AT and Learning Disabilities


When not preoccupied with the mechanical aspects of writing, students with learning disabilities are free to focus on the meaning of their written communication. They are better able to express themselves in a way that more accurately reflects their intelligence. Computers, tablets and handheld devices help a student write freely with the confidence that he/she will be easily and quickly able to make changes later. Being able to turn in a neater and better-organized document builds self-esteem in a way that may be especially important for students with learning disabilities.

Word processor features are valuable tools for anyone, but can be critical to students with learning disabilities. Using spell and grammar checking can help the student stay focused on communication rather than getting bogged down in the process of trying unsuccessfully to identify and correct errors. Abbreviation expansion (macros) can be used to let the student create his/her own abbreviations for frequently used words, phrases or standard pieces of text. This saves keystrokes and the time needed to produce a document, which can be critical in keeping a student motivated to finish the task. Large print displays, alternative colors on the computer screen, and voice output can help people who have trouble interpreting visual material. Many word processing programs can provide alternative visual formats (e.g., color-coded text) to help compensate for difficulty in organizing or sequencing thoughts and ideas.


Outlining programs (included as part of many word processing programs) automatically create Roman numerals for major headings, and letters and numbers for minor headings. If the student decides to move text around, the program reorganizes the outline appropriately. This means that students are free to “dump” their ideas on the computer screen without worrying about order, levels of importance or categories, because the text can be easily moved (and automatically reorganized) at a later time. These programs may be of value to individuals who have great ideas in their heads, but have trouble getting them down on paper.

Tablets and handheld devices cost less than a computer, are durable and lightweight. Batteries are lightweight and often last longer than laptops. They can be a good alternative for students who can type well enough to use an on-screen keyboard, but for whom handwriting is not fast, neat, or functional. Some apps are typing tutorial programs or organizational programs. Other software or apps include spell checkers and word prediction, note takers, flash card makers, scientific calculators, graph software, word challenge games, and software to make spreadsheets, construct data bases, draw or paint.

With software and apps available in varying complexities to suit the specific needs of the student, tablets and handheld devices are very user-friendly, motivating, and require much less of a learning curve for an emergent reader and writer.

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