Learning, Cognition, and Development

Learning, Cognition, and Development

Key Takeaways

What is Assistive Technology (AT) for Learning, Cognition, and Development?

  • AT for learning, cognition, and development helps individuals who have difficulty learning, thinking, and remembering accomplish tasks that would otherwise be difficult or impossible for them.
  • AT can help individuals with disabilities to better comprehend reading materials, compose written work, organize their thoughts and belongings, store and manipulate information, apply mathematical techniques, and avoid distracting and annoying behaviors.
  • Helpful tools include calendars, calculators, book reading apps, watches, writing utensils, weighted apparel, and social awareness tools.

     

Common No-Tech and Low-Tech Solutions:

  • Behavior charts
  • Book reading apps
  • Calendar/Calendar app
  • Calculator/Talking calculators
  • Graphic organizers
  • Headphones
  • Highlighters
  • Keyboards
  • Math manipulatives
  • Note-taking apps
  • Paper/Pencils and white board/markers
  • Picture schedules
  • Reminder watches or apps
  • Speech-to-text functions 
  • Sticky notes
  • Text-to-speech functions
  • Voice recorders 

Who Needs Learning, Cognition, and Development AT?

  • A person who has reduced cognitive abilities, i.e. the ability to think clearly, make decisions, control one’s emotions and actions, and stay organized
  • A student who relies on a paraprofessional or teacher assistant to read aloud, take notes, or perform other tasks the student might be able to do independently with AT
  • A person who has difficulty producing written material due to poorly developed mental or physical processes
  • Children who have difficulty acquiring skills at the same speed or to the same extent as their peers due to learning disabilities or poor executive function skills
  • Students who have difficulty conceptualizing fractions, percentages, or other mathematical concepts
  • Students who have difficulty reading due to dyslexia or other learning disabilities
  • Individuals diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism, depression, dementia, developmental delay, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, dyslexia, intellectual disability, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), stroke, traumatic brain injury (TBI), or another medical disorder/syndrome

Situations for Using AT for Learning, Cognition, and Development:

School Environment

  • Drafting and editing essays/writing assignments
  • Completing worksheets
  • Producing legible written work
  • Reading text in books, handouts, and online
  • Regulating emotions and restoring calmness
  • Solving math problems
  • Shifting flexibly between tasks/environments
  • Staying on task

Socialization

  • Communicating by phone, text, and social media

Work Environment

  • Using an adapted calculator and note-taking tools to complete daily work tasks
  • Using a computer for reading, editing documents, and entering data

 Home Environment

  • Participating in chores and routines
  • Completing homework and studying
  • Cooking and food preparation
  • Reading and writing for leisure
  • Using a computer for entertainment, paying bills, and reading

Community

  • Calculating payments at restaurants, stores, and sporting events
  • Reading in church, libraries, and restaurants
  • Reading directions and navigating to events
  • Researching at the library
  • Shopping

Commonly Asked Questions for Learning, Cognition, and Development:

