Technology Supports for ADHD
By Krista Forand, M.Ed.
Technology is all around us! We live in a world full of technology that is constantly changing and improving the way we live (although that may be arguable, particularly if you’ve ever experienced a computer crash or have had to navigate a complicated automated phone system!). We don’t really think about how we may use technology on a daily basis to solve our problems, but we all do it. For example, I often set alarms on my phone to remind me to do certain things, especially things that are more out of the ordinary and not part of my routine (e.g., taking chicken out of the freezer to defrost).
On a larger scale, we can use technology to gain access to information, demonstrate our own knowledge and abilities and take part in society. When we use technology in this particular way it is often referred to as “assistive technology”. Obvious examples of assistive technology include wheel chair ramps and hearing aids. These things allow people with disabilities to have greater access to society despite the challenges they face that are related to their disabilities. Assistive technology for ADHD might be less obvious to people, but there are many technology supports that can be quite useful for children and adults with ADHD. Below are some different assistive technologies that can be useful for children with ADHD. Consider what challenges your child faces and whether a particular assistive technology is worth trying.
My child with ADHD has a lot of trouble with understanding and remembering what she is reading. What can she do to improve her reading?
One of the reasons why many children and adults with ADHD have difficulty with reading is because they do not engage in active reading strategies. Research has shown that “good readers” monitor their reading by asking questions like “does this make sense?” and they are active with the text (e.g., highlighting, writing notes in the margins, looking up new vocabulary). In addition to trying these strategies, it may also be helpful to use assistive technology. Many children with ADHD benefit from text-to-speech programs that take text and turn it into audio. It is recommended that children visually read along with the audio as this may help with their own reading speed and development of new vocabulary. There are several tablet applications (e.g., Natural Read) and computer software applications (e.g., read&write by texthelp) available that convert text to audio. Audiobooks are also another option. Audiobooks are widely available through public libraries, online and through special subscriptions (e.g., Audible.com).
My child has great ideas, but can’t get them on to paper. How can he improve is ability to express himself through writing?
Writing is often a very difficult task for children with ADHD because it involves coordinating different skills all at once. There is a motor component, the organization of ideas, remembering to use proper spelling, punctuation and grammar, and making sure that ideas are complete and clearly expressed for the reader. This can be a very daunting task for anyone with ADHD. Assistive technologies that may be helpful for writing include software and tablet applications that visually organize the writing process and create organized outlines of topics and ideas (e.g., Kidspiration and Inspiration). If your child is better at expressing himself verbally, consider using a speech-to-text program (e.g., Dragon Naturally Speaking). Speech-to-text allows the child to speak his ideas into the computer, which then turns it into text. Afterward, he can edit and re-organize sentences as needed. For children who are impatient with the writing process and tend to rush, speech-to-text may help to make the entire experience a lot less stressful. For children who have specific difficulty with messy writing, consider programs that teach them how to type (e.g., Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing for Kids).
My teenager with ADHD has trouble remembering to do things, being on time and getting things done on time. What can he do to improve in these areas?
One important thing to remember is that the ability to plan, organize and manage time is still developing in teenagers and the part of the brain that is involved with these executive functions (the prefrontal cortex) is not fully developed until approximately age 25. Teenagers with ADHD are typically behind their non-ADHD peers when it comes to these abilities and so it is important for parents to understand that they will require extra support from adults even into young adulthood. That being said, most teenagers are quite tech savvy and can access a number of assistive technologies for planning, organizing and time management. Help them to start using timers to monitor their time, electronic calendars with built in reminder alerts and applications that organize task lists and other activities. Some tablet and phone applications include 30/30, Evernote, DropTime, Time Timer, Todoist and Pomodoro Timer.
With all that being said, here are a few things to keep in mind when looking for assistive technology for your child with ADHD:
- Keep it simple and make it work for you. If it takes more time to figure out how to use something and maintain it, it may not be the right choice. On the other hand, many of the software programs do require time to learn and train, so be patient and help your child learn how to use them. The companies who create these products often have video demonstrations, which can be a great way to learn, rather than reading about the product or trying to figure it out on your own.
- Start small and do one thing at a time. Avoid buying or accessing too many technologies all at once. You will likely feel overwhelmed and not have the energy to give everything a fair try. First determine what area you and your child believe is the most important to address with technology. Then pick one thing and try it before moving on to something else.
- Keep costs down. Always check first to see if there are free or low cost ways of accessing technologies. Use audiobooks from the public library and ask your child’s school if they have certain software programs available for home use. Sometimes schools have software licenses that allow families to use the programs at home. Many software companies also offer free trials of their products. Take advantage of free trials and don’t commit to a product until you’re sure that it is a good fit for your child. Also, explore the accessibility features on electronic devices. iPhones and iPads have a text-to-speech function called “voiceover” that will read documents and web pages out loud. Go to settings, general, accessibility to access. (You can even try to listen to this blog right now!)
For more information about apps, software, and hardware visit the www.adhdfamilies.ca and check out the Assistive Technology tab.
Krista Forand, M.Ed.
Krista has worked in various roles with the CanLearn Society (formerly Calgary Learning Centre) since 2009. She is currently working with the clinical team as a registered provisional psychologist, providing assessments and group interventions for individuals with learning and attention difficulties. In 2014, Krista obtained her graduate degree from the University of Calgary where she cultivated her interest in learning disabilities and attention disorders. She believes in the therapeutic effect of psychoeducational assessment and how this process can empower individuals and families to take control of their lives, by understanding their unique way of being in the world.