by Margaret Perry

Fall 1998, Vol. 10 No. 1

Bryan is a typical 13-year-old. He is kind, warm hearted and one of the most level headed teenagers I know. He has a wonderful sense of humor. Bryan enjoys playing and watching many different sports including swimming, baseball and hockey. His preferred sport right now is Nascar racing, where he roots for his favorite, #24 Jeff Gordon.

Bryan is the oldest of my four children and has recently taken on the responsibility of part-time babysitter for his younger siblings. He is employed as our local paper boy which provides him with a steady income. Weekends are spent either with friends at the movies or home playing with his siblings. He is currently a second class Boy Scout, having worked his way up from a Tiger Cub to a Webelos Scout, earning the Arrow of Light award. Bryan enjoys camping and learning new skills and hopes to make Eagle Scout in a few years. He has many talents, including the ability to draw well, the inquisitiveness to take things apart and rebuild them, and a very strong creative streak which he uses in every aspect of his life.

Learning Disabilities and ADD Create Problems

Bryan has some difficulties which are mainly confined to the academic area. He is classified as perceptually impaired and has been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (without hyperactivity). His disabilities affect him most in the areas of study skills, organization, memory, math and writing, which affects all the other academic areas. His handwriting has always been so messy that often he is unable to read it himself. He rarely uses cursive and has major difficulty with spacing and some letter formations.

Bryan is very aware of his disabilities and often gets frustrated by the amount of effort he needs to put into his studies. When he was younger he required a great deal of attention both at home and at school, to keep him focused and on task. As he has gotten older his ability to complete tasks has improved, but the amount of work required has increased. He often feels overwhelmed by the work and many times tries to avoid doing it altogether. His current placement is in a partial pull-out program in middle school. He receives resource room instruction for study skills, math, English and reading, and he is mainstreamed in regular social studies, science and related arts classes.

A Sister's Profile

Kaitlyn, 9-years-old, is my second oldest child. She is presently in fourth grade. Katie is a very bright, funny, and people-pleasing type child. She has a wonderful imagination and a terrific enthusiasm for trying new things. Katie is very talented in the area of athletics, especially swimming and softball. Currently she is a Tri-County Qualifying swimmer and has been a member of two separate relay teams that have set records at the YMCA and our local swim club. She also enjoys basketball and recently made the travel softball team. In addition to sports Katie plays the clarinet and is singing a short solo in her school show. She has been in scouts for the past five years. She enjoys camping, horseback riding, and all the trips and activities her troop organizes.

Like her older brother, Katie has academic difficulties, including trouble with study skills, handwriting, math, and organizational skills. Katie also has problems with phonics and decoding words, which has given her trouble in reading. She is classified as perceptually impaired and also has Attention Deficit Disorder (without hyperactivity). Katie's school work varies from day to day due to her impulsive nature to rush through things. Her handwriting skills are similar to Bryan's, but her attempts with cursive have been slightly more successful. Katie is currently placed in an in-class support classroom and is pulled out for basic skills math instruction.

Help from Technology

I introduced the computer as a tool for reinforcing and enhancing the areas in which Bryan and Katie have problems. I immediately started working with Katie and we found Reader Rabbit's Interactive Reading Journey (Learning Company) to be extremely helpful. She enjoyed working her way through the path on her own, and her phonic skills improved noticeably within a relatively short period of time.

The Computer Brings Success to the Writing Process

Recently the computer has given both children the ability to compose documents for school and pleasure which are relatively flawless. An example for Katie would be a book report which she did completely by herself on the computer. She used the Incredible Writing Machine (Broderbund), which is designed to inspire students to creatively write and draw by offering book making, drawing, journal writing, essay writing, poetry writing, storytelling and more. The spellchecking feature allows Katie to catch most of her errors and correct them on her own. She enjoys the independence of writing and composing using this program and frequently creates short stories for her own enjoyment. When Katie was younger she used to aspire to be a professional writer but as she got older the writing process became more difficult and she seemed to let go of her dream. Now that she is using the computer I see her imagination coming back to life. She is proud of her writing and loves to share her stories.

Bryan's previous use of the computer had been limited to playing games and surfing the Internet. The first time he himself used the computer as a tool for his school work was after seeing his sister using it. In the past Bryan would attempt to write his projects in long hand and then ask me to type them. Most often I would end up editing them as I was typing because his ability to compose was very weak. An example of one such project is a travel brochure which he wrote out completely by hand. I showed him how to create the same thing using the computer program Winword (Microsoft Office), and then I allowed him to choose which project to submit. His choice was the computer-generated one because he said it reflected his ideas better.

