Wednesday, February 15, 2017

18 Tips to Support Dyslexics & Other Challenged Readers

Reading and learning do not come easily for every student. Parents and teachers often look for specific strategies and resources to assist struggling readers and learners, especially for the many with dyslexia, ADHD, autism, and/or other issues that can impact reading success.

Making using of such strategies or accommodations allows for more fairness in the classroom where other, more typical readers and learners at the same grade level may be present. These are supports that can actually help "level the playing field" for many children, teens and adults who would not otherwise receive the support needed to be successful readers and learners.

In addition, such supportive accommodations should be implemented for as long as they are needed by the individuals. Here is a printable list that you might consider to help and support the challenged reader(s) or learner(s) in your family or in your classroom:

1. Request or allow course and book content to be available via audiotape, CD, or DVD.

2. Use a portable, hand-held spell checker (such as the Franklin Spelling Ace) for unknown words.

3. Use graph paper or the Reading Focus Cards for math to promote accurate placeholder work.

4. Use interactive computer reading programs that require only a limited number of tasks at a time.

5. Underline or highlight important key words in a set of directions BEFORE beginning an assignment.

6. Fold a worksheet so that only a small amount of text, information, or problems is visible at one time. Using individualized tools can help with this as well.

7. Allow for standing at a desk/table or moving to optional work areas with less distraction.

8. Allow for the experience of a variety of sensory learning techniques such as those from the use of a computer, e-tablet, mp3 player, tape recorder, projector, and/or manipulatives. The more senses you appeal to and employ in the learning process, the more success the student will experience.

9. Use word processors or computers to complete written work, especially when writing is a struggle.

10. Allow for kneeling or standing at a desk (if needed), as long as it does not cause problems or distractions for others.

11. Allow for access to a copy of prepared notes, especially after a teaching session or discussion.

12. Arrange for a second set of textbooks at home so that materials are always at hand when needed.

13. Use very low-volume music (instrumental) or environmental sounds (seashore or other nature sounds) while doing independent work.

14. Allow for student to work cooperatively at times with others as part of a "buddy" system of support.

15. Use colored paper for all printed materials including worksheets, outlines, notes, etc. Experiment with pastels as well as bright shades. One particular color may produce the best results for an individual.

16. Use colored overlays or the low-tech Reading Focus Cards for focus and reading challenges with physical book pages, worksheets and other documents. These inexpensive reading aids can diminish or eliminate the visual “stress” or discomfort some readers/learners experience with the white backgrounds of most text pages. These same tools can also be used with Kindles, Nooks, and other e-readers (Model #001-Shorter) as well as iPads and other e-tablets (Model #002-Longer), too.

17. Make use of websites such as, or other free sites for help with specific math, science or other content challenges.

18. For reading online or offline digital media, use the Reading Focus Cards desktop app with Macs and Windows PCs to provide more focus and fluency, better tracking, increased comprehension and improved retention for unfocused or overwhelmed readers.

For more information about assistive technologies for challenged readers, please visit: Tools for struggling readers of all ages! Info & support for struggling readers

Image source: Brennan Innovators, LLC at

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

5 Decoding Tips and Tools for Reluctant Readers

What IS Decoding?

The term decoding refers to the process of translating a printed word into a sound. To demonstrate, please read the following words aloud: dog, table, jump. This is an example of decoding regular words and is sometimes called word identification skill. Regular words are commonly used words, i.e., words frequently found in printed material.

To further illustrate the skill of decoding, please read the following words, aloud: blud, wight, frish. This is an example of decoding non-words (or decoding pseudo-words) and is sometimes called word attack skill. Pseudo-words are pronounceable based on phonics rules but are not real words. A highly similar task involves asking students to read words that they have never seen before—i.e., unfamiliar or new vocabulary words.

How can we tell if a student is proficient at decoding? The two most common tests of decoding skill are to ask students to:

1. Translate printed, regular words into sounds (i.e., word identification skill) and
2. Translate printed pseudo-words or printed unfamiliar words into sounds (i.e., word attack skill).

We can measure a student's decoding accuracy—by counting the number of times the student makes the correct sound—or the student's decoding speed (also called efficiency)—by counting the number of correctly decoded words per minute. As one might expect, high proficiency is indicated by a high rate of accuracy and/or speed.

However, significant problems result when a student's decoding skill level is low or poorly developed. When he cannot breakdown words into the sound of each phoneme, fluency, rate, tracking and other skills also suffer.

There are a variety of tips, strategies and tools available today to help improve a reader's decoding skill. We hope the following 5 resources will help you and the readers you serve to get started in the right way. In the process, you will also be promoting more in the way of phonemic awareness at the same time. The end result may very well be that reading reluctance could turn into reading motivation for the individuals you help.