  • Q – Does a student need to qualify as learning disabled to receive AT from the school?
    • A – A student can receive AT for learning, cognition, and development who has an official disability diagnosis and receives special education services. A student can also receive AT as a supplemental aid/service through a 504 Plan. In addition, many tools in this category, such as spell checkers, calculators, and text readers are popular with individuals of all abilities. For a student with a disability, these tools become AT.
  • Q – What AT can help an individual get their ideas down on paper?
    • A – Writing is a process that involves both the physical mechanics of handwriting and the cognitive components of organizing, creating, or composing written material. In many cases, using a keyboard or speech-input to enter text on a computer may be more effective than handwriting. Graphic organizers may also help with organizing thoughts when preparing to write papers and reports. These range from simple handouts to dynamic apps and software.
  • Q – What kinds of tools can help an individual who has difficulty conceptualizing fractions, percentages, or other mathematical concepts?
    • A – The individual may have a math disability called dyscalculia. Common tools that may help include rulers, calculators, and graph paper. Conceptualizing math equations may be more effective when using manipulatives - physical or virtual objects that let individuals solve math problems in alternative ways. For example, Slide-A-Round Math Manipulatives help individuals visualize how to solve math equations that involve adding, subtracting, rounding, and even algebra. Microsoft, Google, and many other software companies offer accessible math tools. Use the help feature on a computer or other device, and contact ABLE Tech if you need additional assistance.
  • Q – What tools can help an individual who has difficulty transitioning between activities?
    • A – Timers can ease transitions between tasks/locations by helping individuals mentally prepare to make the switch. There are a variety of timers such as wristwatches, hourglasses, and visual timers that show how much time is left to complete an activity. Visual schedules are another great way to help a person mentally prepare for a transition.  
  • Q – What tools can help an individual stay on the right line and not lose their place while reading?
    • A – Reading guides are good tools for anyone who has trouble with visual tracking or who needs help staying focused on the page. These are cardboard, metal, or plastic strips or windows and they allow an individual to see one or more lines of text while blocking out surrounding lines which might be distracting. These guides are easy to move down the page while reading. Computers and other devices also have this functionality using apps, software, and extensions.
  • Q – What AT can be used to help improve focus for in individual who has a difficult time sitting still and paying attention?
    • A – An inflatable seat cushion, cushion with vibration, and specialized chairs/seats can help individuals with sensory and attention issues. The cushion allows movement and stimulation to help a child maximize focus without having to get up and walk around.
  • Q – The environment is too noisy for some individuals to process and attend. What tools help decrease/remove background noise?
    • A – Personal Listening systems can reduce background noise in an environment and amplify what a speaker/presenter says, which can help with auditory processing and attention issues. The speaker/presenter wears a microphone that transmits sound to a receiver worn by the individual with attention deficits. Another option may be to use noise canceling headphones which may also assist an individual with maintaining attention.

AT Solutions at ABLE Tech:

 View ABLE Tech’s Learning, Cognition, and Development AT Inventory

Visit ABLE Tech's Learning, Cognition, and Development AT/DME Reuse/Exchange Inventory

Helpful Links and PDF Resources:

  • Alzheimers.net
    Source for resources and advice from professionals with expertise about Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias
  • Apple Accessibility Support
    Information and support for using accessibility features that read text aloud, enter speech as text, and allow switch access on Apple products
  • Benetech Diagram Center
    Improving accessibility through multiple initiatives including Image Description, 3D Printing, Tactiles and Haptics; Accessible Math; Born Accessible Publishing; Research Information and Innovation
  • Bookshare
    Online Library of accessible digital reading materials, including textbooks, novels, and other curricular materials
  • Decoding Dyslexia Oklahoma
    Supporting families and educators by providing resources and networking opportunities to affect public policy in support of individuals with dyslexia
  • Desmos Graphing Calculator
    Visual math Chrome extension with plot functions, tables, and graph animations
  • Don Johnston Human Learning Tools
    Building tools that transform the lives of people across all learning styles and abilities with products including Snap&Read, Co:Writer, uPAR, Quizbot, Readtopia, First Author
  • GeoGebra
    Free multi-platform math software including tools for geometry, algebra, spreadsheets, graphing, statistics and calculus 
  • Google Accessibility
    Instructions for using features such as read-aloud with Google products including the Chrome Browser and Chromebooks
  • International Dyslexia Association
    Dyslexia resources for individuals, families, and professionals
  • Job Accommodation Network (JAN)
    Source of free, expert, and confidential guidance on workplace accommodations and disability employment issues
  • Kurzweil Education
    Literacy technology for people with learning difficulties and those who are blind or visually impaired with high-quality text-to-speech in multiple languages and dialects, talking word prediction, spell checkers, and other accessibility features
  • Learning Disabilities Association of America (LDA)
    Information on learning disabilities, practical solutions, and a comprehensive network of resources to support people with learning disabilities, their parents, teachers and other professionals
  • Math Learning Center
    Nonprofit organization serving the education community by offering innovative and standards-based curriculum, resources, and professional development including free apps for fractions, geoboards, clocks, vocabulary, money, number lines, and more
  • Microsoft Accessibility Support
    Information about accessibility features of Microsoft products
  • National Center on Accessible Educational Materials (AEM)
    Promoting and supporting creation and use of accessible technologies

  • Slide-A-Round Math
    Manipulative tools designed to increase understanding and comprehension of place value, estimating and rounding of whole numbers and decimals, simplifying and comparing fractions, and well as addressing the standards of elapsed time and weight
  • TextHelp, Free TextHelp Products for Teachers
    Inclusive literacy tools including Read&Write, EquatIO, WriQ, Fluency Tutor, Browse Aloud, and Speech Stream
  • Understood
    Resources on learning and attention issues for individuals, parents, educators, and employers
  • Wisconsin Assistive Technology Initiative (WATI) Resources
    Guides for gathering information for assessing students’ needs for AT in all categories

