Problems with Writing?

Problems with writing?

Is writing a struggle because …..

  1. You or others can’t read your handwriting?
  2. You can’t spell the words you want to write?
  3. You can’t recall the words you want to write?
  4. You can’t organise your thoughts so you have to keep re-writing your work?
  5. You spend so much of your energy thinking how to write that you forget what you wanted to say?

There are plenty of solutions that can help you – or your child.

Word processing will dramatically improve presentation and make work legible. It can also raise the self esteem of the writer. To maximise the benefits, there is a need for  the writer to develop good keyboard skills. Typing tutors for children can be bought  (Nessy Fingers costs £20 + delivery) or found for free at There are also many free adult versions available on the Internet. If young children struggle with the upper case letters of the Qwerty keyboard, then you can buy lower case stickers to place over them from  for £5. The younger dyslexic may also benefit from picture symbols to support their writing. Pictures appear above a word and give the writer visual assistance, reinforce meaning and improve confidence. SymWriter2 ( from £149) features text-to-speech and a spell checker with symbol support.

Where weak spelling is an issue, the built in spell checker in your word processor may not be able to offer suitable corrections, so a specialist solution could come in handy. There are handheld spellcheckers which will try to interpret phonic spellings e.g. the Franklin spellchecker – from as little as £11. If you go for something like the Collins Pocket Speller/Thesaurus at £22 you can type in an easy word like ‘grumpy’ and find ‘cantankerous’!  Alternatively, Global AutoCorrect 2 is a product which automatically corrects the user’s spelling as they type, enabling them to focus on what they’re writing. It works in every application, and the software keeps track of spelling mistakes so the user can work on them in their own time. It costs £109.

Talking word processors will read text back you – a good way of checking you have written what you meant to say. Wordtalk is for use with all Microsoft word documents (1997 – 2010) and can save the text you have written as an audio file. You can download this for free at ClaroRead SE (£49) will do a similar job and Penfriend XP 4.1 (£60) has the added advantage of providing speech plus word prediction. (There is also a portable USB version for £99). Co:Writer 6  (£179) is the only word prediction programme to use the context of a whole sentence to predict the next word and its Flexspell interprets phonetic and inventive spelling better than most spellcheckers.

Some predictive software also comes with word banks (lists of words relating to a topic). Children generally learn to recognise words before they can construct and spell them and weak spellers can use the word banks to select longer and more difficult words to enhance their work. The Oska Wordbanks (£159) offered by Claro Software ( and those available from Clicker and WriteOnline (both £150 from ) all offer text to speech to support reading of the word banks as well as predictive text. Using word banks can reduce the number of key strokes and, consequently, be a lot quicker for the slow typist.

Voice Activated Software (VAS) offers the articulate, clear speaking individual the opportunity to turn their speech into text with a high degree of success and at great speed – three times faster than typing. Dragon Naturally Speaking 12 (the ‘Home’ electronic download is £79.99) is the market leader. It requires a good headset (the USB version is £24.99) and the patience to learn how to use it and to correct errors so that it becomes as accurate as possible. You also need an environment where you will not disturb others and their noise will not interfere with your dictation. It works with digital voice recorders (Olympus DM-450 [2gb] £149) so audio notes can be converted into text. If you download the free Dragon App then no training is needed, but beware! You need to be connected to the Internet to use the remote server and Apple can keep a copy of everything you say!

I have some experience of trialling VAS with teenagers and found that usually their spoken language was not sufficiently clear or structured for it to work efficiently. Having said that, the written work they produced was far better than anything they could have written unaided. Their expectation, however, was that the results would be perfect.

In GCE and GCSE exams there is provision for using some of these tools, providing there is an assessment of need and there is proof that they are the normal method of working in class. The use of a word processor is much more acceptable these days. A scribe, or the use of VAS with spellchecker activated, provides the ultimate support. However, candidates will usually receive no marks for punctuation, spelling or grammar.

Finally, the organisation of longer pieces of work can be achieved by the use of cut and paste facilities in a word processing programme. Many dyslexics dislike working in a linear document and prefer the Mind Mapping or Brainstorming approach where a central idea is placed in the middle of the page and ideas added around.  Inspiration and, for younger users,  Kidspiration (£49 each) both offer the user the opportunity to work in either map or diagram views. These provide the opportunity to structure thoughts and visually communicate concepts before transferring them into the linear documents required for essays. There is a built in picture and symbol library as well as sound to replay what has been written.

