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Can Audio and/or Digital Books Improve Your Child’s Learning Outcomes? - Part l

Audio/Digital LearningChildren with learning disabilities (LD), like dyslexia, have trouble understanding words they read. Causes are unclear, but we now know that LD is not due to a lack of intelligence or a desire to learn. While dyslexia is a life-long condition, early identification, support from a parent or teacher, and access to digital or audio books and other learning materials may help your child to improve their learning outcomes and be better prepared to successfully work around their LD. Research now demonstrates that when children with LD are given accessible instructional materials (often referred to as AIM) — textbooks or learning materials that are delivered in audio and/or digital formats — they can excel in school and also learn to enjoy reading.

Reading with digital (or e-books) and audio books can enrich a user’s learning experience by engaging them in the content in multisensory ways (e.g., reading and listening at the same time, reading along while the e-book highlights each word). Sadly and too often, thousands of children who struggle with reading because of a print disability such as dyslexia do not receive access to resources that may help them enjoy reading. Consider Sam and Rebecca’s stories. What if we could turn the clock back for Rebecca? Would she have to endure the years of uncertainty and anguish she still has today about her reading struggles?

Rebecca’s Everyday Struggle

Rebecca, a young adult, wasn’t identified with LD in school or at home. Her friends, family, and teachers thought her to be slow and lazy. She felt ashamed. As schoolwork got tougher in middle school, her grades spiraled and so did her desire to become a nurse. Instead, Rebecca sat in the Principal’s office for behavior issues throughout high school. Today, she is burdened with a constant struggle to make sense of the daily information she needs to live life independently. 

Sam’s Turn-Around Story

Sam also struggles to read. In early elementary school, words in a printed book didn’t stick for him. His teachers were puzzled and by 4th grade, Sam fell behind in his schoolwork. His mom discussed options with his school, formal and specialized testing was done, and Sam was identified with a reading disability under the special education law – the Individuals with Disabilities Education (IDEA). His school created an IEP or Individualized Education Program (made possible under IDEA) that included access to his classroom materials, such as textbooks and novels, in accessible digital formats. Sam received reading software that allowed him to hear and see text read aloud. He experienced a new way to learn and this gave him a new way to understand the printed word. His ability to tackle grade level work improved and so did his grades. His parents and teachers were pleased and he made terrific progress at school.

About Accessible Formats

Accessible instruction materials are specialized digital formats of textbooks and other printed materials that are provided specifically to accommodate persons with print disabilities due to visual impairment, blindness, a physical disability, or a reading disability due to dyslexia. For those with dyslexia, digital formats make it possible to “listen” to text at the same time as “seeing” it on a computer screen or device.

AIM formats include braille, audio, large print and digital text in a common standard file format called DAISY (Digital Accessible Information System). Through audio books, DAISY enables a user to hear audio by a recorded human voice or synthesized electronic speech. The digital files use reading software so that users can simultaneously see and hear text read aloud, typically by a computer voice. Many children are familiar and comfortable with computer voices because of video games, computer use, and other electronics.

Access Is the Law

The nation’s special education law, IDEA, includes the National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard (NIMAS). The purpose of the NIMAS is to "facilitate the provision of accessible, alternate-format versions of print textbooks to pre-K–12 students with disabilities.” The NIMAS helps IEP teams discuss how students with reading disabilities such as dyslexia should be provided access to textbooks and other school materials in electronic formats.

If your child has an IEP or a 504 plan due to a reading disability, review it to see if there is a question related to eligibility for AIM. If your child was not found eligible for AIM, you have the right to meet with the school and discuss why your child isn’t considered eligible for access to the alternate formats of his or her school materials as well as the technology (digital reader and/or software) to use it. It’s never too late to discuss with the school how your child learns best and how adding accessible instructional materials can sometimes make a dramatic difference in both their ability to learn as well as build their confidence and excitement about learning.
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