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   HomeArticles / Special Needs / Palm Handhelds For Special Needs Children

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Palm Handhelds for Special Needs Children
by Dr. Merle Marsh

People don't often think of handheld devices as tools for students with special needs. After all, wouldn't the handhelds be too complicated for these students to manipulate and wouldn't their screens be too difficult to see? How could kids learn from a device so small? The truth is that especially for those students with learning disabilities, handhelds seem to be an excellent tool for learning. The size of the device is an advantage rather than a disadvantage, especially when portability, price, and convenience are considered. –And the screen, it's big enough to become a graphic calculator, calendar, notebook, easel, gameboard, and more.

In Marysville, Kansas, school personnel found that giving handhelds to special education students helped them not only with learning tasks, but also with self esteem. The students were quite proud to carry their Palm assistants around the school. According to Bev Schottler, Resource Room Teacher at Marysville, "Instead of being looked down upon by the more traditionally functioning students, the handheld users seem endowed with a certain superiority. The special ed students are showing that they can keep up with their schoolmates and be cool at the same time."

At Marysville and in other places where handhelds are being used for children with learning problems, parents and teachers are finding that the handhelds are a great help with organizational tasks and schedules. With schedules and "to do" lists available at the touch of the screen on their handheld, special needs students feel more confident because they realize that what they need to know is at their fingertips. They don't have to worry about being embarrassed because they can't remember what's next on their schedule or don't know telephone numbers, locker combinations, and other facts that they may need. At home they can use the gadgets to remember things such as birthdays, medical appointments, when projects are due, what their parents want them to do when, etc. In a January 2003 article in Technology and Learning Magazine, Diane Barfield wrote, "PDA's (Personal Digital Assistants, such as the Palm™ handheld) help with organization of projects by giving a tactile way to keep calendars and other information."

Special needs students often have problems taking notes in class, not only because of writing skill, but also because of the pressures of time in the classroom. Students can become very upset if they don't have the time to take down what they know they need. It's much easier for them to get notes into a handheld using a portable keyboard as an input device. Keyboards for handhelds fold up neatly and are almost as small in size as the handhelds. Therefore they can be easily carried by students between home and school and class to class.

Although students with special needs may not be able to get everything into the handheld correctly, what is in there will most likely be easier for them to read than their handwritten notes. In addition, teachers and students can share their notes with them by beaming the notes wirelessly to their handheld. Once the notes are in a handheld, students can transfer them to a word processing document on a computer and redo the notes using all the time that they need.

Handhelds with cameras, drawing programs, and recording devices can also be used to help special needs students. If taking down words is laborious for them, creating a recording, a drawing or a photograph might be the key to helping them remember what they need to know. Handheld recording, drawing and photographic capabilities would also be valuable for reports that are often required in subjects such as social studies and science.

For the younger children handheld device programs such as eTales, which include illustrated stories for children to read and/or for adults to share with children, capture their attention and get them interested in reading. Teachers of special needs children say that handhelds are easier for the children to hold than books and that 'turning' pages is also simplified. The handhelds, of course, can be carried anywhere making it easy for children to use them when they want.

You'll find information about other programs for children with special needs on the Palm site (http://www.palmone.com). Some of these programs include WordComplete, a program that does a word popup after the student enters a few letters and therefore, helps the student get the exact word and spelling wanted; Herbert's Math Time, an math skills helper; TealMagnify, a program that doubles the screen display; and Thought Manager>, an organizer complete with arrows and drag and drop tools.

Helpful Links:

Education Studies: Marysville High School

Education Quick Guide: Special Needs

View Special Needs Archive

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