Assistive Technologies Break Through Writing Barriers for Students with Autism, Cognitive Disabilities and Physical Challenges

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The case study and video showcase the extraordinary teaching efforts of Mrs. Murphy McBride, a special education teacher in the SCORES instructional resource program: (Social, Communication, Resources and Services) of Austin, Texas. Some students do not speak or speak non-stop. Many are verbal, but cannot write a single word. Some cannot lift their arms due to a physical disability. Some people thought these students would never write, but not Mrs. McBride.

Today's assistive technologies are enabling people with physical and learning disabilities to do things independently that were impossible 20 years ago

Don Johnston, a leader in assistive technologies for students with special needs, released a new case study today titled, "Making a Difference for Students with Autism, Transforming Non-Writers into Writers Using Intelligent Word Prediction."

The case study and video showcase the extraordinary teaching efforts of Mrs. Murphy McBride, a special education teacher in the SCORES instructional resource program: (Social, Communication, Resources and Services) of Austin, Texas. Some students in Mrs. McBride's class do not speak or speak non-stop. Many are verbal, but cannot write a single word. Some cannot lift their arms due to a physical disability. Some people thought students, like these, would never write.

McBride uses an assistive technology word prediction program, Co:Writer®, helping students with developmental delays, physical disabilities and learning challenges break through writing barriers once thought impenetrable. With this tool, students wrote their first word, sentence or paragraph.

In the video, McBride describes her use of Co:Writer® to tackle the learning difficulties of students with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), traumatic brain injuries, mental retardation and cerebral palsy over the course of nine years with students of many ages. She shares her first-hand accounts improving the writing and communication skills of children, adolescents and adults who were non-writers.    

"Co:Writer is a flexible writing tool that all students with disabilities can benefit from throughout their life," she said. "It kept my students from being frustrated and helped them believe in themselves. If a student cannot speak or has trouble organizing their thoughts, as many students do with autism, this assistive technology tool can make a real difference. I saw many students become more confident and independent, expressing themselves thoughtfully for the first time."

As students write in any word processor, email program, or on the Internet, Co:Writer uses context clues and common spelling information to "predict" the words students try to write even when they spell them phonetically or inventively (such as writing the word 'elephant' as 'lfont'). These predictions are offered in a list that Co:Writer reads out loud. When students hear the right word, they choose the word from a list and that word is sent to the writing application.

"Today's assistive technologies are enabling people with physical and learning disabilities to do things independently that were impossible 20 years ago," said Ben Johnston, Director of Marketing. "The $11.3 billion IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) stimulus funding will help schools provide students with these proven assistive technologies that can make all the difference."

About Don Johnston Incorporated

Don Johnston empowers educators with specialized accessible technologies and supported reading and writing tools for students with cognitive, physical, and learning differences. Since 1980, the company has partnered with literacy experts, assistive technology specialists, speech language pathologists, psychologists, teachers, researchers, and scientists to develop over a dozen assistive technology products. The company also publishes Start-to-Finish®, a collection of paperback, audio and computer books for students who read bellow grade level.

Resource Links
Murphy McBride Case Study and Video: http://www.donjohnston.com/case_studies_alive/murphy_mcbride/index.html

Demo of Co:Writer:
http://www.donjohnston.com/media/flash/product_demo/cowriter/index.html

Independent Research - Journal of Special Education (JSET), 2008 http://www.donjohnston.com/pdf/cowriter/cow_wol_research_study.pdf

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Valerie Chernek
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