Does your child with attention deficit disorder (ADD ADHD) need high-tech homework help? There are many gadgets, software, and other high-tech tools designed to help students with ADHD or learning disabilities compensate for their learning and executive function deficits and build on their strengths.
Given the wide range of products now available, it's easy to become overwhelmed. Focus on your child's two or three most pressing school problems, and look for easy-to-use products that address these needs. Buy them well before school starts to give him time to get up to speed. If it's slow going, or if he's getting frustrated, consider hiring a tech-savvy tutor.
Staying organized and on time
Forgetfulness. Disorganization. Chronic lateness. If these ADD hallmarks are keeping your child from learning, two products can make an enormous difference.
Personal digital assistant. A PDA - essentially a pocket-sized mini-computer - can be helpful to kids age 12 and up. Standard features include a planner for keeping track of assignments and activities, a to-do list, a note pad, and alarms to keep your child on schedule. A stylus lets you peck at an onscreen keyboard or write directly on the screen.
Most of the basic models - such as the $99 Palm Z22 - feature a color screen and enough memory to hold additional assistive technology (AT) software.
Visual timer. Lacking an inner sense of time, ADDers need external cues to keep from running late. The $25 Time Timer uses a diminishing red disc to graphically illustrate time's passing. Younger children like the $37 Time Tracker, a tower with colored lights and sound effects that signal when time is running out. Free PDA software called BigClock provides an eye-catching display of the time, a stopwatch function, and four alarms. Look for it at Download.com.
Most academic knowledge is imparted through the written word. AT tools that translate text to speech allow students to use listening skills instead.
Audiobooks. Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic maintains a library of more than 100,000 recorded textbooks covering every grade level. The books are narrated by specialists in each subject, so charts, graphs, and illustrations are accurately described.
For a modest membership fee ($100 the first year, $35 each year thereafter), a student can borrow texts for up to one year.
The audiobooks are recorded in specialized formats to comply with U.S. copyright law, so you won't be able to play them on a regular CD player. Specially equipped players, priced at $199 to $895, and special software, priced at $45 to $129, are available at the Group's Web site. These digital playback tools let you move through an audio text almost as you would a regular book, jumping ahead, going back, marking pages, and "reading" at your desired pace.
For reading material other than textbooks - fiction, non-fiction, magazines - check out the National Library Service. This free government program is available to any individual with a medically documented reading disability, as well as to people with impaired vision or physical disabilities. The NLS provides the required playback equipment at no cost and mails the recordings to you. You don't even have to pay postage when you return them.
Text-to-speech software. If the book your child needs to read isn't available on audio, you can scan it into your computer and use text-to-speech software that reads it back in a synthesized voice. To do this, you'll need a scanner (sold in electronics stores for about $75), and text-to-speech software.
ReadPlease 2003 is a free download that reads scanned pages, typed documents, and Web pages. An advanced version, ReadPlease Plus 2003 ($60), provides more human-sounding voices and additional features. Both products are for PCs only.
More sophisticated programs, such as Read & Write 8 Gold ($595) and ClaroRead Plus ($395)for PCs, or Read & Write Gold ($645) for Macs, combine a read-aloud function with a dictionary and other tools to help with both reading and writing.
Scanning pen. Perfect for library research and other reading that doesn't involve a computer, this handheld device scans text as it's dragged along the page. The pen displays the words on an easy-to-read screen, speaks them aloud, and provides definitions. Readingpen Basic Edition ($279) is designed for elementary schoolers. Readingpen II ($249) is for older students.