by Geralyn Fellows
The students in the Children with Autism Program were introduced to the SOLO 6 Literacy Suite in three settings: the classroom, occupational therapy, and speech-language therapy. The accommodations that the program includes a text reader, word prediction, graphic organizer, and talking word processor.
The students involved ranged from the 2nd to 5th grade levels. All of the students presented with significant delays in expressive language and written expression, and several have fine motor difficulties which affect their writing mechanics. Each student is classified with autism on their Individualized Education Plans.
Setting a Direction
The goals for the students include the following:
- Awareness of Co:Writer
- Use of Co:Writer
- Use of Write:OutLoud to assist in identification of vocabulary and grammar errors
- Improving the use of vocabulary in written expression
- Master spacing
- Master capitalization
- Master punctuation
- Develop independence to highlight the main idea and begin to create an outline
- Using Co:Writer and Write:OutLoud to increase sentence complexity
The prompt levels for the students were as follows:
- Hand over hand*
- Verbal prompts
- Visual prompts*
* It should be noted that non-verbal prompts are preferable for students with autism, because they are the easiest to fade. The student may become more dependent on the verbal prompt. The students will often rely on an adult, typically a classroom aide that will assist with a written assignment. I created this environment by expressing that the “computer would help”, by watching Co:Writer and listening to the text-to-speech. This would begin to heighten the students’ awareness that the Assistive Technology is utilized in the task — rather than the teacher. One of my students even looked at the computer and said “Help me”.
The goals were based on the student’s ability to follow directions, expressive language capability, and attention to task. For example, the student that is unable to formulate a complete sentence was not asked to type a sentence. Instead that student would participate in a cloze sentence task. This would reduce frustration by reducing the language component. Some of the students were also presented sentences to copy. This task also reduced frustration as the student did not have to focus on word retrieval or sentence formulation. Focus can be on the use of Co:Writer and the tools used to proofread the student’s work — such as spell check.
The students that are able to verbally express an idea were given a theme, such as a field trip the class recently went on, or an upcoming holiday. These students generated vocabulary related to the theme and sentences were formed. Once a word bank was generated, several of the students were able to create spontaneous sentences related to the topic.
Utilizing Co:Writer also enables the instructor to utilize a word bank. If the word bank is not available for a topic, a unique word bank can be created. This greatly enhances the software to predict the vocabulary, and therefore does not require the student to know the complete spelling of the word. For example, a word bank can be created for a student which would include information such as the student’s name — or vocabulary that pertains to expanding sentence structure and grammar, such as vocabulary to create a compound sentence.
Read:OutLoud and Draft:Builder have a multi-faceted effect on the student’s performance. Read:OutLoud assists students with reading levels significantly below grade level who have significant difficulty with decoding, resulting in poor comprehension. Using the Assistive Technology to read the text enables the students to focus on the content. Read:OutLoud’s highlighting feature assists the student in identifying the main idea and generating important details related to the text being read.
Draft:Builder assists the student in creating an outline that can be used with Write:OutLoud to write a complete essay. There are 50 outline templates available, such as sequencing or comparing and contrasting. Outlines can also be developed as needed by the instructor.
The students serviced in this program responded specifically to Co:Writer and Read:OutLoud, particularly the highlighting tool. The students needed a great amount of support to use Draft:Builder and would at times become frustrated.
The software also assisted the students in regard to task and topic maintenance. I found the ability to change the background color highly effective. For example, several of the students are fixated on a particular color such as red or yellow and the background color drew the students’ attention to the screen.
The text-to-speech capability fostered attention by having the student reread what they had written. For example, the student had been assisted in writing a topic sentence but the detail is unrelated to the topic. The student is asked to listen to the sentence again. This method assisted the student in developing metalinguistic strategies. The educator or therapist can then determine if the student is able to identify a sentence that is unrelated to the topic. Therefore, topic maintenance can be an important goal when using the text-to-speech technology.
The purpose of using this assistive technology with students with autism demonstrates that the Assistive Technology enables the student to perform written expression more fluently, due to the word prediction and text-to-speech capabilities. Therefore the student does not experience their usual frustration or anxiety emanated for handwriting.
The programs also provide visual prompts, which are especially helpful for students with autism. For example, Read:OutLoud assists with decoding and tracking the print. Controlling the rate of speech also assists with comprehension. The highlighting also provides visual cues for important vocabulary.
Co:Writer enables the student to use vocabulary with less demands on spelling. Cognitive demands for spelling, decoding, and comprehension are also reduced. The reduced demands have therefore lessened the behaviors that typically result out of frustration. For students with autism, the primary handicapping condition is typically related to their ability to develop a balance between content form and use. Therefore, their written expression requires more fine motor skills and cognition. These students then develop an aversion to writing, as well as an aversion to reading due to troubles decoding and encoding text.
Typically, as self-stimulatory behaviors increase, a student’s attention to task will decrease. Behaviors are then noted due to the student wanting to avoid or escape the task.
While the SOLO software does not eradicate the challenge for the student, it does provide tools for the student to utilize in order to enhance their ability to complete the necessary academic tasks.
Geralyn Fellows is a Speech Language Pathologist with the Smithtown School District in New York. She has been working to implement SOLO 6 with her students to help build their written expression. This Technology Project submission is a summary of her work, process, and findings.