Aim: To provide a series of useful tools, resources and guidance in adapting eBooks to the needs of learners with Specific Learning Disorders.
Key Words: Specific Learning Disorders, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, Adaptation.
Prior Knowledge: None.
Most Specific Learning Disorders (referred to as SLD), use the affix ‘dys’ to signify the partially lacking ability, like dyslexia for instance. The “dys” family of learning disorders is defined by specialists as a neurological issue that occurs independently of intelligence. SLDs have a neurobiological cause that affects the way the brain processes information and can disturb the cognitive development of a learning ability such as reading, writing, speaking, doing mathematics, or planning and coordinating motor tasks. To be more precise, the brain of a person having a Specific Learning Disorder functions differently when it comes to receiving, integrating, retaining, and expressing information, which can result in difficulties to process certain information or stimuli.
However, they are not unitary disorders and affect each person in different ways at different ages and stages of development, and to different degrees. They should not be confused with retarded development, although sometimes they are as they constitute a ‘hidden handicap’: under normal circumstances, children with SLD may appear not different from their peers, until new skills are tried or known ones taken out of context, then difficulties become apparent. They are also not due to emotional disturbance, nor disadvantages of economic, cultural or environmental nature.
What are Dyslexia and Dyspraxia?
Dyslexia is the first and most common Specific Learning Disorder. It is a cognitive disorder that translates into difficulties in reading and language-based processing skills. Concretely, the brain takes longer than usual to identify and connect letters and words with other kinds of knowledge. This disorder can affect reading fluency, decoding, reading comprehension, memorization, writing, spelling, and sometimes speech.
Dyspraxia is characterized by difficulties with fine motor skills such as hand-eye coordination for reading from one line to another or for writing for example. It translates into difficulties with movement and coordination, and consequently with language and speech. However, this last disorder is generally classified as a Developmental Coordination Disorder and not as a Specific Learning Disorder, but we will address it nevertheless, as it impacts the learning process and education as well.
There is a few additional ‘Dys’ that will not be mentioned in this practical sheet at they are less relevant to the issues of adapting eBook and reading material. However, educators should always be aware of their audience and tailor the content to their needs.
How does reading works?
When our eyes come across a text, a complex combination of physical, neurologic and cognitive processes come into motion and allow us to convert the print into logical information. As our eyes travel the page in a swift and coordinated movement, the nerve impulse of each retina simultaneously stimulate a zone near the rear of the brain which allows us to see clear and dark zones on a page. A more advanced area of the brain convert the letters and words that our eyes see in abstract representation of sounds, and translate these representation into language. Then, another part of the brain convert the collection of words into ideas which makes sense. That is reading. As mentioned above, students with DYS can have issues processing these information.
Why and how to adapt material?
Adapting reading material to the needs of all learners is the basis of inclusion and accessibility. In order to ensure that all students have a fair chance of understanding the story, but also developing their knowledge and participating in the activity, it is important to provide the students with all the tools for his success.
Here are some of the basics tools for the text section of the eBook :
- Use a clear sans serif font like Arial, Century Gothic or OpenDys.
- The font should be between 12 and 14 in size.
- Use an adapted spacing of 1,5 in between the lines.
- The text should not be justified → align to the left.
- Do not use italics, underlining and CAPITALS → put text in bold to highlight it.
- Be consistent with use of language and writing style.
- Do not split a word across two lines with a hyphen.
- Avoid distractions and unnecessary information.
In regards to the illustration and design of the eBook adaptation, follow the following advices:
- Use colours to separate information and be consistent in your colour codes.
- Use clear visual elements with not too many elements on them to illustrate concepts and support the text.
- Ensure that the images used match the text.
- Use descriptions to explain diagrams and other illustrations.
- Use off-white or pastel coloured background whenever possible.
- Use a multisensory approach: wherever possible provide different kinds of topic related content to touch, manipulate and play with.
In a framework of self-assessment, you can write for three minutes about what you have learned from this ‘Practice Sheet’ including information such as its purpose, its usefulness.
At the end of this practice sheet, you will be able to:
- Know basic tools and methods to implement in order to adapt your eBooks to the needs of learners with SLDs,
- know what SLDs, but more specifically Dyslexia and Dyspraxia, are,
- How to adapt your workshops and eBooks to the needs of learners with SLDs.