Thursday, March 17, 2016

Technology, 2e Kids, and the Pursuit of Happiness

The Useless Box from the Makershed is useful technology because it is useful to laugh.  

by Jenn Choi (Doug Mercier contributed to this article)

Does your child hate writing?
Does your child avoid reading?
Then give me your attention for just a few. I promise to be assistive and then some.

I try to avoid using the term "Assistive Technology" (AT) simply because it carries a bit of bad luck with it. I will explain. I believe that any tech tool that was ever created was made with the intent to be assistive or helpful even if its only function is to make you laugh! See the Useless Box (above). Thus, the words "assistive" and "technology" kind of sounds like "helpful helper" to me. Better terms to describe AT would be: "Playing-Field Leveler" or "Life-Changing Technology" because in essence that is what assistive technology does for people, especially kids. The term assistive sounds like it is something helpful and that implies that it's optional. What's optional about wheelchairs, glasses, ibuprofen, melatonin, soap, automobiles, smartphones, and even bras? These are all things that people use so that they can be with everybody else and be happy at the same time.
How About "Necessary Technology"? So let it be said that the tools described as "assistive technology" are beyond assistive, they are necessary. It is necessary to be with people and be happy when you're with them. You can say the same for AT and getting the job done. You might be able to tell someone to drop his crutches and crawl from here to there and they might get the job done, but will they be happy having gotten that job done? I think not. If your child is twice-exceptional (2e) child then the pain can be even more excruciating because they are likely very aware of what they can accomplish easily and what they can accomplish with painful struggle. It's like the tunnel is really clogged but they can see the light at the other end. It's there. They know it but that can be more depressing than not seeing any light at all. (For more on 2e, visit the Twice-Exceptional Newsletter)
Allowing a kid to read the best way he can is allowing him to pursue happiness. Photo of Tester 1 reading a book for a book report (without threats or tantrums). The book was free from Bookshare (I love you Bookshare) and he was able to read it with Voice Dream Reader via Android (life-changing app for reading available on iOS too). photo: Toys As Tools
Before giving you any AT tips, I want to make sure you understand that what you are asking for from schools or insurance companies or yourself is way more than helpful, rather, when wisely chosen, it is necessary. It is not optional unless you consider being miserable and/or falling further behind as optional. You may encounter these words from yourself or others:
  • We have a system here. This is a distraction.
  • Do you really want him to be using it for the rest of his life?
  • Best: We have our kids hand write their essay, correct it by hand, rewrite it by hand and then type it.
It all comes down to this: My exhausted kid says he wants to work faster, better, and with less stress. (please keep this phrase for the future. will explain later) To deny any person the opportunity to work faster, better, and with less stress without causing harm to others is in my book, un-American because Americans have the right to pursue Happiness with a capital H, so says the Declaration of Independence. Here are some cool tools for the pursuit of your family's Happiness: (FREE) Reading:
I have been testing the Microsoft Surface 3 with special attention to Windows One Note for almost a year. I like the notebook format on OneNote. I like how you can personalize it but what I really like are the latest advancements that accommodate the learning styles of many 2e kids. I will not go into all of them but my favorite part is the Immersive Reader. Whatever document you write or cut/paste in there will be read to you without distractions and offer you some ways to customize the experience (font size, spacing, etc.)
Writing: There is a dictation button but how effective it is will depend on clarity of speech. I consider mine to be pretty decent but with stuff like this, it's hard to be perfect. Honestly though, speech recognition is something that every kid or adult has to learn to use. It's going to be a trial and error thing and you'll have to be patient.
It wasn't perfect but you can learn to use this and perfect your use of it.  photo: Jenn Choi
Co:Writer Universal (prices vary, I paid $89 per year)
This helps you write as you type and has speech recognition. But it's so much more than that. I love the word completion AND word prediction. It sounds like the same thing but it's not. Word prediction means that a word is offered to you based on what you are writing. You don't even have to write the first letter of the word. Of course, not everything is predicted but it's pretty awesome. I also like how it reads out loud the word you just typed. And then when you put a period at the end of the sentence, your entire sentence is read out loud to you. Question you might have right now: Is this cheating? Are you preventing him from learning how to write on his own? The Toys As Tools Official Answer: Hell No. If you are a mess and then you call Marie Kondo to help you organize your home, are you cheating? Is it likely that as you use her method, you will get better at being tidy and you will embody some of those skills to the point where it is natural to you? Millions of people all over the world who bought her book, bet on that too. These tools don't do the work for you but they provide the scaffolding you need to get your job done faster, better, and with less stress. (Remember that phrase?)
You can use this tool with Chromebook, Mac or PC, and iPads. Almost all features are available offline too. There are many other features but I am purposely leaving it out so as not to overwhelm you. Snap&Read Universal (prices vary, for single user: $89 per year) This remarkable tool is so incredibly awesome. It's basically a wish come true. I've purchased Kindles and read so many Kindle books on my iPad but you know... I just love having it read to me. I am not dyslexic (I think) but I don't have to be to struggle with reading. For distracted people like me, it's not enough to be interested, I need to be enthralled. Sounds like a focus problem, doesn't it? So how about trying Snap&Read to read your Kindle books via Kindle Cloud Reader on your computer? Honestly it can read any website or anything you have in your computer but the thing is, I have yet to find anything that lets me read my Kindle books out loud to me without me paying tons of money PER book (yeah, Audible, I'm talking about you)
In short, it reads what you have in your Chrome browser. It's an extension so if your child's school has gone google, but they don't have either Snap&Read or Co:Writer then your child will need that extension downloaded. But I think you need permission to download extensions so talk with your school. Just don't assume it's easy for school or your child to get it but if she needs it, do your best- be assertive, get an assistive tech evaluation (from the school system for free) if you need to. If it's out there, you should have it.
Oh, and what's more. I just received news of a sale and so here is a snippet of the graphic I received. I am on their email list so I guess everyone on their list received this pricing. What a great deal! I paid $89 each (per year) for my kid. You can call Don Johnston Incorporated 800-999-4660 or email the ever-awesome Ms. Brenda Bender Sr. Educational Support Specialist

