Top Assistive Technology for Students with Dyslexia

There are so many great tools in app stores these days, but here are a few of my favorite tools for assistive technology. The IDEA defines assistive technology as being “any item, piece of equipment or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of children with disabilities.” It allows students with dyslexia to access and communicate information with ease and with confidence.

Text-to-speech apps & extensions

My list of text-to-speech apps and extensions for Mac & iOS, Windows, and Chrome.

Speech-to-text (Dictation)

computer listening

  • Dragon Dictate is free for iPads and works well, especially once it learns your voice
  • all iOS devices have speech-to-text (access System Preferences, then Dictation & Speech on laptops, where you can set up any shortcut you’d like for setting up speech-to-text. New computers come with the shortcut of pressing “fn” (bottom left corner) twice
  • there are several Chrome extensions to use (e.g. when typing in Google Docs), but I haven’t found one yet that works as reliably as the ones built-in on most devices. Simple Dictation works best, though, if you are on a Chromebook
  • steps for Windows computers here

OCR turns images/pdf’s into text or ebooks. Helpful for academics (e.g. taking pictures of textbooks) as well as practical life (taking pictures of menus, signs, etc.). All of these allow students to use text-to-speech apps, to annotate better, and/or to click on words for definitions and pronunciations.

book for ocr

Spelling and Grammar tools

  • built in to all Chrome apps (Google Docs, etc.) and Gmail, and Microsoft Office Suite
  • Ginger keyboard for mobile devices has spelling & grammar check, prediction, swipe-like features, suggestions for alternative phrasing, definitions, translation, the works! It even comes with built-in text-to-speech.

Screen Shot 2014-10-13 at 12.51.35 PM

For a list of spelling apps that are helpful in conjunction with a multi-sensory spelling interventions, click here.

COPS editing checklist

To help students become more independent and better at self-monitoring their writing, I give them a post-it checklist. The benefit is not only that they hit all the points (capitalization, order, punctuation, and spelling), but since they each have a separate checkbox, students are encouraged to check for each separately, thereby ensuring that their focus is not divided. It also means they read through their writing at least 4 times!

COPS editing checklist

Print your own COPS editing checklist here. My tip: print one on a regular piece of paper, then put post-its on top of the 6 you printed to ensure that they align properly.

Simulations of Dyslexia

While those who do not have dyslexia may never fully know what it is like to have dyslexia, below are a few simulations that I like that simulate the difficulty of reading and writing fluency.

  • PBS has an amazing series of simulations called “Misunderstood” which includes examples of difficulties with: attention, reading, writing, and math. I’ve seen educators do all of the things that our students typically do while participating in these: shutting down, goofing off, going into a quiet space, asking for repetition, getting anxious, etc.
  • WebAIM has a short simulation, for which I found the timer particularly stressful
  • In this video by the Leaders Project, special educator and speech-language pathologist does a short simulation of what it is like to have a Writing disability, which emulates what many students with dyslexia feel when they are given the task of writing something
  • The F.A.T. City workshop can now be streamed on Youtube. It is a video of a group of educators, parents, siblings, and students with disabilities undergoing a simulation of what it is like to have a learning disability. A classic!
  • If you happen to be in/near Toronto, Canada the Integra Foundation runs an excellent workshop called Walk a Mile in My Shoes, which is an interactive workshop that explores a range of learning disabilities, which includes simulations

TIDE keychains for writing strong paragraphs

Like the summary keychains, these keychains encourage students to become more independent when writing paragraphs than a traditional scaffold or fill-in-the-blank, but it still provides enough support that it helps students write rich paragraphs. It can be used in the third stage (Model it!) of SRSD, before students have memorized the mnemonic completely.

strong paragraph keychain

Print your own TIDE keychains here, then hole punch & add a keychain (which you can buy at any hardware or office supply store).

Summary keychains

I like using summary frames (fill-in-the-blanks) to help students work on the content of their writing, while providing a structure for their ideas. When paired with explicit instruction about the parts of a summary, it helps students internalize the structure. In releasing my responsibility, and helping students become more independent in this process, I find that a summary keychain of the various parts of a summary (in order) requires more independence than a full scaffold, but still provides sufficient supports.

summary keychain

Print your own summary keychains here! Simply hole punch and add a keychain, which can be purchased at any hardware store or office supply store.


Advantages of Having Dyslexia

Whether dyslexia is a disability, a difference, or something else, research has demonstrated multiple advantages to having dyslexia. A few of them are highlighted below (in honor of Dyslexia Awareness month).

