Sally McKeown catches up on ICT for special needs with Inclusive Technology
My Board softwareInclusive"How often do children choose between milk and juice in a day?" asked Sandra Thistlethwaite, specialist speech and language therapist. "Not very often, so we need to give them more useful vocabulary. What’s the first word a child says to express an opinion?"

‘No!’ we all chorused. You could spot the parents among us. All agreed that a good way of getting children to talk is to program the words "No" and "More" into their communication aids. We also found that the average two-year-old has a vocabulary of 278 words so  children with speech and language problems should have access thesm as early as possible. This core vocabulary will also also reflect current obsessions from football to Iggle Piggle and the characters from the BBC's In the Night Garden.

The Inclusive Technology Information Day at West Bromwich certainly gave us a new slant on using technology. Sandra Thistlethwaite suggested that one primary function of communication is to grab attention, and suggested putting a loud noise on a pupil’s speech system and changing it regularly if you want to get people to take notice. A wolf whistle, a compliment or even a burp is a lot more stimulating than the usual ’Hello’, which does not lead easily to other small talk.

Children's school bags due for careful weight watching

It was a great day for learning new things. Information officer Jamie Munro pointed out that children should never carry bags weighing more than 10 per cent of their body weight. The limit should be about 4.1 Kg for the average 12-year-old. A laptop weighs about 3.65 Kg but the typical British schoolbag comes in at a whopping 5.5 KG which suggests that we are training the next generation of weightlifters or creating future problems for the health service. Laptops do seem to be the way forward - all the power of word processing and access to the World Wide Web without getting a hernia.

Jamie also showed Solo, from Don Johnston, which has four tools for planning, drafting and revising: Draft:Builder is a visual tool for brainstorming and organising information; Co:Writer offers word prediction and will even work for dyslexia learners who may not predict the first letter correctly; Write:Outloud is a talking word processor; text reader Read:Outloud can help with proof reading.

Fil McIntryre showed off the latest range of switches which now come in all shapes and sizes and can mounted in ever more ingenious ways to give children access to software. We also had a chance to see My Board (pictured above), the software for Inclusive’s height-adjustable plasma board which is ideal for large-scale sorting and drag-and-drop activities. We also saw Crazy Talk 5 a "photo puppet moviemaker" which animates still pictures so kids can get their teachers saying the craziest things. Seriously though, it offers a great encouragement for children to talk and record their speech in a fun context.

More information

Next Inclusive Technology Information Days:
Essex - May 13, 2009
Cardiff/Swansea - June 10 2009

Sally McKeownSally McKeown writes regularly for the Gifted and Talented Update website. Her latest book, Screens and Pages – Technology and Reading for Pleasure, is due for publication by NIACE.


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