Mother and daughter team up with special educators to get the most effective accommodations for reading
Back to school this year is filled with both excitement and uncertainty. For that reason, it’s more important than ever that parents work with teachers and case managers to make sure that students with special needs have the resources to start the school year off on the right foot.
From Struggling Reader to Honors Student
One student who has successfully navigated special education services is Ella, a junior at Irondale High School in Minnesota. Ella is an honors student who has struggled with reading since first grade. “During the summer after first grade, I made charts with sight words, but Ella couldn’t even recognize the word ‘I,’” says Beth, Ella’s mother who is also an Assistive Technology/Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AT/AAC) consultant. In second grade, Ella qualified for a gifted and talented program, but she was still in the lowest reading group.
Beth had Ella tested by experts who discovered a huge discrepancy between her low reading scores and high cognitive scores. The school psychologist agreed with Beth that Ella needed an IEP with services and accommodations to address the reading deficiency. Beth and Ella meet with Ella’s case manager at the beginning of every school year to check on progress and review her accommodations. Both mother and daughter use these meetings to advocate for what Ella needs.
Digital Tools that Support Reading are a Game Changer
“I have many tools in the toolkit that I use for different situations,” says Ella. Throughout early elementary school, Ella was unable to read the books that her friends were reading, including Harry Potter. In fifth grade, she signed up for Bookshare’s huge library of ebooks, and took advantage of the accessible formats to customize her reading experience. She uses the Voice Dream Reader app on her phone to read textbooks and novels. To the teachers who questioned whether listening to text-to-speech audiobooks is really reading, Ella told them: “reading digital text and listening is an “assistive” way to read, and it’s still reading even if I’m using eyes and ears.”
“Voice Dream Reader gives you so many choices of voices. I really like the cadence of Samantha and increase the speed up to 500 wpm. One big advantage of remote learning was that it forced teachers to provide digital documents to all students which made it easier for Ella. “For school assignments, I use Text Grabber to take pictures of text and have it read out loud for me,” she explains. “I also use my school Chromebook with Read&Write to complete Google docs and take tests online.”
Reading Performance Not Improved by Trying Harder
Students with learning disabilities such as dyslexia frequently struggle with reading. “Some parents don’t mean to put pressure on kids, but they tell them they are not trying hard enough,” Beth says. “So, kids come to school feeling bad about themselves because they can’t read like the other kids. There is too much pressure to read ‘the normal way.’ That implies that kids who can’t read that way aren’t normal. Instead, we should say that different is OK.”
“Reading with your ears or any sort of accommodation is still reading and it counts,” explains Ella. “Any way you can access a book is worthwhile. I love to read! Once you find the tools that work for you, it’s so much easier.”
Acknowledge Reading Barriers Like Dyslexia to Receive Tools and Resources
Beth says she is very sad when the high school special ed team contacts her about a student who was diagnosed as dyslexic years ago and is struggling because they don’t know how to use any tools other than their eyes to read. “They are planning to graduate and go to college, so my advice is to accept that you’re dyslexic after hiding it for so many years, and get the tools and resources you need to succeed.”
More Back-to-School Resources for Parents
Learn how to set up a Bookshare account, find a reading tool, browse special reading lists for emerging readers, and join the Bookshare forum.