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Using ICT to Support Students with Dyslexia

Learning to read is basic for students to empower them to benefit fully from their study. Without this mastery the student often develops sensation of low self-esteem, lack of self-assurance, escorted by scanty motivation and is unable to take fully part in, or benefit from, activities of their group. Weaknesses may be seen in areas of spoken language, speed of processing, auditory and visual perception, sequencing, short-term memory, and motor skills (Long 2000). Dyslexic students often have good common capability yet many fail to get the mastery of reading.

The signs of dyslexia may affect many fields of learning and activities and may be characterized as a combination of difficulties that influence the learning process in one or more of reading, spelling or writing. It is especially connected with mastering written language, although spoken language may also be affected. The application of information and communications technology (ICT) is an important tool to rectify gaps and weaknesses for students who have difficulties with spelling and writing and can be extremely favourable to the dyslexic students.

Developing word processing skill permits the dyslexics particularly those with scanty motor skills to better present their work and frees them from the process of writing. Mastering typing and word processing skills are life skills and the struggle taken up in learning to type will be well recompensed (Beveridge, 1999). In this paper I will examine the characteristics of dyslexic children and how ICT can be used to facilitate some of their weaknesses and enable them to succeed in taking more control over their learning. I also consider what is the advantage and disadvantage to children with dyslexia of using a computer.

Dyslexia and medical research: Dyslexia is one of several distinct learning disabilities. It is a specific language-based disorder of constitutional origin characterized by difficulties in single-word decoding, usually reflecting insufficient phonological processing (Beveridge 1999). Dyslexics are liable—more than others—to mispronounce words. The following mispronunciations are typical for dyslexics: ‘arriteration’ for ‘reiteration’, ‘simpler’ for ‘similar’, ‘relieve’ for ‘believe’, and ‘up the ball’ instead of ‘up the wall’.

Unless one is specially on the look out for them, errors of this kind are not always noticed in ordinary conversation. However, they may have repercussions on spelling and in some cases may give rise to confusion. Planning and structuring of essays is often a problem, not, indeed, because the dyslexic student has too little to say—usually quite the opposite is the case—but because of a limitation of the amount of material that he can ‘hold in mind’ without writing it down. Even though he is fully capable of logical reasoning he may fail to appreciate that what has found its way to the paper does not adequately represent what he wanted to say.

Essays written by dyslexic students, even though they may be full of good ideas, sometimes give the impression of lack of planning and structure. It is now almost certain that the dyslexic’s unusual balance of skills has a physiological basis. Difficulties are related to mastering phonics (the ability to sound out words fluently), to sound blending and to analyzing sounds in words. Problems frequently occur at the word level rather than text level and interfere with the progress of accurate and fluent word reading abilities. The word identification problems lead to slower read rates and mistakes that hurt comprehension.

Researchers investigated the phonological deficits of children with dyslexia. Reid (1998) states that dyslexic children usually perform poorly on a wide range of measures of phonological awareness, oral short-term memory, and quick naming and speech appreciation tasks. Reid (1998) presents the following as the areas where dyslexic children have difficulty: 1. Speed of processing 2. Short- term memory 3. Long-term memory 4. Auditory and visual discrimination 5. Spoken language 6. Motor skills 7. Right and left 8. Organization 9. Pronunciation especially of words of three or more syllables 10. Orthography 11. Logicality

However this list does not mean that all children showing these problems have dyslexia. There are a variety of tools available for individuals with reading difficulties to use to access print. These tools are called “reading machines. ” As disability service providers become familiar with “reading machines”, some devices that were originally designed to meet the needs of a specific disability are being used with dyslexia. This helps children with low speed of processing and visual discrimination (Abbott 2002). Integral controls are available for image size, focus and a variety of both black/white and colour video monitors.

Also users can change print contrast. Peculiar skills work, such as spelling models and Tactile Image Enhancer presents a hand-drawn or printed picture from a computer and raises the lines to create a tactile image. Such programmes benefit dyslexics with short-term memory (Dyslexia Teacher 2005). Voice Recognition Software helps children with pronunciation especially of words of three or more syllables. Words are correctly spelled. The user’s flow does not interrupted to stop and worry about spelling (Dyslexia Teacher 2005). The need to type or handwrite is removed.

Some dyslexic users with poor organization skills will benefit from organising and planning their “writing” before starting to dictate so planning tools may be helpful. With help of software and hardware learners can organise their thoughts, develop their memory skills, and improve their creative writing and produce work, which reflects their ability (Dyslexia Teacher 2005). Standard word processors can offer much of the support needed to help dyslexic children who have difficulties with orthography. Spell checkers are a feature of most standard word processors.

For some, word prediction can be useful. Packages now exist for all computer systems – a trial with known words may help. With both spell checkers and predictors attention to the set up and dictionary used may help individual users (Nelson 2003). Children with dyslexia find verbal explanations confusing as they may have logical memory difficulties and motor skills. ICT can assist in this area, with such products as Numbershark (available from White Space Ltd), which has 30 games designed for learners who have poor logicality, attention span and sequencing skills (Bearne 2002).

Children with this condition often have difficulties with right and left reversing letters within words when reading or writing (b/d; brid/bird; left/felt). Starspell can help with a wide range of spelling difficulties. Includes learning activities based on the well-tried Look-Cover-Write-Check approach to spelling (Bearne 2002). Word-processors can help children write by offering help with finding and spelling words and by checking completed text. When not available as standard, speech output can be added to programs to help by reading words back to the user (Nelson 2003).

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