Computers Can Help Language-Disabled Learners

Frank B. WithrowBy Frank B. Withrow

I worked with language-disabled children at one time. Many of them would probably be classified today as children with autism. Some identified more easily with computers than with humans. I developed a series of drills and lessons called PhonicPicks.com. The original work used HyperStudio, and it was hoped that teachers would develop additional lessons on their own.

The program developed vocabulary with nouns, included language activities with questions and answers, developed descriptive sentences, and included stories. I established a website to begin transferring a much larger DVD version of the program. The test website is still active with one story, “Eloise the Little Pink Elephant,” available in both English and Spanish.

Book cover with a nice but homely pink elephant right, some books bottom left and top left: Eloise the Little Pink Elephant - Frank B. Withrow ABLE COMPANY - 232 E Street, NE - Washington, DC 2002 - © 1999. Bottom right a green box with GO

I semiretired in 1992 and began working for the NASA Classroom of the Future. This turned my interest more to science and mathematics rather than language. I have a number of grandchildren and great grandchildren so I have kept the website active.

I believe that some children can more easily associate with technology than they do with their peers or teachers. N was a four-year-old terror when I first encountered her. She completely terrorized her two older sisters and parents. She had no speech or language. Experts had told the parents to institutionalize her. She was strong. She tore an army blanket into four-inch squares. On a performance IQ test, she came out in the normal range.

This was before personal computers were available. We developed, among other things, an 8mm sound film set of lessons for N patterned after films developed by Dr. Robert E. Stepp, Jr. of the University of Nebraska.

N began to spend time with the film series and began to learn language. She eventually graduated from high school. I am not sure how well she is doing now as an adult, but even if she is institutionalized she is able to independently care for herself. N is in her forties now. Today with the power of computers we can develop much more effective lessons for language-disabled learners.

It should be possible to design a structured language program that can be adapted for individual students and their needs. Technology can often bridge the gap and allow disabled learners to achieve.

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