Tips to Help with Decoding

1. Use individual colored markers to highlight each phoneme (or syllable, if that is the phonics method you employ) in a word. Try a different color for each phoneme. For optimum results, consistently use the same color for the same phoneme from one activity to another. This may best be accomplished by using a key or legend shared with the reluctant reader you are assisting.

2. If a variety of colored markers are not available, box out each phoneme or syllable with a pencil or pen to show the beginnings and endings of words, blends or other phonemes. As in the above method, this also helps break down a word or phrase into chunks or manageable units for a challenged or reluctant reader.

3. Cover parts of words and phrases that do not need decoding at the moment. So much of the reluctance of a challenged reader is the feeling of overwhelm by just too many letters, words or lines of text viewed simultaneously or in rapid succession. This covering can be achieved simply with the aid of a one's finger.

Tools to Help with Decoding

1. Use a ruler, index card or the low-tech Reading Focus Cards (Patent 7,565,759), inexpensive tools for challenged readers, to easily breakdown or decode words, phrases and lines of text on physical pages, worksheets or other documents. Both the colored reading window and/or the notch at the top of the focus cards can be used for this decoding process.

Use of the Reading Focus Cards' reading window (yellow filter option) for decoding:

Use of the Reading Focus Cards' reading notch for decoding:

2. Use the digital Reading Focus Cards desktop app (Patent 8,360,779) for Macs and Windows PCs, an innovative and fully customizable application for challenged readers to easily breakdown or decode words, phrases and lines of text on digital pages or documents---whether online or offline.

Here are just 2 decoding steps out of a possible 7 steps to break down the word happiness with this Reading Focus Cards desktop app:


What is Decoding? article by R.E. Mayer,

For more information about assistive technologies for challenged readers, please visit: Tools for struggling readers of all ages! Info & support for struggling readers

Image sources:
Fingernail photo: Mr. Barlow's Blog at
Other images: Brennan Innovators, LLC at

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Low-tech and Digital Supports for Challenged Readers and Writers

Part 3 & final article in a series about Assistive Technologies for Challenged Readers

Many of the keyword searches that bring visitors to our blog and websites revolve around the term “struggling" or "challenged" readers and writers (really?) We felt it was about time to provide a list of good tech tools for teachers, parents and others who work tirelessly with children and teens challenged with reading (dyslexia, convergence insufficiency, etc.) and/or writing (dysgraphia, dyspraxia, etc.)

To follow here, you will find a collection of supportive low-tech & digital technologies for spelling, grammar, decoding, tracking, fluency, word choice, reading level, and overall visual readability. We hope these tech resources will “fill the bill” for those who come to us looking for solutions to help the many struggling readers and writers everywhere.

Reading & Writing Support Tools for Challenged Readers & Writers

1. Clicker 7 - Custom onscreen keyboards, talking word processor, word prediction & more (Mac & PC-FREE trial)

2. Ghotit - Spelling/grammar checker software & mobile apps for dyslexia & dysgraphia
(Mac/PC/iOS/Android/Linux-FREE trial)

3. Ginger Software - Spellchecker for content (online, PC-FREE & $)

4. Grammarly - Grammar & spelling checker (FREE & $)

5. Low-tech Reading Focus Cards - Customizable reading tools for physical books, documents & other applications (From $16.95)

6. OpenDyslexic - Font designed by Abbie Gonzalez to ease visual aspects of reading for dyslexia (FREE)

7. Reading Focus Cards App - Virtual index card-like reading tool to aid visual focus, tracking, fluency, comprehension & retention---infinitely customizable (Mac, PC-$5.99)

8. Rewordify - Automatically defines, or substitutes simpler words in place on web pages (FREE)

9. Snap&Read Universal - Text-to-speech, image-to-text conversion & text leveling (simplify difficult words) for online reading (FREE trial)

10. Visual Thesaurus - Visual word map (online, Mac & PC-FREE & $)

11. WordQ - Allows readers to modify word prediction to use specific vocabulary or topics.(Various $)

12. WriteOnline - word banks, talking word processor, word prediction, mind mapping (online, Mac & PC-FREE trial)

My Assistive Technology Toolbox by Shelley Haven, ATP, RET

Software & Assistive Technology by DyslexiaHelp, University of Michigan

For more information about assistive technologies for challenged readers, please visit: Tools for struggling readers of all ages! Info & support for struggling readers

Image courtesy of:
Brennan Innovators, LLC at

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

BEST Websites for Assistive Tech: Text-to-Speech Tools and Related Resources

Part 2 in a series of articles about Assistive Technologies for Challenged Readers

Text-to-speech (TTS) is a form of speech synthesis that converts written text into a spoken voice output, or speech. Text-to-speech allows a computer, device, or application to speak by giving it a voice.