  • Better ability to process visual periphery and/or the “visual gist” or meanings of images than NTs (Neurotypicals), which can be useful in multiple fields, including architecture and astronomy
  • From the Eides (authors of The Dyslexia Advantage), the “MIND” talents:
    • Material or spatial reasoning, which can be useful for designers and engineers
    • Interconnectedness: Higher verbal reasoning for connecting seemingly-disconnected ideas (finding analogies, etc.)
    • Narrative reasoning: which includes a great memory for personal experiences (which can be helpful for poets, essayists, memoirists, etc.)
    • Dynamic Reasoning: ability to reason in novel situations
  • Potential link to creativity and business acumen
  • “Wider multi-dimensional neural tuning of sensory processing interacting with wider spatial attention” (which includes visual and auditory processing, with distractions)
  • With proper supports, resilience, and the power to mentor and share your experiences with others

Sources: Interdys, YCDC, Wired, New York Times

Famous People With Dyslexia

For Dyslexia Awareness Month (October), I wanted to write a series of posts that focus on dyslexia from multiple viewpoints. To start, here’s a list of Top 10 famous people who have dyslexia or dyslexia-like symptoms, and a quote from each about their struggles or successes:

  1. Vince Vaughn (actor) “When you have these setbacks, you develop a really good work ethic, because you have to try harder.”
  2. Avi (author) “I was reading and writing voraciously. I sort of just didn’t know any better, and kept going.”
  3. Steven Spielberg (director) “When I felt like an outsider, movies made me feel inside my own skill set”
  4. Jamie Oliver (chef) “It was with great regret that I didn’t do better at school. People just thought I was thick. It was a struggle. I never really understood dyslexia and who could bring out my strengths.” He also revealed that he didn’t read his first book until he was 38, but now he’s even written several books!
  5. Richard Branson (business person) “Being dyslexic can actually help in the outside world. I see some things clearer than other people do because I have to simplify things to help me and that has helped others.”
  6. Muhammad Ali (boxer, human rights activist) “As a high school student, many of my teachers labeled me DUMB… I knew who the real dummies were.” Ali later went on to found Go the Distancea series of books that builds comprehension and confidence
  7. Tim Tebow (NFL player) “It has to do with finding out how you learn…I just made flashcards, I take each one, and then boom, when I’m traveling, I just flip through it. That really helped me. Writing it down, flipping through and quizzing myself, that was a great way for me to do it.”
  8. Magic Johnson (former NBA player) “The looks, the stares, the giggles…I wanted to show everybody that I could do better and also that I could read.”
  9. Whoopi Goldberg (actor/comedian) “I knew I wasn’t stupid, and I knew I wasn’t dumb.  My mother told me that.”
  10.  Anderson Cooper (newscaster) “I had to go to a special reading instructor. One way she helped was to encourage me to find books that I was really passionate about.”

Sources used: BBC, NCLD, Telegraph, UMich, NJ, Oprah, Reading Rockets

More articles on

When it rains, it pours!

Here are my latest articles about Learning Differences & Reading on They cover a range of topics, so there should be something for everyone…

  1. 7 Best Ways to Help your Kids Learn to Read: an article about reading comprehension strategies
  2. Transitioning from High School to College: What Students with Learning Differences Need to Succeed: an article about the changes in law & logistics in this important transition, with help from the folks at New Frontiers in Learning 
  3. Language Development Milestones: What to Watch for in your Child: a list of “Watch For”s and “Don’t Worry About”s
  4. Children with Learning Disabilities: What Services are Public Schools Required to Provide? a summary of eligibility and the IEP process, plus a list of resources for further reading

For a list of all of my articles on Noodle, click here. They mostly encompass Learning Differences, reading, writing, and assistive technology.

Reading and Writing Milestones (article on

As you can see, I have been busy!

This is my latest article on, which looks at typical reading and writing development, or Reading and Writing Milestones. It highlights what children should be learning, and when. Though less specific than the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), the goals do align with the Foundational, Reading, and Writing standards. As is mentioned in the article, the main caveat is that since reading and writing are not innate, these milestones are a rough guide, as what children know is dependent on what they have been taught.

Have questions? Ask them in the comments and I can guide you towards research, student writing samples, or other resources.

Learning Disability or Learning Difference? An Article on

Here’s a topic I have chatted about a lot with colleagues, parents, and friends. Is it a Learning Disability or Learning Difference? What’s the appropriate terminology, and when? I have read several reputable sites (included in the Sources for the article) that argue for the continued use of “Learning Disability” to reduce stigma, and to reduce confusion (since the technical term remains Learning Disability, though the diagnosis is actually “Specific Learning Disability,” which I rarely hear in conversation).

The article is primarily intended for parents and teachers who are confused about the terminology. It definitely leads to interesting conversations, so this is just a jumping off point!

Check out the Article on, or click here: Learning Disability or Learning Difference? Then, give me feedback in the comments!