Video/Webinar/Podcast Resources:

Education

Case Studies of Individuals with Learning, Cognition, and Development Needs and Recommendations

Case Study #1

A 5-year old student with developmental delay, easily distracted

The student frequently has trouble focusing on activities in the kindergarten classroom and often appears anxious. At times when classmates are engrossed in activities such as listening to stories or playing with building blocks, the student frequently moves about the room, picking up and tossing objects.

Possible Recommendations:

A weighted object such as a pillow, blanket, or vest may assist the student in independently calming herself. Clothing which provides compression is another option that may help the student focus on classroom activities. The student can choose when to use the weighted pillows and blankets and when not to use them. In contrast, an adult may need to help a young child with putting on and removing a weighted vest or compression clothing (i.e., shirt or vest). Weighted vests are typically designed with pockets or slots for removable weights, allowing the overall vest weight to be adjusted to meet the recommended ratio based on the child’s height and weight. It is recommended that the weighted item not exceed 10% of the child’s body weight; however, ABLE Tech recommends educators consult an occupational therapist for guidance in determining the appropriate weight ratio for the individual student.

Goals and Outcomes:

Using AT, the student will develop self-regulation skills, which, over time, will allow her to focus for longer periods and participate in appropriate ways during classroom activities.

See the attached SETT Framework form for feature-matching solutions based on the Student, Environment, Tasks, and Tools model.

Case Study Forms – SETT Framework
Sample Solutions:

Case Study #2

An 8-year-old student in third grade with a learning disability, struggling reader

The student has a learning disability with reading skills below third grade expectations. The reading specialist has determined the student may benefit from increased instruction on the individual elements of reading. The special education teacher is developing lesson plans and will be responsible for providing reading instruction. In the meantime, consider tools the student could use to complete reading tasks that would keep him learning grade-level curriculum. The student needs to be able to read from textbooks, novels, and worksheets.

Using the Protocol for Accommodations in Reading (PAR), the reading specialist determined the student was able to comprehend curricular content substantially better when he could hear words read aloud than when he read to himself. The school used the PAR results to determine the student was eligible for a Bookshare membership, a source for free accessible digital text including textbooks, novels, and worksheets. 

Possible Recommendations:

Explore tools that read digital text aloud with synthesized (computer-generated) speech. Often free, short-term trials are available, including: a text-to-speech extension using the Google Chrome browser, Microsoft Immersive Reader on a laptop computer, and the Voice Dream Reader app on an iPad.

If the student is able to effectively read text using all three options, choose the solution that allows the student to be the most self-sufficient.

Goals and Outcomes:

Utilizing AT, the student will improve reading comprehension in core classes by the end of the school year. The IEP Team will incorporate use of the AT into the student’s reading goals noting the features he needs, i.e., dual-color highlighting and text-to-speech.

See the attached SETT Framework form for feature-matching solutions based on the Student, Environment, Tasks, and Tools model.

Case Study Forms – SETT Framework

Sample Solutions:

Case Study #3

An 11-year-old in sixth grade with short-term memory deficits, struggling with math

The student is in sixth grade and has difficulty completing math problems due to impaired memory. Her teacher reports that she appears to comprehend instructions but forgets the steps while trying to solve equations. The student has good reading comprehension and penmanship and currently completes assigned homework problems with approximately 30% accuracy.

Possible Recommendations:

Three types of tools that may help the student include electronic math software, image scanning apps, and recording pens. Electronic math software such as EquatIO can help students with number alignment and organization of math problems. Keyboarding and speech-input are accessibility features that allow multiple options for entering numbers and text, while text-to-speech helps the student hear if they entered the correct numbers and text. Integrating specialized math software for the student may present a challenge in the classroom as training and ongoing assistance may be required for the teacher and student to learn the software.

An image scanning app, such as Office Lens would allow the student to use a device camera to snap a photo of the whiteboard to save the teacher’s instructions. However, using the app and adding notes could be a challenge because it may take her attention away from watching and listening to the teacher. 