Text-to-speech was originally used to improve the accessibility of computers. This allowed visually-impaired and other challenged readers to listen to digital content that they were originally unable to read. It was also used to provide a voice for persons who had lost their own voices for a variety of reasons (injury, illness, etc.). Today, text-to-speech technology is used in medical devices, audio and announcement systems, emergency alerts, e-learning software, interactive voice response (IVR) systems and many other technological products. This same technology can be indispensable for readers with dyslexia, ADHD, autism and other issues that often impact reading success.

More recently, the demand for text-to-speech has grown rapidly. By combining text-to-speech and speech recognition capabilities, individuals are able to interact with technology as they would with another person through conversation. Because of the hands-free user interface this creates and employs, barriers are greatly eased or even eliminated for many challenged readers and learners.

Text-to-speech technology has become a significant part of the technical world and will increasingly become an even larger part of our daily lives. Through the text-to-speech tools from the websites and resource links provided below here, we hope you will discover just the right technology for your child, a struggling student or even yourself in order to enhance the reading and learning experience. In that way, an individual's quality of life will be significantly improved, too.

TextAloud MP3 for PC (FREE Trial)

GhostReader for Mac (FREE Trial)

ReadSpeaker (as used with this and all other articles in this blog-FREE Demo)

NaturalReader for Mac & PC (FREE Version Available)

NeoSpeech Text-to-Speech (FREE Demo)

VoiceOver and Speak Selected Text (included in Mac operating system)
Speak Selected Text:

Speak Selection and Speak Screen (included in iOS)
Speak Selection:
Speak Screen:

Speak command for Microsoft Word for PC (FREE to configure)

Bookshare Web Reader extension for Chrome on Mac, PC; Safari on Mac; Chromebook (Requires Bookshare Acct.)

Read2Go (iOS app for Bookshare books-$19.99)

Voice Dream Reader (iOS and Android app for Bookshare books and other text)
iOS ($14.99):
Android ($9.99):

GoRead (Android app for Bookshare books-FREE)

Darwin Reader (Android app for Bookshare books-$14.95))

iBooks for Mac, iOS - Use device's built-in text-to-speech

Acapela Text-To-Speech (FREE Demo)

Nuance: RealSpeak (FREE Trial)

Have Siri Read Articles To You on iPhone or iPad


My Assistive Technology Toolbox by Shelley Haven, ATP, RET

The Benefits of Text to Speech by ReadSpeaker

What Is Text-to-Speech: Text-to-Speech Definition by Neospeech

For more information about assistive technologies for challenged readers, please visit: Tools for struggling readers of all ages! Info & support for struggling readers

Image courtesy of:
Brennan Innovators, LLC at

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

BEST Websites for Assistive Tech: Audiobook Resources

Part 1 in a series of articles about Assistive Technologies for Challenged Readers

If you know or help a challenged reader, you also know that the RIGHT technologies can make ALL the difference in the world for an individual's level of reading success. Being aware of the BEST technology available for a specific reading issue will increase the possibility of that same individual experiencing even MORE reading success.

When printed media presents problems for some readers, there are helpful tech options available to allow such individuals to read with more comfort, focus, comprehension and retention, improving the over-all reading experience. In this article, we present text-to-speech as just one type of technology that can significantly help and support all types of struggling readers.

Text-to-speech technologies convert printed text into spoken words using synthesized voices. This type of technology is built into most computer operating systems, mobile devices, and e-book readers. In addition, there is a range of software, apps and extensions that also provide this support. This text-to-speech technology provides much support for the many readers who need it in the form of audiobooks, recordings of human narrators reading aloud.

Resources for Audiobooks---When LISTENING Is a Better Option

Kindle Fire and Immersion Reading
Kindle Fire's VoiceView features IVONA's natural language text-to-speech voice.
Immersion Reading (Video)
See the e-text highlighted while listening to narrated audiobook.

Audible app (for Mac, PC, iOS, Android, Windows Phone)

All You Can Books

Overdrive Media Console
Borrow digital audiobooks and e-books from local libraries.

Learning Ally Link (for Mac, PC, iOS)

Learning Ally Audio
iOS app for Learning Ally audiobooks.

Learning Ally Audio
Android app for Learning Ally audiobooks.