Don't let those lovable worksheets stand in your way! We use the HP Scan and Capture app on the Microsoft Surface 3 to scan docs (8MP rear facing camera is awesome!) and then write "on top" of the sheets which will become pdf docs using a digital pen or typing onto them. If you have a worksheet that requires reading and writing, try using Kami with CoWriter and Snap&Read. I love Kami! Thank you to our tech advisor Hal Eagar for finding it for us. Other tools:
Voice Dream Reader- Best Reading App on iOS and Android. Voice Dream Writer on iOS is great too.
We are still heavy Voice Dream users to this day. Fave voice is still Salli. I loved writing this article. Stay tuned for more news from them!
Independence, what does that really mean? We want our kids to grow up and be independent but really that's not good enough. They need to learn how to be independent but in a smart and happy way. When we teach kids to help themselves which includes actively acquiring help when needed, we are sharpening their executive skills.

And please remember this: Adopting these new tools may not come easy at first but consider how much time was spent learning how to read and write and that didn't work out so well, did it? Believe me, my son and I still struggle over this but like a kid with dorky new glasses, in the end, he will choose 20/20 vision. It's not easy to change the way you work even if the current method sucks. Understand their fear and apprehension. It's likely they've tried two dozen tricks with crappy results. If you are a parent and you are reading this, chances are they aren't getting the necessary guidance from school and/or perhaps the system isn't giving the necessary guidance and support to the school. It's never one person's fault.
Learn all about the world of Twice-Exceptional from this conference by Quad Prep with Cooper Union. Even if you can't go, write to them and tell them you want to hear more. Tell them Jenn sent you. 

This post is dedicated to Assistive Tech expert, Mr. Mark Surabian of whose knowledge and compassion has changed so many people's lives. Thanks for helping us pursue Happiness.

OKAY--- Listen up!  Toys As Tools recently had a slight name change but thanks to Creative Strategist, Rachel Ford, Toys As Tools will be a new toy/tool finding machina. You will love this! So sign up for our upcoming newsletter (upper right corner) and alerts so you can stay on top of the latest greatest tools for your kid.

Disclosure:  Toys are Tools was not compensated by the manufacturers of anything mentioned here. Some of the products were purchased by the writer. Some were provided for the purposes of evaluation for review. Tester 1 is incredibly grateful for being able to test the Surface 3 courtesy of Microsoft. He thinks that one day he'll get the Surface Pro 4. He's hilarious. Either way, reviews are never promised. 

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