A recording pen, such as the Livescribe 3 SmartPen, would allow the student to write notes on special paper while recording the teacher’s explanation and instructions. This tool would be efficient and unobtrusive. Later, when the student is ready to work on the math problems, she would be able to review her notes and listen to the synchronized recording of the lecture to remember what the teacher was saying when the particular note was written. The student could listen to the recording on the pen or from a computer or tablet using the Livescribe app which syncs with the pen.

Goals and Outcomes:

Using AT, the student will respond with increasing accuracy when requested to answer math problems for which the math teacher previously demonstrated the concept on the board. Using AT, the student will increase the percentage of completed math homework problems from 30% to 50%.  

See the attached SETT Framework form for feature-matching solutions based on the Student, Environment, Tasks, and Tools model.

Case Study Forms – SETT Framework

Sample Solutions:

Case Study #4

A 17-year-old high school student with ADHD, has difficulty concentrating in class and during extracurricular activities

A high school student with ADHD is taking several advanced placement classes and maintaining involvement in numerous school clubs and athletics. In the past, he was more aware of his tendencies to lose focus, but with more complex classes and a variety of activities, he is now struggling to concentrate at school and home.

Possible Recommendations:

This student may benefit from a tool to remind him to stay on task. Options include visual timers, visual timer apps, and reminder watches.

The Time Timer provides visual cues to alert students to how much time is remaining to complete a task. The timer features a large red disc which disappears over a set time until no red is visible. The student could set the timer on his desk, or it could be placed on the teacher’s desk to benefit the entire class, and peers would be unaware that it was meant to assist this particular student.

Like the Time Timer, the Time Timer App displays the time as a red disk that gets smaller as time elapses. The app is available on tablets and smartphones, so the student could use the timer inconspicuously on a personal device in class and at home.

The Revibe Connect Watch features a vibrating wristband designed to help students who struggle to stay focused. The watch vibrates at strategic intervals to remind the wearer to check and correct their off-task behaviors. The Revibe looks similar to popular smartwatches and may be less noticeable than a physical clock or timer app. As with timer apps, reminder watches can be used in multiple environments.

Goals and Outcomes:

With the help of a reminder tool, the student will develop his self-monitoring skills so that he can focus on his challenging class activities and homework assignments. Over time, this student will improve his ability to stay on task and meet deadlines, reducing the need for parent and teacher interventions.

See the attached SETT Framework form for feature-matching solutions based on the Student, Environment, Tasks, and Tools model.

Case Study Forms – SETT Framework

Sample Solutions:

Employment

Case Studies of Individuals with Learning, Cognition, and Development Needs and Recommendations

Case Study #1

Junior attorney with dyslexia, experiences difficulty reading documents

A junior attorney who has a reading disability is accustomed to using text-to-speech on a computer when in the office; however, she is frequently unable to read paper documents she receives in the courtroom. The attorney would benefit from AT but prefers to discreetly access the information in these documents so she does not attract undo attention. Being unable to quickly read and comprehend information in hard copy documents is causing her to miss important points in court.

Possible Recommendations:

A variety of tools are available to scan and convert printed text into digital text which can then be read aloud with synthesized speech. Points to consider include how overt or discreet the AT is, its ease of use, and portability.

Options include stand-alone, scan and read devices such as the OmniReader that sits on the desktop; however, the size and weight of the device could make transporting and using it more burdensome, and it would call attention to the attorney’s disability.

A reading pen, such as the C-Pen Reader or Scanmarker Air, provides an unobtrusive way to scan and read a document, sentence-by-sentence or word-by-word, and get definitions when needed. The attorney could use earbuds to listen to the text being read aloud without others hearing.

The OrCam MyEye scans and reads printed words without the need to hold a device. The OrCam combines a smart camera with a scanner and text-to-speech software in a small box that connects to eyewear.

Goals and Outcomes:

The attorney will use text scanning and reading technology in the courtroom, ensuring she has immediate access to important information in paper handouts and documents. 

See the attached HAAT Model form for matching the employee to needed AT.

Case Study Forms – HAAT Model
Sample Solutions:

Case Study #2

Adult employee with bipolar disorder, memory loss, and reduced concentration

An employee working for a printing company is having concentration and memory issues related to mental illness. He needs to be able to take notes, make lists, set reminders, and develop strategies to help with needs that arise.

