections.”

Stephanie Tsapakis, a former instructor and a cofounder of the Studying Incapacity Skilled, a small group of execs working with faculties, has a dyslexia-specific paper exercise she loves—”marking up” phrases on paper. To mark up phrases, college students take a web page of textual content and a few coloured pencils to hunt particular patterns and phonemes, then assign a coloration to every. The hues assist them spot the patterns and enhance their studying talents as they go.

“This additionally teaches them to learn each syllable within the phrase, and to acknowledge the syllable patterns to determine what vowel sounds are presupposed to be made in a phrase,” Tsapakis says. “It’s one thing you need to do actually systematically and simply sort of labor via.”

Tsapakis says it’s doable to do a markup on-line or in an app, however she feels it’s simpler as a bodily, paper-and-pencil exercise. It helps add motion to a lesson and makes it extra enjoyable as youngsters seize for purples and greens.

These early struggles have worth. Sure, college students can use completely different on-line tools, however mother and father ought to see these choices as dietary supplements, not stand-ins. A lot as a multivitamin doesn’t substitute a meal however nonetheless helps.

Nevertheless, as kids transfer via elementary college, dyslexic learners typically discover it more durable to maintain up, regardless of how a lot they fight. In response to Wiedemann, finally it may assist to get them a laptop computer, pill, or different piece of tech for added help.

The transfer to on-line studying

When faculties shut down and moved on-line as a result of coronavirus pandemic, abruptly academics who relied on paper actions to show dyslexic youngsters how you can learn had been pressured to improvise.

The shift made a lot of academics rethink how they interacted with each dyslexic and neurotypical college students. Many turned to Google Slides, a primary digital slide-show presentation device accessible free of charge to varsities and academics. Slides let academics break info into small, digestible bites and encourage college students to work together with the fabric.


Gulley defined that her crew used Google Slides to create interactive spelling actions for dyslexic college students. Learners, who’ve entry to the identical Google Slide presentation as their instructor, can independently drag a picture of a letter to fill within the blanks in corresponding phrases all in actual time, like dragging a C over to finish CAT.

College students join the spelling of the phrase with the sound via interplay. The small actions of their arms and a click on on the mouse add a bodily component that helps them recall the order of the letters when they should write. On their finish, academics can see who’s catching on and who’s struggling and know who wants assist inside seconds.

However academics can’t all the time depend on this particular person entry to expertise for studying; the pandemic has revealed how disparities in web entry are leaving some kids behind of their research. This downside can proceed when youngsters do return to highschool in individual: If a college doesn’t incorporate on-line tools in on a regular basis instruction and doesn’t spend money on a good web connection or dependable units, academics received’t have entry to the identical apps and packages as soon as college students return to campus. The latest transfer to on-line instruction could change the way forward for lecture rooms, however academics already know they’ll’t rely on digital helpers for the whole lot.

Dad and mom have a position to play right here too: Seeing youngsters battle to spell and sound out phrases can depart mother and father questioning what they’ll do to assist their little ones sustain.

Weidemann needs mother and father to do not forget that they don’t want to show studying at residence—they usually don’t have to introduce expertise to facilitate that instructing. As a substitute, she advises letting the professionals deal with the nuts and bolts of literacy. As a substitute, mothers and dads may also help with textual content from topics equivalent to science or social research.

“That’s the place you’ll be able to combine the apps and the completely different tools to accommodate them,” Weidemann says. “That [way], studying isn’t getting in the best way of that pupil progressing in different areas.”

Tsapakis agrees and needs relations to achieve out to specialists versus fixing dyslexia-related issues on their very own by turning to expertise too early.

“You simply don’t know the way a lot you don’t know,” she says. “And there are very particular issues that are a right and simpler means to supply dyslexia intervention.”

Know-how has advanced as an unimaginable studying device—and an indispensable one within the pandemic. However even on this remote-first world, dyslexic learners and their mother and father ought to do not forget that counting on expertise has its prices.