Assistive technology is one of the core strategies to help with learning and thinking differences in the classroom. Some adaptive tools are low-tech and some are pretty fancy. Here are some common examples.
1. Audio players and recorders
Kids may find it helpful to listen to the words while reading them on the page. Smartphones and tablet computers come with text-to-speech software that can read aloud anything on the screen. And many e-books have audio files. If a student has trouble with writing or taking notes, an audio recorder can capture what the teacher says in class. Then the student can listen to it again at home. Devices like laptops, tablets, and smartpens also have a recording feature.
Wristwatches, hourglass timers, and apps can help kids who have trouble with pacing. If kids have a hard time transitioning from task to task, timers can help them mentally prepare to make the switch. Timers can be used as visual aids to show how much time is left to complete an activity.
3. Reading guides
Reading guides are helpful tools for kids who have trouble with visual tracking or who need help staying focused on the page. These plastic strips highlight one line of text while blocking out surrounding words that might be distracting. The strip is also easy to move down the page as kids read. There are even free Google Chrome extensions with this same accessibility feature for reading on screen.
4. Seat cushions
Kids who have trouble with sensory processing or attention may find inflatable seat cushions helpful. These cushions give kids enough movement and stimulation to help maximize their focus without having to get up and walk around. A standing desk, slanted cushion, or balance ball chair are other helpful options.
5. FM listening systems
Frequency modulation (FM) systems can reduce background noise in the classroom and amplify what the teacher says. This can help with auditory processing as well as with focus. The teacher wears a microphone that broadcasts either to speakers around the room or to a personal receiver worn by the student. FM systems are also used to help kids with hearing impairment, autism spectrum disorder, and language processing challenges.
If a child is having trouble with math, a calculator may help. There are even large-display calculators and talking calculators. A talking calculator has built-in speech output to read the numbers, symbols, and operation keys aloud. This can help kids confirm that they pressed the correct keys.
7. Writing supports
If a child has trouble with writing, try using plastic pencil grips, a slant board, or a computer. Basic word processing programs come with features that can help with spelling and grammar issues. For kids whose thoughts race ahead of their ability to write them down, different kinds of software can help. With word prediction software, kids type the first few letters and then the software gives word choices that begin with that letter. Speech recognition software allows kids to speak and have the text appear on the screen. These kinds of software are built-in features on many smartphones and tablet computers.
8. Graphic organizers
Graphic organizers can be low-tech. There are many different designs you can print out that can help kids organize thoughts for a writing assignment. There are also more sophisticated tools, like organizing programs that can help kids map out their thoughts.
9. Enlarged paper/workspace
If a child has trouble with writing or organizing their ideas, writing their answer in smaller spaces may be tricky. Worksheets with larger paper or more space between questions is a low-tech way to help kids show their thinking. It’s also a way to help kids get as much credit for their work as possible.
High-tech or low-tech, there are plenty of assistive technology tools to help kids. Learn more about finding the right assistive technology in school.
About the author
About the author
Amanda Morin is the author of “The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education” and the former director of thought leadership at Understood. As an expert and writer, she helped build Understood from its earliest days.
Ginny Osewalt is a dually certified elementary and special education teacher with more than 15 years of experience in general education, inclusion, resource room, and self-contained settings.