Many people with learning and thinking differences struggle with writing. The reasons vary. But no matter what the challenge is, there are probably assistive technology (AT) apps and software programs that can help.
Here are some common challenges:
- Making spelling mistakes or forgetting grammar rules
- Trouble expressing ideas in writing and organizing thoughts
- Messy or slow handwriting
Find out how AT apps and software can help with these writing troubles for both kids and adults.
Trouble with spelling, grammar, and vocabulary
People who struggle with writing may misspell words, not notice spelling mistakes, mix up letters, or forget spelling rules. Grammar rules can also be challenging. So can finding the right word. That’s especially true of topic-related words.
Features in AT software and apps that can help with spelling, grammar, and vocabulary include:
- The autocorrect and spell-check features of word processing programs can be used to fix typos, even in words that have been spelled phonetically.
- Grammar check apps can highlight possible mistakes such as easily confused words (its/it’s, to/too/two), wrong verb tense, and incorrect capitalization and punctuation.
- Dictation (speech-to-text technology) can help writers bypass spelling problems — speaking the words puts them correctly into writing.
- Word prediction suggests words based on letters and words typed so far. It’s built into some word processing programs and can also be a feature on some mobile devices. This technology can help even if there are typos in the writing or if words are spelled phonetically.
- Typing echo uses text-to-speech technology to read aloud the words as you type. (It's also called typing feedback.) Mobile devices often have this feature.
- Thesaurus and dictionary tools can help you find the right word. These are part of word processing programs but can also be downloaded as apps. There are also visual thesauri that display synonyms as a mind map.
- Writing coach software checks things like spelling and grammar but also suggests ways to improve the overall writing. For example, it can flag weak wording, redundancies, overuse of clichés, lengthy sentences, and readability issues.
Trouble with composition and organization
Some people have trouble expressing their ideas in writing. The challenges can include figuring out what to say and organizing thoughts into written expression.
Features within AT software and apps that help with composition and writing organization include:
- Voice recording software that lets you get ideas out verbally and then use your spoken words to help you express yourself in writing. This technology is built into most smartphones, devices, and computers. Or it can be downloaded as an app.
- Apps that support mind mapping and outlining, to help you organize and group your thoughts before you start to write
- Whiteboarding software and apps that support brainstorming for people who prefer to draw and sketch
- Writing templates that provide frameworks for different types of writing, from essays to résumés
Trouble with motor aspects of writing
People with learning and thinking differences may struggle to handwrite words and sentences. It may be a struggle to produce writing quickly and legibly.
Features in AT software and apps that can help with motor aspects of writing include:
- Dictation apps, which type what you say so that you don’t have to type or write by hand
- The word completion function in word processing programs that predicts what word or phrase a writer wants to type
- Text expander apps that let you set up shortcuts to produce text you use a lot, such as email addresses, work bios, URLs, or common phrases
- “Macro” tools that allow you to set up commands that automate repetitive tasks when you’re typing or editing
- Apps that teach how to touch type or improve typing skills and let you practice
- Software that allows beginner writers to build sentences by selecting and sequencing whole words from word banks
How to find features
Ready to look for an AT tool to help with writing challenges? Word processing programs have different types of writing support technology. So do devices like computers, tablets, and mobile devices. In some cases, one tool may have multiple features that help with reading and other tasks, like writing and studying.
About the author
About the author
Molly Touger is a writer and instructional designer based in Brooklyn, New York.
Shelley Haven has spent more than 30 years helping individuals with physical, sensory, and cognitive challenges unlock their potential with technology.