Assistive Technology Tools for Learning Differences, ADHD, and Executive Function Challenges
by Shelley Haven ATP, RET

AT Toolbox-Assistive Technology Tools for Education---Text To Speech

For more information about assistive technologies for challenged readers, please visit: Tools for struggling readers of all ages! Info & support for struggling readers

Image courtesy of:
Brennan Innovators, LLC at

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

10 Tips to Help Children with Dysgraphia

Does your child struggle to write on the appropriate lines provided? Do you know or teach a child who is challenged and/or frustrated with simply forming basic letters and words? A child or student with these issues just might be challenged with dysgraphia.

Dysgraphia is a neurological disorder characterized by writing disabilities. Specifically, the disorder causes a person's writing to be distorted or incorrect. In children, the disorder generally emerges when they are first introduced to writing. They make inappropriately sized and spaced letters, or write wrong or misspelled words, despite thorough and apporpriate instruction.

Children with the disorder may have other learning disabilities; however, they usually have no social or other academic problems. Dysgraphia in adults generally occurs after some trauma. In addition to poor handwriting, dysgraphia is characterized by wrong or odd spelling, and production of words that are not correct (i.e., using "boy" for "child"). The cause of the disorder is unknown, but in adults, it is usually associated with damage to the parietal lobe of the brain.

1. First, CHANGE the paper used for writing.
A person with dysgraphia experiences significant challenges in the writing process. These challenges involve the inability to organize information that is stored in memory AND getting words on to paper by handwriting or typing them.

These 2 challenges prevent dysgraphic persons from understanding the spacing between letters, words, and sentences. In order to help your child visualize the space and to minimize frustration, first consider replacing your child’s lined paper with graph paper or turn the lined paper sideways, with each letter getting its own block/space and leaving an empty block/space between words.

You might also try using various kinds of highlighted printing papers. There are a few online sources for such supplies. (Please see FREE downloadable templates available via the link provided below here, too.)

Also, consider changing the color of the writing paper. A particular pastel color for paper may help alleviate some of the visual stress caused by white papers. Just the "right" colored paper for your child could make a positive difference, if only in the way he approaches the writing task.

2. CHANGE the writing tool or instrument your child uses.
Dysgraphia affects fine motor control. Because of this, gripping a pencil or pen lightly isn’t natural. Encourage your child to write as if she were holding a feather, or take it a bit further and give her an actual quill and ink. Feathers are delicate and children tend to handle them much more gently than they do a solid object like a pencil. If a quill is not readily available,consider using chalk, as it will crumble when pressed too hard.

As for writing surfaces, the bigger, the better! Use an easel or a large sheet of white poster board. Another option is to use sliding glass doors on which to write (with washable markers or transparency pens) as they are huge and the glass surface naturally encourages my children to write much more softly than they would on other surfaces. An added benefit is that these large glass doors can easily and quickly be washed.

In addition, adding a soft and comfortable pencil grip or holder to the writing tool currently used can provide much support for a struggling writer. These types of pencil grips can be found online from various special needs sources.

3. TEACH your child to type and effectively use a computer keyboard.
To help eliminate much of the stress of repeated writing difficulties, allow your child to express his ideas and thoughts with a word processor or computer keyboard. Providing this option can relax and enable your child to make more progress in learning in all content areas. Another option for this purpose is a portable keyboard/word processor called AlphaSmart. Although an older type of assistive technology, the AlphaSmart keyboards can provide the needed typing tool for a challenged writer and is available online either new or used.

4. INTRODUCE your child to gross motor skill exercises.
Show your child a few gross motor skill exercises to strengthen the arm and hand. Then incorporate these exercises into your child's daily routine. Make them fun, combining them with rhymes or your child's favorite kind of music. A good resource for these types of exercises is OT Mom Learning Activities (please see "gross motor" link below here).

5. INTRODUCE fine motor control exercises.
Introduce fine motor control exercises to strengthen the fingers and wrist. Add these to your child's daily activities as well. By combining these exercises with some relaxing instrumental music selections, your child may relax a bit more and be able to concentrate on the exercises more successfully. A variety of fine motor exercises can also be accessed via many special needs or OT websites such as OT Mom Learning Activities, too (please see "fine motor" link below here).

6. CONSIDER by-passing printing & proceed directly to cursive writing.
The move to cursive, too, can significantly reduce the levels of frustration experienced by many with dysgraphia, allowing them to relax and become better able to write. This might be a temporary by-pass of printing, or it could become more permanent, depending upon the results observed with the cursive writing.

