Monday, February 9, 2015

Just Let Them Dictate...

Recently I was in conversation with a fellow OT and colleague (Molly) whom I've worked with since I came to this district. She is a veteran therapist, a wealth of knowledge, willing to share, and inquisitive ( I work with some really terrific people).

We were discussing the amazing progress in voice dictation software. We also discussed some of the inherent challenges of voice dictation, which users often don't recognize. Switching from brain-->pen/paper to brain-->voice output is not as simple as it might seem.

She made some really interesting observations, and so, seeing a gold mine to tap, I asked her to guest blog.

Below you will find Molly's thoughts on helping to train/teach students how to use voice dictation successfully.

The “go to” solution for children with handwriting problems used to be “just let them keyboard.” This solution was rarely a quick fix – 

keyboarding is a skill that needs to be learned and if a child has fine motor problems to begin with, keyboarding is also going to present challenges.  

Now, a frequent “go to” solution is using a speech to text program.  Thankfully, these programs have improved immensely in recent years and can be effective in helping a reluctant writer get words onto paper.  
However, what are the necessary component skills to make a child a competent dictator of text?  How can a therapist or teacher help a student use this software successfully?  
I am on the beginning of this learning curve, but have learned a few things that might be helpful for others.  
1.     Reading pre-written sentences is a good way to start using speech to text.  It gets the child used to the “mechanics” of the program (like turning the microphone on/off), and gives them a degree of instant success.
2.      The child will need to learn to say punctuation.  Reading from a written copy with big red periods/question marks helps teach this skill.
3.     As with writing, using some type of graphic organizer is crucial to organize and sequence information before dictating.  Using a traditional graphic organizer with key words does not work well.  The child sees the key word(s) and says that without thinking about putting it into a sentence.  What works better is “sentence starters” combined with the key word(s) so the child knows where to begin.
4.     Rehearsing with the graphic organizer can help achieve increased success.  It might also lead you to add additional words or cues to the graphic organizer if you see “stumbling” points.
5.     Proof-reading is vital.  Dictation software is not perfect and the child must learn to read their dictated text carefully to catch mistakes.  (You might even use a text to speech program to read it back to them.)
Dictation software has come a long way from the days when you would end up swearing at the computer because it was mangling your words.  It can now be an invaluable tool for children who are resistant to writing for any number of reasons.  You might even find yourself beginning to use it.

I hope this provides you with some useful tools in working with your students. Thanks for the guest blog Molly!

Happy Therapy!

Friday, February 6, 2015

More Symbols!

Recently I have been delving into what symbol software to procure for our district. We have been using the industry standard for awhile now, and most of my folks are very happy with it, but, there are a few issues. 
Pricing Structure

The main issue is that it is costly. 

So, I've been considering various options including web-based software, some of which is subscription based, and not platform dependent (meaning, I get a subscription, you can use it on a PC, Mac, or Chrome device). 

Recently I came across Smarty Symbols. This is an online, subscription based service or purchasable disc that provides access to over thirteen thousand illustrations.  It alone may not be the solution to my question, but it is a really interesting service.

Smarty Symbols does not provide a a user interface to create boards so the user will still need something to do this, though it could be a simple word processor with tables. 

What is unique about this service is that the user is allowed to sell products made with these graphics. This is not the case with any of the other vendors, at least not without significant royalties. Their library is huge, and if you still don't find what you need, they indicate that custom images can be created. 

If you are looking for symbols with which you can publish a product, Smarty Symbols is a great solution. Or perhaps you don't need to own symbol software, but would like to "play" with some for a month or two, again, Smarty Symbols is a great solution.

Happy Therapy!

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

SnapType for Occupational Therapists (and anyone else)

Greetings Tek-Ninjas. Recently a co-worker of mine asked me if I'd any experience using SnapType for Occupational Therapy. I had to say no, and quickly went in search of the program. I'm sure glad I did, as I think we will be using this a lot in our school district. SnapType is compatible with iPhones and iPads. I have not tried it on a iTouch, but seems like it ought to work there too.

SnapType is what we as Occupational Therapists have been looking for some time. In fact, the idea for the app came from Amberlynn Gilfford, a Occupational Therapy Graduate student. SnapType allows the user to take a picture of a form/worksheet, or pull one from your photos, and then add text anywhere you want via the keyboard or voice dictation.

SnapType allows student who have slow writing or decreased legibility to type or voice dictate into forms quickly. With some iPad skill, many students can learn to take the pictures of the worksheet themselves, and complete the work independently.

It is super easy to use and email finished products as images or pdfs. The free version allows you to store only three finished products, but I found that it's no problem to finish a document, mail it to myself, and then delete it. The pro version for normally retails for $4.99, but for a limited time it is available for $2.99.  The Pro Upgrade offers unlimited storage of documents, as well as a "whiteboard" function which turns images into simplified black and white documents in order to save ink when printing. For my purposes the free version was terrific.

Happy Therapy!