MyStudyBar is a tool which helps overcome all problems that students commonly experience with studying, reading and writing. It offers literacy support in planning, reading, writing, vision, speech and voice. This might be worth a try before spending lots of money on one particular product as it is FREE from !

One word of warning! Laptops to run all these helpful pieces of software are heavy. Added to the typical school bag they can far outweigh the recommended load for children. A solution is to use the robust and lightweight AlphaSmart Neo2 (£139). It works with Co:Writer predicitve text (£96) and Text2Speech, is battery operated and has wireless connectivity to download work to your PC.

I have only mentioned a small proportion of the software available out there. Have I wetted your appetite?

Acknowledgements: Jamie Munro of Inclusive Technology ( who stock most of the products mentioned. For a more detailed analysis of writing support go to the BDA New Technologies Committee website at                                                                                                                                Barbara Lowe     May 2013

Access Arrangements and Reasonable Adjustments 2013/14 JCQ Regulations

Access Arrangements and Reasonable Adjustments 2013/14 JCQ Regulations
document is now online.

Following concerns over  abuse of the allocation of 25% extra time (see below), the regulations have become much more prescriptive and demanding. Centres must be satisfied that candidates have an impairment which has a substantial and long term adverse effect, giving rise to persistent and significant difficulties.


GCSEs: ‘extra time’ rule overhauled to stamp out abuse
Published on August 22, 2013.

ClaroSpeak Predict & Complete

The latest ClaroSpeak update brings Word Prediction and Completion free to
all ClaroSpeak users. Word Prediction and Completion can speed up typing,
help with choosing the right word and let users use words without worrying
about how to spell them.

Word Prediction and Completion in ClaroSpeak takes account of word frequency
and previous words. There is an initial Word Prediction list loaded on
startup, and ClaroSpeak can learn new words as they are typed. The predicted
words appear on the keyboard and can be spoken. Train the word prediction
dictionary or create a new one from a word list.

ClaroSpeak with Word Prediction and Completion is now available in 14
languages. For a full list of our language and voice list available through
in app purchase through ClaroSpeak click here.

ClaroSpeak is a quality text-to-speech app for proofreading text through
listening, helping with reading and literacy development and creating audio
files from any text. Advanced features make proofing and editing more
accurate and users more efficient. ClaroSpeak offers the option of visual
highlighting in sync with the spoken words – and a great range of colour
and font settings to allow for optimum reading.

More Information

ClaroSpeak is available for iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch.

To find out more go to the ClaroSpeak Web Page

For more information about the rest of Claro Software’s range of apps, go to, email or call +44 (0)1772

Claro Software

Lancashire House, 24 Winckley Square, Preston, PR1 3JJ
Tel: +44 (0) 1772 977 888 Fax: +44 (0) 870 132 7471

Glue Ear

On 6th March, Hampshire Dyslexia Association held a ‘glue ear’ event in the ‘Intech’ planetarium near Winchester.  A group of delegates, including speech and language therapists, teachers, parents and  health and education students reclined in the plush seats to learn more about glue ear, its possible effects on learning, and how children who have / have had the condition can be supported.


Our speaker was Dr Lindsay Peer, an Educational Psychologist and expert on specific learning difficulties. Dr Peer explained that glue ear is a common condition, especially in children under eight. For most children, the sticky fluid preventing clear hearing will drain from the inner ear and leave no further effects. However, when the glue ear is persistent or keeps re-occurring, children may not receive the input necessary for normal development of language and literacy skills. These children can go on to have delayed speech, poor auditory perception and slow language processing speeds which can result in difficulties with learning. For instance it will be hard for them to learn phonics to aid their reading and spelling. Difficulties can remain even after the glue ear has gone, resulting in symptoms consistent with dyslexia. Research (Peer 2003) found that of a thousand dyslexic people interviewed, 703 had been so affected by glue ear that grommets had been inserted.