7. DEVELOP & UTILIZE narration or speaking skills whenever possible.
Dysgraphia causes some individuals to experience a block between thinking something and writing it. Narration is an excellent tool for helping your child record her thoughts. Saying letters and words aloud as they are recorded on a small tech device (mp3 player or the like) or with a text-to-speech program will also be a benefit when it is time to write down those words. A handy list will have already been created.

8. WORK TOGETHER to evaluate & change your writing goals as needed.
Discuss at least once per week about how the accommodations are working to help your child. Even if your child is young, he can provide valuable input as to what is working and what is not. He may even have additional ideas to add or request, especially after you have begun to show him just a few helpful strategies or accommodations.

9. DEMONSTRATE and USE large "air writing" techniques.
Demonstrate and use large "air writing" of letters to develop a more efficient motor memory for the sequence of steps necessary in making each letter. You might also introduce "sand writing" which involves using the finder to write out letters in a sided tray of sand. These multi-sensory approaches often yield very positive results.

10.MAKE USE of a other multi-sensory techniques.
Make use of a variety of multi-sensory techniques to further develop handwriting skills. Visit Dysgraphia Resources to access more than 200 multi-sensory activities, tools and other resources to help your child with the challenges of dysgraphia (many of the resources there are FREE, too!)

Sources & Resources:

8 Strategies to Beat Dysgraphia from Homeschool Gameschool blog

Strategies for Dealing with Dysgraphia by Regina G. Richards, LD Online

BEST Websites for Dyslexia & Dysgraphia from Help for Struggling Readers blog

Pencil Grips and Holders from Fun and Function

AlphaSmart Keyboards
Portable assistive technology for keyboarding and word processing.

Fine Motor Activities from OT Mom Learning Activities

Gross Motor Skill Activities-from OT Mom Learning Activities

Able Apps for Dysgraphia from Help for Struggling Readers blog

200+ Dysgraphia Resources---ALL in 1 Place from Brennan Innovators, LLC
More than 200 multi-sensory resources to help someone you know with dysgraphia.

For information on digital & low-tech reading tools for ADHD, dyslexia and other challenges, please visit: Tools for struggling readers of all ages! Info & support for struggling readers

Image courtesy of:
Brennan Innovators, LLC at

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The RIGHT Strategies Get the Job Done for Challenged Readers with ADHD and Others

For students to become good readers, they need to be shown how to adjust their reading behavior to deal with a variety of situations, types of input, and reading purposes. Each student must develop a set of specific strategies and match the appropriate strategies to every reading situation in order to improve skills and overall reading success.

The following 5 strategies can make all the difference for readers who lack the needed focus and attention to content that must be read. In fact, these strategies have the potential to help all individuals experience more reading success!

The RIGHT Strategies That Help Students Read More Quickly & Effectively

1. Previewing
Review titles, section headings, and photo captions to get a sense of the purpose, structure and content of a reading selection prior to actually reading that same selection.

2. Predicting
Use your prior knowledge of the subject matter and about the author to make predictions about content, vocabulary and writing style.

3. Skimming and Scanning
Do a quick survey of the text to get the main idea, identify text structure, confirm or question predictions.

4. Guess-timating with Context Clues
Use your prior knowledge of the subject and the ideas provided in the text as clues to the meanings of unknown words (instead of stopping to look them up).

5. Paraphrasing
Stop at the end of a section to check comprehension by restating the information and ideas in the text.

How Teachers Can Help Students Learn When & How to Use These Reading Strategies

1. Model the Strategies
By modeling the strategies aloud, talking through the processes of previewing, predicting, skimming and scanning, and paraphrasing. This shows students how the strategies work and how much they can know about a text before they begin to read word by word.

2. Allow Class Time to Use the Strategies
By allowing time in class for group and individual previewing and predicting activities as preparation for in-class or out-of-class reading. Allocating class time to these activities indicates their importance and value.

3. Use Cloze Exercises for Vocabulary
By using cloze (fill in the blank) exercises to review vocabulary items. This helps students learn to guess meaning from context.

4. Encourage Student Discussion of Successful Strategies
By encouraging students to talk about what strategies they think will help them approach a reading assignment, and then talking after reading about what strategies they actually used. This helps students develop flexibility in their choice of strategies.

In conclusion, when students are shown and then learn how to use the right reading strategies, they find that they can control the reading experience and gain confidence in their ability to read the content. These are the important keys to reading success both in current learning situations as well in the future.

Source: Strategies for Developing Reading Skills from NCLRC-The National Capital Language Resource Center, Washington, DC

For information on digital & low-tech reading tools for ADHD, dyslexia and other challenges, please visit: Tools for struggling readers of all ages! Info & support for struggling readers

Image courtesy of:
Brennan Innovators, LLC at