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Thomas Armstrong

Consultant

Cloverdale, CA

Interests: Brain & Learning,...

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7 Great Strength-Based Universal Design for Learning Apps for Students with Special Needs

 

The rapid pace of new educational technologies has made it so that students with special needs can accomplish many things in the classroom that were difficult or even impossible for them only a few years ago. The following list contains some of the best apps I’ve seen for kids with neurodiversities in communication, reading, sociability, attention, and behavior.

  1. Dragon Naturally Speaking - A speech-to-text application that enables students who have problems putting their ideas down via pen and pencil or keyboard, to nevertheless develop their writing abilities. Students speak into the microphone of the computer and this software then translates the spoken word into printed text. This app is great for students who have strong oral language abilities but problems with written expression.
  2. Proloquo2Go - An alternative and augmentative communication app that allows students who have difficulty speaking or cannot speak at all, to nevertheless communicate with others. Used with a tablet (e.g. iPad etc.), students press individual buttons on the screen that trigger a synthesized speaker to say a particular word, phrase, or sentence. So, for example, one button may say ”I’m hungry!” (and include a visual symbol representing hunger). When the student is hungry, she can push that button and have that need directly expressed. Buttons can be individually customized to specific needs, commands, or wishes. For autistic students with severe communication difficulties or intellectual disabled students with articulation problems, who nevertheless may be interested in and efficient users of tablets, this application can make a world of difference in connecting to the people around them.
  3. iStudiez – A great application for high school students who have trouble with organization, focus, and other traits of a student diagnosed with ADD/ADHD. Among other things it helps students schedule their school day, get reminders on assignments and homework, keep track of grades and test scores, and manage course work requirements and related details. For the student who loves computers but can’t remember homework assignments, this is a good match!
  4. Kurzweil 3000 – A speech to text application that can scan printed materials and translate those visual images into speech sounds. For students who have significant difficulties reading (e.g. dyslexic students), this can give them access to texts they might otherwise have problems accessing, and help them with their reading load.
  5. Stories About Me - Allows teachers to create their own social stories for their students who have difficulty with basic social skills like turn-taking, sharing , playing a game, interpreting gestures, recounting field trips, understanding directions, and other important interpersonal activities. By putting together photos, text, and voice recordings into a talking picture book, students with autism, emotional and behavioral disorders, or other neurodiversities can play back rich media stories of their own personal experiences.
  6. iCommunicate – Lets teachers design visual schedules, storyboards, communication boards, routines, flash cards, choice boards, speech cards, and other materials for kids who have learning and communication difficulties. It is customizable to specific classroom needs. Helps students prepare for transitions, anticipate routines, reinforce turn-taking, express their needs, and address other classroom management, behavior, and communication issues.
  7. Tiblo – This one is not actually an app, but a UDL manipulative tool that I just couldn’t resist adding to the list; these are individual interlocking blocks that can be assembled into two- or three-dimensional structures. What makes this manipulative tool so amazing, however, is that each individual block can be programmed to record sounds (e.g. phonemes, words, sentences etc.), as well as hold visuals (e.g. pictures, written letters, sounds etc.). So, for example, a student or teacher might take four blocks, and record the sound ”buh” for one, ”ah” for the second one, ”lll…” for the third one, and ”ball” for the fourth, thus teaching combining of phonemes (and by changing blocks around, the student can blend sounds in different ways). On top of each block, the student can place ”post-its” with the written letters and words or pictures. This is a terrific tool for kids with reading disabilities who have hands-on visual spatial strengths.

For a summary of websites that describe other applications for students with special needs, see this New York Times article.

For additional strategies, tools, and resources to help students with special needs use their strengths to become more successful in school, see my book Neurodiversity in the Classroom: Strength-Based Strategies to Help Students with Special Needs Succeed in School and Life published by ASCD. Also, for information about my other books for teachers of students with special needs, visit my website: www.institute4learning.com

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