The first assistive technology I recommend to parents

. Maybe you’ve heard that it can be a game-changer for kids with learning and thinking differences. But with all the options and tools available today, you may not know where to start.

In my work as a technology consultant, parents often ask me: “What’s the first assistive technology I should get for my child?”

My quick answer is almost always: “Text-to-speech.”

Text-to-speech converts electronic words into spoken ones. It can also highlight them as they’re read aloud. This can help kids with learning and thinking differences interact with text.

It might surprise you that I recommend this technology for all kids with learning and thinking differences — even kids who don’t have reading issues. The reason for this has to do with the importance of literacy.

When my wife and I had our son, we began reading to him right away. For the last 10 years, our bedtime routine every night has included reading aloud from books by Dr. Seuss, Beverly Cleary, and E. B. White.

It’s almost an instinct — something deep inside tells us, as parents, that reading to him is the right thing to do. We’re also both trained educators. So we know the importance of reading to kids at an early age.

But helping your child develop a love of reading isn’t easy. Parents of children with learning and thinking differences may have an uphill climb.

Fortunately, text-to-speech can help.

For children who have trouble with reading, text-to-speech can make it easier to sound out words. It can also help kids remember words that need to be learned by sight. With this kind of reading support, it may be easier for kids to gain meaning from what they read.

Text-to-speech can help kids with attention issues, too. It highlights words so kids can follow the text with their eyes as they listen. This can help them focus on reading for longer periods of time.

For all kids, text-to-speech provides a multisensory way of learning. That’s because they’re using both sight and sound to read. By using more than one sense, kids can gain a deeper understanding of what they’re reading.

It’s very easy for your child to try out text-to-speech. And it’s a wonderful way to dip your toes into the world of assistive technology.

Keep in mind, though, that it’s important to get books at your child’s reading level. The ability to see and hear text can do wonders for kids. But text-to-speech can’t help your child identify the main idea, define hard vocabulary words, or determine the plot or theme of a book. To work on these skills, you’ll need digital text at the right reading level for your child.

That said, here are a few examples of text-to-speech tools I recommend to families to help their children get started. They are all free options:

  • NaturalReader (Windows and Mac computers, Chrome, iOS, Android)

  • Built-in text-to-speech on mobile devices (iOS, Android) and Apple computers (OS X)

  • Talk–Text to Voice (Android)

  • SpeakIt! (Chrome)

I’m happy to say that my wife and I succeeded in developing a love of reading in our son. This summer, he walked out of the library each week with a stack of new books.

With the help of text-to-speech technology, I believe your child can learn to love books, too. But his versions may live on an iPad or computer!

Interested in free digital books with text-to-speech? Check out Bookshare.


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