Therefore, it is important to be aware of the signs of glue ear in small children. They may have bouts of feeling generally unwell with a cold or fever and may pull at their ears or have ear-ache. They may wake at night and need to breathe through their mouth. Their hearing will fluctuate and at times be relatively poor leading to difficulty following instructions and effectively interacting. This can lead to frustration or withdrawal from social situations and poor attention levels. Be careful not to assume that the child is naughty as it can be seen that glue ear can impact on behaviour as well as learning.


Doctors are able to offer a range of treatments to try and help: decongestants, antibiotics, sprays, drops or an ‘Otovent’ device. They can refer children for hearing tests and advise about speech and language therapy. Ultimately grommets may be inserted and / or the adenoids removed. Dr Peer quoted Professor Mark Haggard (2004) former Director of the Medical Research Council’s Institute of Hearing Research: “The correct intervention for established glue ear is surgery, particularly for children over the age of three-and-a-half, who have been clearly shown to benefit from grommets……Many children do not get treatment and so have continuing problems and are disadvantaged by the time they come to school.”


Parents and adults working with children with glue ear need to be aware of the condition and its consequences so that they understand the problems that a child with glue ear is experiencing. Dr Peer emphasised that parents should share a medical history of glue ear and their child’s current level of hearing with others – in particular with teachers.


How an adult can help a child who has, or has had glue ear:

  • Attract the child’s attention before speaking. The child can then watch the speaker’s mouth and body language in addition to listening. Use gesture to help.
  • Speak loudly and clearly.
  • Respond to communication attempts giving time for the child to process and talk.
  • Reduce or eliminate background noise. Curtains can help absorb sound.
  • Use structured, sequential multisensory teaching. Show the child in a visual or tactile way in addition to talking. Use drama and visual aids.
  • Check that instructions have been understood.
  • Give empathy and support to boost confidence.



Dr Peer concluded by stating that glue ear is a common problem that should be identified as early as possible. With understanding, help and support children who have, or who have had, this condition can achieve their potential.


For further information see: Glue Ear. An Essential guide for teachers, parents and health professionals by Dr Lindsay Peer. David Fulton Publishers.

Jacky Gurney.

Trial of Spell Read & Write System

Mavis Kerrigan – an Independent Learning and Communications Consultant, who lives in West End, near Southampton – is looking for 6 people to trial her Tutor-Coach Training programme. It is aimed at Parents, Carers and Tutors who would like to help others read, write and spell successfully.

As this is a trial, Mavis is offering her skills at a much reduced price.  The course will involve 5 days over the next 5 months with email and phone support as you develop your teaching. If you pay for all 5 sessions at the start then the cost is only £225. The first day is going to be either Saturday May 19th or Wednesday May 23rd, and Mavis would like to know your preference as soon as possible.

To find out more:

Phone Mavis on 023 8046 6679.
Evenings between 6.30pm and 8pm (Not Sat/Sun)
Mornings between 8.00am and 9.30am any day
or e-mail

Getting around my dyslexia:A personal evaluation of coping strategies By Neil Cottrell BDA Young Achiever of the Year 2010

Neil is the founder of LexAble Ltd. This article was first published in the PATOSS Bulletin, Volume 23 No. 2 (Winter 2010).Please email for an electronic copy.

I met Neil yesterday at the BDA Conference on Dyslexia and Technology in Education. His story should be an inspiration to all dyslexics. This is what he has to say:

“I am severely dyslexic. I was identified at the age of 10 and had a statement of special education need by age 12. At 15 my reading speed was 7 years 3 months and my spelling age was 8.5-9 years. I had brilliant support from my parents and teachers, without which I am certain I would have failed many of my GCSE’s and left school at 16. I relied completely on a laptop with assistive software throughout secondary school, and was always devising and adapting coping strategies to put me on a level playing-field with my peers.

In 2009 I graduated top of my class, with a first class degree in psychology from Cardiff University. Now I am the director of a successful business that develops assistive software for people with dyslexia. And in June of this year, at the age of 22, I was named the British Dyslexia Association’s Young Achiever of the Year, for my contribution to the dyslexic community.

In this article, I will take a personal perspective, reflecting on and briefly evaluating some of the coping strategies that have helped me in education and beyond. Please feel free to skip through the headings and focus on any bits that interest you. I hope you will find some useful ideas to adapt and pass on to your students.

Why I needed coping strategies.

