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Homeschooling Special Learners with Assistive Technology

By Kerry Jones

When we began homeschooling our oldest son, who has Tourette Syndrome, we were amazed at how well he took to it. He was an auditory learner, and all the curriculums we tried seemed designed with him in mind. What was all the fuss, we wondered, about homeschooling kids with special needs? This was a piece of cake. And then came our second son.

He was given many labels throughout his preschool years: Language Delayed, Auditory Processing Disorder, Receptive Language Disorder, Possible ADD, Possible Asperger's Syndrome, Sensory Integration Disorder. But none of the labels told us how to homeschool him, so we had to figure that out on our own. One thing we discovered right away was that the curriculum that had worked so well for our older son was completely wrong for our younger son. He was a visual learner, and a somewhat kinesthetic learner. He had incredible strengths in memory and spatial concepts.

We found that very few pre-designed homeschool curricula were designed with the "out-of-the-box" learner in mind. Those children in the growing categories of "right-brained," "ADD or ADHD," "dyslexic," "learning disabled," or even "gifted with special needs," were left behind when it came to effective curriculum.

Fortunately, some forward thinking individuals and companies in the technology field understood the learning differences of these children and created assistive software and programs that actually work with these students. Because of these tools, homeschooling families have viable options for helping their special learners at home.

For dyslexic students and other struggling writers, word prediction software such as Don Johnston's Co-Writer, are incredibly helpful. Used with any word processor, it can help predict with incredibly accuracy what a student wants to say, and helps them find exactly the word they are looking for, even if they only know how to spell it phonetically (by sound). And phonetic spell checkers come in portable versions as well, for writing away from the computer. The Children's Talking Dictionary and Spell Checker from Franklin includes a phonetic spell-checker, speaking dictionary, and handwriting guides in both print and cursive for guiding correct penmanship.

Those of you who are homeschooling visual learners already know that these kids remember what they see. And educational videos are probably already filling up your media cabinets. But unfortunately, you can't possibly purchase a video for every subject your child is studying - - or can you? Discovery Education's United Streaming, is a video-on-demand service covering what seems an endless number of academic subjects. No matter what we are studying, United Streaming seems to have a video for it. Another visual based site I can't recommend highly enough is Brainpop. Its animated videos span five subject areas and appeal to a wide age range.

Gifted, Spatial, and Right-Brained learners can all benefit from mind mapping. Mind maps, also called graphic organizers, are a visual way of organizing information and making sense of it. The difficult, sequential process of creating paragraphs, reports, and essays is made accessible to the child who sees things in pictures. And with wonderful software programs like InspirationÃ’ (for middle to upper grades) and KidspirationÃ’ (for elementary age), no writing assignment is out of reach. Students who normally have no outlet for their higher level thinking are right at home building connections with words and pictures and creating advanced reports and projects with the click of a mouse.

For parents who struggling to find an overall curriculum for their special needs learners, I hope you will check out Time4Learning (www.time4learning.com). With interactive multimedia lessons, text-to-speech capabilities, and on-board writing tools, this is one of the most engaging and accessible computer-based curriculums I've ever come across. It is also one of the most affordable. Time4Learning covers the main four subject areas (math, language arts, science, and social studies), and is incredibly comprehensive in its scope, and in its record-keeping. This curriculum may be the next best thing to having a special-ed teacher move in with you!

Assistive technology can be costly, so it is important to really understand your child's learning style and their strengths and weaknesses before you invest money in something you aren't sure will enhance their learning. Don't be afraid to take advantage of free trial periods on software and technology products. You need to be sure that your child and the product will be a good match. And when you see your child suddenly "getting" that concept that has eluded him, or writing that difficult paragraph that seemed an impossibility before, you will know that your initial purchase has been a worthwhile investment for their educational success.

About the author

Kerry Jones is a freelance writer and web maintenance engineer in North Carolina. She has two sons, and has been homeschooling since 1999. Click for more information about the Time4Learning homeschool curriculum she uses for her right-brained visual son.

Disclaimer: Internet Special Education Resources (ISER) provides this information in an effort to help parents find local special education professionals and resources. ISER does not recommend or endorse any particular special education referral source, special educational methodological bias, type of special education professional, or specific special education professional.


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