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Natalie Stapert, K-12 Master Reading Coordinator

Overcoming Dyslexia with Assistive Technology

Two students sitting in a hall on their laptops.

There has never been a better time to be living with dyslexia. That’s because the natural strengths of the dyslexic brain–creativity, problem solving, pattern recognition, seeing the bigger picture, persistence, and conscientiousness–are highly valued in today’s workplace and also in the larger society. In today’s world, people have a better understanding of and ascribe more value to the intuitive way that a dyslexic brain works. What seems like daydreaming is actually the non-linguistic, picture-thinking mind at work, which allows people with dyslexia to make sudden leaps of insight that lead to unorthodox solutions to problems both big and small. This is why people with dyslexia excel in business.

In fact, one in three American business leaders have dyslexia and some of the most successful entrepreneurs in the past 100 years–Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Steve Jobs, Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen, and Charles Schwab, to name a few–leveraged the dyslexic advantage for business success.

Technology & Dyslexia

Technology has made living with a dyslexic brain even easier. In the past, people with dyslexia had to labor through printed text with sheer determination or help from a friend, family member, or employee. Today, assistive technology is cheap, easy to use, and widely available. A person with dyslexia can read and write digital print through any number of free apps including Speech Central, Voice Dream Reader, Google Screen Reader Support, ReadWrite, or Kami. A quick search in the Play store revealed more than 100 such apps with a wide variety of voices and interfaces.

The situation is much the same if you want to write using your voice–many writing applications now feature predictive text, which will suggest the word, phrase, or even sentence you might want to say next, allowing smooth composition of standard English. Text on paper–which used to be harder– has now also been made simple with a pen-reader. It looks like a highlighter with a headphone connection in the end. Simply move the pen across the written page as if you were highlighting, and you can hear the words read aloud to you in the headphones.

Just these three forms of technology eliminate the text barrier that has historically limited people with dyslexia, and with the rate of technological change, we can expect that tech solutions for individuals with dyslexia will become even more ubiquitous.

The Roles Schools Play

Schools have a big role to play in using technology to unleash students’ potential. Like everything else, using assistive technology fluently takes practice and support. It is crucial for schools to provide students with dyslexia clear, explicit and consistent instruction, practice, reinforcement, and feedback on how to use assistive technology effectively. This is not something that students, regardless of age, should be learning independently or on their own. Although young people are much more comfortable with technology than some adults, there are many tips, tricks, and skills that teachers can show them to make reading and writing faster, more accurate, and more enjoyable. Think of assistive technology lessons as the handwriting or typing instruction of the past–by showing kids the easiest, most effective way to use the tool, helping them practice to automaticity, and empowering them to advocate for its use, we are freeing up the brain to do the bigger picture thinking work that dyslexic brains excel in.

Having access to a strong program for learning assistive technology is crucial for students with dyslexia, because, at some point, the structure of their brains will prevent them from becoming totally fluent readers and writers. Each brain is different, so students with milder forms of dyslexia may learn to read almost as quickly as their non-dyslexic peers, but decoding the text will always take intense concentration and effort, pulling brain power away from the tasks of thinking and understanding. For students with more severe cases of dyslexia, reading rate may remain slow despite having mastered the written code. Regardless of the severity of the case, all students with dyslexia deserve to have the smooth, fluent reading experience that their non-dyslexic peers.

With the help of assistive technology, and teachers who know how to use those tools and support students with them, fluent reading can now be much more accessible to all students, including those with dyslexia, to experience success in school, work, and life.

For more information on McLean School’s expert approach to supporting  students with dyslexia, view our website , and explore these blogs:
Suspect Dyslexia? Early Intervention is Key
Dyslexia in Middle School
Why Orton-Gillingham

-By Natalie Stapert, K-12 Master Reading Coordinator

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