Malcolm Kelly has more than books in the backpack he lugs around at Mountain Middle School.
Malcolm, a 12-year-old seventh-grader, has difficulty processing language, which is reflected in reading, spelling and writing. He keeps four high-tech gadgets at his elbow to help him capture lectures and write reports.
Grace Sheehan, 19, is in the Pathways to Independence program at Durango High School where special-needs students can stay until they’re 21.
Grace, whose sensory processing is faulty for reasons that medicine can’t fully explain, hears but doesn’t speak. But an iPad loaded with an app called Speak It! gives her a voice in classroom conversations.
Malcolm and Grace are among scores of students in Durango schools who have their special needs ameliorated or solved by turning to technology.
Megan Shanley is an occupational therapist who works with children in Albuquerque schools and patients at a neuropsychology clinic. She also is a certified assistive technology practitioner who evaluates computer use for people with disabilities.
“High-tech gadgets have been around for some time, but they’ve been prohibitively expensive,” Shanley said. “But over the last three years, they’ve become cheaper and more available.”
They produce fantastic results, Shanley said.
Malcolm has at his fingertips:
A Livescribe smart pen not much larger than the standard writing instrument that has a computer inside that records the spoken word as Malcolm takes notes. Later, if he needs to hear again what the speaker said, Malcolm places the tip of the pen on a word and the computer returns to the same point in the lecture so Malcolm can hear what he missed.
WordQ is an app on his laptop that monitors what he’s writing, checks spelling and grammar and suggests vocabulary that he can use.
Dragon Speak records spoken language and types it so the user can consult a written text later.
An iPad app that photographs a text and produces voice output.
Grace uses Speak It!, a text-to-voice app.
In a group discussion last week in teacher Devon Parson’s classroom, her left index finger darted around the keypad pecking out answers to questions about hobbies. She would type a word, press a key and a reasonably human voice would say “water aerobics” or “jigsaw puzzles.”
Such high-tech gadgets have revolutionized learning for Malcolm and other special-needs students. But they’re handy for anyone who works with words.
Now, laptops, iPads and smartphones come right out of the box with built-in apps, Shanley said. The ability of apps to enlarge text for the vision-impaired, turn text to speech, turn speech to text or coach the user on grammar or vocabulary is fantastic, she said.
At The Liberty School, an entire student body of 24 youngsters who are dyslexic, gifted or both, use high tech, said director Bill O’Flanagan.
In math class, students no longer use just pencil and paper, he said. They write on an iPad with their finger.
They play games that reinforce fractions, timetables and percentages.