Possible Recommendations:

No- to low-tech solutions may be using post-it notes or other handwritten reminders. Does he already have a smart phone or watch with apps that could be used to help him? An iPad/tablet, Chromebook, or laptop may also be helpful to create to-do lists, set reminders, take notes, create white noise, and use the voice recognition feature to capture on-the-go notes. Other devices could be added to assist in keeping his production level high.

Goals and Outcomes:

The employee will develop strategies to reduce distractions and complete job responsibilities with AT. He will learn to use an iPad/tablet, Chromebook, or laptop daily. Setting reminders will help keep him on track, and taking notes will help keep him organized and allow him to maintain better focus.

See the attached HAAT Model form to see how to match the employee to needed AT.

Case Study Forms – HAAT Model
Sample Solutions: 

Case Study #3

Recent graduate employee with severe right-handed malformation, needs alternative input device

A new graduate has received a receptionist position and needs alternative computer input access. He has good functioning in his left hand, and he needs to find the best keyboarding solution. He spends most of his day at the computer entering appointments and answering emails.

Possible Recommendations:

There are many tools that could be used for easy computer access that are not fatiguing: speech recognition/dictation options, alternative/hands-free mice, etc. It is good to start by trying a smaller keyboard that allows less movement of the hand and provides more control. Keys are closely spaced for easy access, and the keyboard surface is very sensitive to touch. If that is not helpful he can try one-handed typing. One-handed keyboard keys are placed differently than a standard keyboard and can make data entry easier. After an alternative keyboard is selected, the workstation will be adjusted to position the keyboard for comfort.

Goals and Outcomes:

The employee will have a natural, comfortable alternative keyboard for data entry. He will also be able to use the computer throughout the day with less fatigue.

See the attached HAAT Model form to see how to match the employee to needed AT.

Case Study Forms – HAAT Model
Sample Solutions:

 

Community Living

Case Studies of Individuals with Learning, Cognition, and Development Needs and Recommendations

Case Study #1

2 ½-year-old child, significant physical limitations, unable to reach far or point, wants to access and play on technology

This child cannot access any form of tablet or computer using her hands as she doesn’t have the fine motor control to do so. She will need a larger target to access to allow for uncontrolled movements. She is extremely smart and wants to play on an individual device.

Possible Recommendations:

We would start by trying different switches that would allow her to activate the tablet. Switches that are compatible with the tablet may be corded or wireless/Bluetooth. The best solution would provide access to a desktop computer or mobile device/tablet and would allow for multiple switches to be used at the same time. She can start using a switch with a tablet and eventually transition to a computer.

Goals and Outcomes:

The child will show increased participation in activities on a tablet and eventually a computer. She will be able to play educational games and increase her cognitive abilities.

Case Study Forms – HAAT Model

Sample Solutions:

Case Study #2

Veteran, brainstem meningioma with mild visual impairment and severe to profound dysarthria

This 38-year-old veteran has a mild visual impairment and severe to profound dysarthria (or weakness). Her attention span is good, and her memory is intact. She is living at her parents’ home and wants to start emailing and shopping again.

Possible Recommendations:

Trialing alternative computer input devices and methods such as different mice, keyboards, and computer settings (like magnification or enlarged text) would be beneficial. Beginning with the mouse, she could try a trackball and a joystick which would allow her to navigate the computer with minimal movement of the arm and little fatigue. With good head control, a hands-free mouse like the SmartNav may be another good option to trial.

Goals and Outcomes:

The resident will correctly and independently take his medication with the use of AT.

See the attached HAAT Model form to see how to match the gentleman to the needed AT.

Case Study Forms – HAAT Model
Sample Solutions:

Case Study #3

Grandmother, in nursing home needing technology for socialization

A grandmother, who lives in a nursing home and away from family, would like to use technology to interact with them. She spends her days in bed, and seeing family when they can’t make it to the nursing home would cheer her up.

Possible Recommendations:

It is recommended that she try a computer for Skype, an iPad for FaceTime, or a Double Robot so that family members can log in and spend time with her. It would be best if the technology can be taken around with her, and also be present when the doctor, therapists, or nurses come to assist her.

Goals and Outcomes:

She will be able to independently access and control the device to initiate interactions with her family at any time. The family will be able to contact her and have virtual visits with the doctor during rounds to ask questions and play an active role in their grandmother’s care.

Case Study Forms – HAAT Model
Sample Solutions: