Dyslexia is a difference in the way people process information that can make it harder to spell and read. It doesn’t mean that people with dyslexia are less smart than others, they just learn in a different way. Most school instruction relies heavily on reading and writing, so early on learners with dyslexia are at risk of doing worse in school than their potential suggests. This is especially true when they’re finishing primary/elementary school and moving from learning to read to reading to learn.
People with dyslexia often find success with strategy training and accommodations that make it easier to use language. This can include extra time on tests or different ways to do assignments.
To improve literacy skills, people quite often use laptops for note-taking, essay-writing, and homework. They may also use smartphone and tablet apps that exercise the cognitive abilities which underpin literacy skills success.
Since apps were first developed, they have been linked to positive outcomes in the memory — short and long-term –, phonemic awareness, decoding, sight reading and productive language use. This is partly because smartphone and tablet apps have the ability to render content in an accessible and gamified-way.
Apps are good at making learning fun and easy to track. They can use different methods to cater to short attention spans, and they can make it easy to see your progress. Another thing apps do well is combine different types of stimuli, like visual, linguistic, and auditory. This creates a multi-sensory experience which means learners benefit from different ways of learning that reinforce language in memory.
This article is discussing how multi-sensory approaches can be helpful for students with specific learning difficulties like dyslexia.Multi-sensory approaches use a combination of visual, auditory, and kinesthetic/tactile elements to engage a child’s multiple senses in learning. This can be helpful for students with dyslexia because they often have difficulty processing information from one sense, so using multiple senses can help them to better understand the material. There are a variety of dyslexia programs and methods of teaching reading, and you can read more about them in the posts linked at the end of this article.
Apps provide a convenient way to build on learning outside of the classroom, and an opportunity for students to practice and build skills gradually, at their own pace, and in the privacy of their homes.
In addition to being able to learn on a tablet, smartphone, or computer, students with dyslexia can also use text-to-speech, voice-to-text, and predictive text technology to help them keep up with their studies.
Every learner with dyslexia is unique
There is no single profile for students with dyslexia, and you may observe a wide range of characteristic traits. Note that not all of these traits are negative! Some of the strengths associated with dyslexia include creativity, out-of-the-box thinking, enhanced spatial awareness, and advanced reasoning skills.
Although it is common to have difficulty with reading and writing, the most common type of dyslexia, phonological dyslexia, makes it hard to segment the sounds that make up words. This affects decoding and spelling skills. Dyslexic learners may have trouble retaining details in short-term memory, which can make reading comprehension difficult. You may see messy handwriting and difficulty sustaining attention due to the cognitive strain associated with literacy activities.
Additionally, the vocabulary that dyslexic people can use in their writing can be limited and their syntax can be simplified when compared to their oral abilities. This is often a result of the anxiety that they experience because of their difficulties with spelling.
For others, it can be more severe, making reading and writing very difficult. Approximately 10% of people have dyslexia, which is typically something people are born with. In most cases, it is genetic and runs in families, but it can also affect people in different ways. Some students who have dyslexia can keep up with their peers with a little extra effort, while others may find reading and writing very difficult.
Although dyslexia can be mild in some cases, in around 3-4% of cases it can be so severe that it prevents the development of literacy skills. This can put students at a disadvantage in mainstream education programs, as they may be able to get by with coping strategies in early years but can struggle as workloads increase from one school year to the next.
Best Apps for Students With Dyslexia
You may want to incorporate assistive technology into my homeschooling for kids as they reach middle school age. Dyslexia doesn’t go away with time and even with treatment, most dyslexics will still need technology assistance as adults.
While not all apps are created equal, some serve a specific population better than others. For example, most standard spell checkers don’t take into account the phonetic nature of spelling errors, which are typical of dyslexics. People with dyslexia need a spell checker that checks spelling based on the types of errors that they typically make.
There are a number of apps available that can be helpful for those with dyslexia, as they can help to address some of the specific challenges that are often experienced by people with this learning disability.
Some people learn better auditorily, even after remediating their dyslexia with research-based reading methods. This category of app includes a variety of text-to-speech apps, which convert text to sound, reading aloud to the listener.
There are various apps available that can make reading a more pleasant and productive experience, such as apps that read text aloud and highlight words as they go, apps that can read PDF documents aloud, and apps that convert pictures of text to readable text through optical character recognition (OCR).
Since PDF files are images of documents, they present a problem for basic text-to-speech technology. However, the ClaroPDF app can recognize image text and read it aloud with synchronized highlighting. This app is different than most OCR apps because it preserves the formatting of the original document. Other features include text-to-speech with synchronized highlighting, annotation tools, ability to add audio and video notes, and Dropbox integration. This app costs $6.99.
With support for EPUB and PDF formats, this app is great for Android devices because it integrates with TalkBack, which provides continuous text-to-speech with synchronized highlighting. Google Play Books is also available for iOS devices, but that version doesn’t have the “Read Aloud” feature. This app includes integrated text-to-speech (“Read Aloud”) with synchronized highlighting, and annotation tools. It’s FREE and supports EPUB and PDF formats.
If you have dyslexia or trouble seeing, Learning Ally is a cheap way to get human-narrated audio books. You pay for a yearly membership, and then you can use the phone app to access and listen to books from Learning Ally’s collection. This includes VOICEtext books (human narration with the printed text), and you can also change how the text looks and how fast it’s read. Check out this post to see how to get a Learning Ally subscription for your kids. You can also find out about other sources of audio books here.