It is a sad cliché that people with dyslexia think we are stupid. Though obviously wrong, it is a logical conclusion for us to come to. We do not just struggle with the skills directly affected by dyslexia, but everything that relies on those skills. We cannot critically analyse a poem if all of our brainpower is spent on decoding the phonetics. We cannot be the best at sport if we always forget to bring our P.E. Kit. And we cannot express our thoughts coherently while we are trying to work out how to spell each word.

I worked so hard on my difficulties, with help from great teachers. But although my skills improved significantly they could never keep up with the level my mind was thinking on. I knew I had the ability to understand concepts and articulate them verbally, and I did not want my dyslexia holding me back. I used a whole range of coping strategies – some that I was taught and some that I devised or adapted myself. These strategies reduced my stress levels and helped me to focus on higher level tasks, so that I could achieve my full potential.

Being open and honest.

Being open and honest was my over arching coping strategy, and it was the most important one I learned. There were two main reasons for this:

1. Specific coping strategies helped me to get around specific difficulties, but sometimes I just needed someone to help. When there was a notice that needed reading, I quickly needed to know how to spell a word, or for some reason I could not use one of my regular coping strategies, I learned to just ask.

2. Many strategies required me to do something that would seem odd to someone who did not know me. Using a laptop in lessons, for example, is prime bullying fodder.I dealt with this by pre-empting it. If anyone ever asked me why I was using a laptop, I would tell them in a matter of fact and open manner, as though it was usual. Sometimes I felt extremely embarrassed, but I never let this show. I also made sure people did not feel they were asking stupid questions. Thisallowed them to ask more questions,eliminating any element of the unknown.

Organisation and memory.

My problems:

  • I forgot what I was thinking very quickly.
  • I could not remember where I was supposed to be or when I should be there.
  • Irrelevant (but often important) things would pop in to my head all the time. If I tried to remember them, it took all of my mental energy and I just could not function.

What I needed:

  • A system to quickly store my irrelevant thoughts so I could carry on with what I was doing.
  • A system to tell me exactly where to be and when.
  • To train myself to automatically input everything into this system immediately, before I forgot it.
  • A small notebook. For the first half of secondary school, I carried a small notebook and pen everywhere I went.I always had it easily accessible and trained myself to write down everything that came into my head. I also had a colour-coded school timetable stuck inside the front page.It provided a quick reference and had everything I needed to know: lessons and locations, lunchtime activities and what to bring to school each day (homework, PE kit,etc.). I felt so much less overloaded, and I could periodically check my notebook at appropriate times to sort through my thoughts.
  • A Dictaphone. I tried using a dictaphone to record my thoughts, but I personally found it too conspicuous, and I usually did not want everyone around me to know what I was thinking about. Also, it was much less simple to organise my thoughts, compared to a notebook where I could cross off or highlight certain items. But, of course, as with all of these strategies, it is whatever suits the individual that works.
  • A mobile phone. Later on in school I started using my smartphone for everything, in much the same way as I had been using my notebook. I would use the calendar to tell me where to be and when. I used the to-do notes to remember anything, and ordered them by urgency/importance so that the things I needed to do soonest were always at the top. Anything I thought of that I did not do instantly went in here, even down to “text Helen back”and “fill water bottle”.

I also used a different notes feature to make longer notes if, for example, I suddenly thought of a solution to a problem. This was a better system for me than a paper notebook because the alarms could remind me to do things, and I never forgot to take it anywhere with me.

A few things to note:•

  • Some teachers did not like it because it looked like I was writing a text message, so I still kept my notebook with me.
  • I synchronised my phone with my laptop, so that I could have a large visual overview of the day or week.
  • Automatic backups are vital.
  • I preferred phones with a QWERTY keyboard because, unlike traditional predictive text, I could enter text very quickly without having to spell it correctly. Predictive text only works if you can spell!
  • Lists. If I had enough time, I could think things through very thoroughly, but in a rush I would always forget something. So I made lists of everything: “Take to school”, “Take to band practice”, “Take to athletics”, “Take on holiday”. This way I did not always need to ask my parents to run through things with me – I was more independent.


My problems:

  • My reading speed was prohibitively slow.
  • I would be concentrating so hard on the decoding process that I had no idea what I had read.
  • The majority of school work relied on reading, so I could achieve very little without help.

