Please meet Ned, a 21-year-old junior at SUNY at Buffalo. If you had asked me twenty years ago where Ned would be today, I would have had difficulty answering this question. When Ned was 18 months, my cousins, who were therapists and familiar with special education, advised me to have Ned evaluated. His symptoms were as follows: little or no language; screaming to a pitch that could break glass; could not drink from a bottle, but could breast feed; could not raise his upper body to crawl; night terrors and, as he got older, the list continued to grow longer. My ex-husband and I took Ned to a facility near our home to have him evaluated. As we waited, I thought the therapists would come in and say, “He’s just fine, go home and give him some time." Three hours passed and in came a physical therapist, occupational therapist and a speech/language therapist. Each one had something to say, from "hypotonic," to "receptive and expressive language difficulties," to "sluggish fine-motor skills." The recommendation: a special pre-school and a classification as a child with a disability. What next?, I wondered.
There was no Internet, but a friend recommended an organization called SEPTA- Special Education Parent Teacher Association.With trepidation I went to the first meeting. Lo and behold, I knew quite a few of the moms. I now knew I was not alone, making this new life a lot easier.
Ned received services all throughout his school years. I decided to hold him back in kindergarten even though he was a July birthday. He was in a self-contained kindergarten for the first year in a different school building. The following year he started fresh in kindergarten with the most fabulous teacher. Ned acclimated quite well to school. As he got older he was “labeled” learning disabled. I did a tremendous amount of research, became a Parent Member for Annual Reviews and upon getting divorced, went for my Master’s in Special Education. At the same time the computer was just beginning to evolve and I took to it like glue, as did Ned. He benefited with visual learning, as receptive and expressive language skills were always difficult for him. He scored in the 18th percentile in written expression at his last Triennial.
One of the most useful tools we found was Inspirations, a software program that helped Ned to comprehend, organize his thoughts, and most of all, study for an exam. This program, his testing modifications (which he continues to use in college) and learning how to advocate for himself allowed Ned to graduate high school in the top 50 of his class.
Today Ned has finally received an iPad. Overjoyed is an understatement! Ned is a graphic arts major and the media director of the Student Association at SUNY at Buffalo. I loaded his iPad with apps that I thought would benefit him. Here are Ned’s thoughts:
I am neat and organized, but best of all I never worry about losing a piece of paper. Instead of packing my book bag with notebooks for every class I just put in my iPad and stylus. It has helped me color code notebooks, use different colored pens, highlight and immediately send a document to a teacher.
Ned’s favorite apps and why:
Noteshelf- Ned made an in-app purchase for “agenda paper” for the app; planners to help him with his weekly agenda. In addition he made a notebook for each class using a different color. He prefers the ability to type vs the handwriting in the notebook. He enjoys the app because it feels like a real notebook and the stylus feels like he is writing with a pen.
Evernote- “I love the simplicity!” comments Ned. As an RA (Resident Assistant), he has a list of all of his students with emergency contacts at his finger tips on his iPad, iPhone and of course his Macbook Pro. As the Media Director, he receives business cards daily. He takes a picture of it and zap! he has it in all three places. Evernote also works well with so many of his other programs he always knows where everything will be.
Dropbox- Great to have an assignment on the run. "I love to go to the school library just with my iPad and continue working on an assignment that I uploaded onto my Dropbox," says Ned.
Flashcards* Ned is the King of flashcards! Along with Inspirations, Ned always made flashcards to reinforce facts. Ned is taking geology this semester -- a tough class for him as it is not in his comfort zone. He makes his flashcards on Quizlet and downloads them to his iPad. He loves its ease and the fact that he will not lose or tear them.
As a graphic artist Ned loves two other art apps:
Livesketch HD- Allows you to sketch like you are using a pencil and paper.
Adobe Ideas- Ned loves to scribble and is responsible for poster ideas at school. He can do both with this app.
And of course, Ned is eagerly awaiting the Inspirations App, which will be out shortly.
Finally, to the teachers and administrators— thank you for listening and not being afraid to step out of your comfort zone when technology was introduced. To everyone— don’t give up! My son will always have a learning disability, but he has the tools to help him succeed.
Vicki Windman is a special education teacher at Clarkstown High School South.