Voice Dream Reader (text-to-speech)
Voice Dream Reader is a reading app for iOS and Android that is popular among users because it is customizable and has many features. It can read text from other apps, and be synced with Bookshare, Dropbox, Google Drive, and Project Gutenberg. It also has a Web browser that can extract text from pages with a lot of other material. It costs $14.99.
Natural Reader (text-to-speech)
NaturalReader and ClaroSpeak both read text aloud. Text can be imported from other apps or placed directly into a blank document in NaturalReader. The app also features auto-scrolling for longer documents, and has its own Internet browser that extracts just the text from Web pages for easier reading. NaturalReader includes text-to-speech with synchronized highlighting, integrated Web browser, and Dropbox integration. It is $9.99 on iOS and FREE on Android.
Talk is an app that uses text-to-speech to read text aloud on Android devices. It can read websites, stories, emails, and more. It includes features like synchronized highlighting, various visual and auditory settings, and the ability to export text as audio files. The app costs $2.80.
Web Reader (text-to-speech)
Web Reader is a text-to-speech app that reads web pages, blogs, and other online content aloud. It costs $1.99.
Students with dyslexia often have difficulty with writing, or dysgraphia. Dysgraphia can be the result of motor problems, vision problems, or several different kinds of processing issues. Writing apps can take advantage of features like word prediction, dictation, contextual spelling and grammar checking, and word retrieval tools to make the writing process simpler.
/month subscription Ginger page is a word processing app that uses contextual spelling and grammar checking to find errors. It also suggest better word choices for a piece of writing.
/month If you have dyslexia, workbooks and photocopied worksheets can be difficult to use. During normal OCR (Optical Character Recognition), the formatting is often lost for fill-in-the-blank and matching exercises, which makes it difficult to use AT to insert answers. SnapType solves that problem by giving users the ability to overlay text boxes on photos of worksheets. Students can then use a keyboard to place their responses in the correct spaces. $4.99/month
One of the best tools to use for spelling assistance is word prediction. The app Co:Writer predicts the word a user is trying to write after only a few characters are typed. It bases its predictions on the context of particular sentences and on how well students sound out words they cannot spell correctly.
Spell Better is a word processor for iOS that provides spelling support by suggesting words as characters are typed. It has two unique features: if students tap and hold a selection in the word prediction bar, the app will provide the pronunciation and dictionary definition; and students can have all of the word prediction choices read out loud in the order they appear before making a selection.
This app uses word prediction to help you focus on the content of your writing. Typ-O is able to identify common spelling mistakes and suggest words.
You have a lot of options for spelling apps because English spelling is so difficult, even if you don’t have dyslexia. This also means that there are many apps that can help with spelling, but may not be dyslexia-friendly.
The authors of the Homeschooling with Dyslexia Blog have provided a great list of suggestions on how to improve spelling skills. One suggestion is to use Siri on Apple devices to have the word spelled out loud, as well as see the phonetic pronunciation and definition of the word on the screen. Another great way to improve spelling skills is to use touch-typing apps to practice a list. This is because keyboarding translates words into a series of keystrokes which can be learned by muscle memory. Students who struggle with the process of writing may always do so, but typing can become automatic. For more information on how to make your own typing drills, and creative ways to make spelling fun, check out the link below.
Other apps that can help
Apps that focus on basic facts, such as multiplication or spelling, can help dyslexic students to close the gap with their peers. *There are many apps that can help dyslexic students improve their short term memory, foreign language learning skills, and basic multiplication and spelling skills.
If you are looking for ways to help your dyslexic child learn a foreign language, you may want to try Duolingo and Memrise. You can also check out our post on dyslexia and foreign language learning, which includes advice on which languages are easier for English speakers with dyslexia. If your child also has dyscalculia, you may want to try apps that help students master math facts and math vocabulary. Learn more in this article on students who are struggling with math.
When dyslexia is assessed by an educational psychologist, you will typically receive a report that specifies the areas in which a child can benefit from additional support. Use this as a guide to help you choose apps for your dyslexia toolbox but also keep the following in mind:
- Will the app work on my device? The app is a few years old and may not work correctly on newer devices with updated operating systems.If an app hasn’t been updated recently or doesn’t have many reviews, it may not be a great sign. This can be particularly problematic when the sound doesn’t play, as sound is essential in most literacy-focused learning.
- What is the target audience of the app?When choosing an app to help with dyslexia, you may want to consider whether you want an app that is purely educational, or one that is more game-oriented. Some learners with dyslexia who also struggle with ADHD can benefit from relatively simple interfaces where they are less likely to be distracted by flashy graphics.
- The company that makes the app will stick around. This is a common issue with accessible apps. They have a smaller market, so it is easier for the companies that make them to go out of business. It is unfortunate to find an app your child loves and then either have it not be updated or become unavailable.Although this has been occurring with multiple apps that are included in other dyslexia resources, Apple and Google have often intervened by using their own advanced technology to offer similar services that are integrated into devices or browsers.
- Does the app require an internet connection, or can it be used offline? Audio content can be data-intensive on mobile apps. Find out if the entire app can be downloaded for offline use, or if students will need to be connected to wifi to use most features.
- What type of pricing does the app offer? Some apps are a one-time payment, while others have monthly subscriptions. Does the price cover one user or multiple user profiles? This is especially important to know for families where more than one child will be using the app.