Independence as a Result

Bryan's first attempt on his own was a travel cube project that required him to research and write about Poland. Bryan completed 98% of this project on his own. It was the first time I did not have to almost entirely rewrite what he had written. He used Encarta '95 (Microsoft) to get information and pictures, as well as some old encyclopedias we had at home. He typed each description using the Incredible Writing Machine and spellchecked it himself. The only contribution I made was to proof read the copy and to show him how to enlarge the font size. His project was done with a lot of manual cutting and pasting which produced a very impressive cube. I have truly never seen Bryan so proud of a school project.

The writing skills of both Katie and Bryan have greatly been enhanced by the use of computers. The spellchecking feature, as well as the ease with which they are able to make corrections and edit their work, has helped alleviate much of their frustrations. It has given them a sense of independence and helped boost their sometimes low self images.

Computers Become a New Interest

Bryan is now taking a computer class in school and is just exploding with excitement about all the things he is learning to do. He is learning how to use the different features of Windows '95 and seems to be very good at it. He enjoys changing the screen saver (almost daily) by personalizing messages to me about Jeff Gordon. He also is known to mess with my desktop patterns and colors, which is driving me crazy. He is very enthusiastic about using the computer, and I am hoping to get him using a laptop in school by the time he gets to high school.

Still Searching for a Math Solution

Math is also a difficult area for both Bryan and Katie. I am always searching for programs that will appeal to them and hold their attention. The various Math Blaster programs (Davidson) worked well in the beginning, but the children soon lost interest in them. Katie frequently uses Logical Journey of the Zoombinis (Broderbund) which is geared toward higher order math functions and logical thinking skills, but this area is not where her problems lie. Both Katie's and Bryan's main difficulty involves the computation of basic math facts. They are not able to master these skills in part because they often lack the motivation needed to continuously practice them. I am currently searching for a program that addresses basic math skills that will motivate them and challenge them to practice. I am confident that such a program exists and that I will find it someday.

Home Setup

Katie and Bryan both have access to two computers in a our home. The "children's computer" is a Compudyne 486 model that contains 500 MB hard drive with 16 MB of RAM. It also is equipped with a 12X CD-ROM, 36 speed modem, Sound Blaster 16 sound card, and an Epson 4600 black and white printer. The only difficulty with this computer is that the hard drive is currently full, which is one reason we opted to purchase a new computer last fall. The new computer, "Mom's computer," is an IBM Kehtron computer with Pentium 250DM Explorer II that has a 4.02 GB hard drive and 32 MB of RAM. This computer also has a 16X CD-ROM, 56.6 Modem, Sound Blaster 16 sound card, Microphone/speakers/headphones and an Epson Stylus Color 600 printer. Both computers are located in our family room and are rarely idle. Everyone in the family actively uses the computers on a daily basis, but priority is given to Bryan and Katie's school-related activities.

Dreams for the Future

The computer has proven to be effective for both Katie and Bryan in improving their writing and composing skills, as well as helping them develop a stronger sense of self worth. They both seem to be highly motivated and very excited whenever they are using the computer. In the near future both children hope to use laptop computers everyday in school in order to improve their organizational, study, and note-taking skills. As for their future career goals I can see how computers could play an extremely important role. Katie's dream to become a writer is now possible. Bryan's creativity and drawing talents combined with his enthusiasm for computers will hopefully someday lead him to a possible career in graphic arts. Perhaps someday both children could work together on books with Katie writing and Bryan illustrating. Regardless of what career path they choose I am sure computers will play an integral part, and I plan to make sure they are both well-prepared and confident using them.

Software Recommended by a Parent of
Two Children with Learning Disabilities

Title Ages Subject Company
Reading Galaxy 8-12 Reading Comprehension Broderbund
Scary Poems for Rotten Kids 7+ Reading Discis
Storybook Weaver 6-12 Story Writing MECC/The Learning Company
Carmen Sandiego Series (Jr., USA, World) 5+ Geography, Problem Solving Broderbund
Logical Journey of the Zoombinis 8+ Math/ Logic Broderbund
Magic School Bus Explores the Solar System 7+ Science Microsoft
Super Solvers Outnumbered 8+ Math The Learning Company
Math Munchers Deluxe 7-12 Math MECC/The Learning Company
Math Blaster 6-9 Math Knowledge Adventure Davidson
Incredible Writing Machine 6-12 Writing Broderbund

Margaret Perry is a graduate student in the Department of Special Education at The College of New Jersey.

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