What I needed:

  • To access all information in written form immediately and easily, so that I could focus on the more important higher level tasks.
  • Independence wherever possible –being able to access the information on my own.
  • To improve my reading skills for those times when alternatives were not available.
  • My “Reading pack” The first line of defence was to improve my reading. Although not technically a coping strategy, my “reading pack” helped me significantly. This pack of cards had letter combinations on the front (e.g. “ea”) and ē ĕ examples on the back (e.g. “eat – ; bread – ;ā break – ”). I would run through the reading pack every day, reciting the words and sounds on the back of each card. It really helped me to decode written words much faster. And although I have not looked at it for years, I can still remember some of them (those examples above are from memory!).
  • People reading to me. My parents, teachers and school-friends would read to me with no objection. In part,this was because I had learned to be open and honest as I described earlier. I still ask people to read things to me today, such as subtitles in a film, but it really is not viable as a primary strategy. I was dependent on everyone around me and I felt self-conscious.And one pet hate of mine was paraphrasing.When someone read to me I would get extremely frustrated if they paraphrased, as though I was not capable of understanding the written text. When I did struggle with a long sentence, I would ask the person to read it again or occasionally to summarise that one sentence. If you read aloud to someone please do not paraphrase without their permission!
  • Text to speech software. Using text to speech software has been the single most important coping strategy throughout my life. I still rely on it heavily today for reading emails, articles, websites,my own writing – everything. I initially used ReadPlease Plus (around £30) which read aloud everything I copied to the clipboard, essentially converting Ctrl-C to a hotkey toread the selected text. This was great for a basic reader, but I progressed on to Texthelp’s Read and Write software (£320) for its more advanced features. The majority of the information I required for my degree was either in PDF journal articles or in textbooks that I scanned to PDF. The combination of click-to-speak and synchronised highlighting made reading PDFs extremely easy and almost instantaneous. In fact, over the years I got so used to the synthesised voice that I could have it (her) reading out loud faster than others could read to themselves! As an aside,I now use a very simple program that I developed for myself, which reads text from any application by pressing F3. It is much more primitive than most of the screen readers out there, but it is slightly faster to initiate reading and I like it because it is mine.
  • Scanners. Over time, more material became available in electronic form, but for the information that was still locked into the printed word, I needed to use a scanner. Most scanners were incapable of scanning into the spine of a textbook without distorting the image. The words were not recognised, and I got an annoying jumble of letters at the start or end of each line. Text-to-speech could not cope with it and I would have to set it to read slowly,while I concentrated on decoding its jumbled output. I was given the OpticBook scanner(£150 – £180) at university and it solved the problem perfectly. It had a deep edge which fitted into the spine of the book, and scanned right up to that edge, so the text remained completely undistorted. It was a lot more bulky than other scanners, but that was definitely a worthwhile sacrifice, as it saved me a lot of frustration!


My problems:

  • While I was writing, I would always be distracted by spelling.
  • I would often stop mid-sentence to correct my spelling, and lose the flow of my ideas.
  • I felt overwhelmed because I had so many words to learn.

What I needed:

  • To take spelling out of the equation while I was trying to get my thoughts down.
  • To focus on the flow of my ideas while Iwas writing, without worrying about spelling.
  • To identify and focus my learning on the spelling mistakes I made most often.
  • To try to ignore spelling as I wrote. I am a perfectionist, and I would keep stopping to correct my spelling as I wrote. This was absolutely the worst strategy I could use, as the flow of my ideas was constantly disrupted. I tried turning off the red underline inMicrosoft Word, to stop me thinking about spelling. The trouble was that I still knew that what I was writing was wrong, and I would still have nagging doubts about spelling while I was typing. And of course, I would have the long and disheartening process of spell checking my numerous mistakes at the end. My spelling did not improve either, because with so many mistakes, I did not know which ones to focus on.
  • AutoCorrect. I tried using the AutoCorrect feature in my word processor, which partially solved the problem. It meant that fewer words would flash up as I was writing, and I could start to focus on my ideas. This really helped me to compose more coherent essays, but there were a few issues. When I wanted to type an email, fill in a web form or produce a mind map, I was back to square one. My ideas could not flow because I was distracted byspelling. Also, my spelling was still not improving as well as it could, because I did not know what mistakes I was making.
  • Global AutoCorrect. At age 15 I was confused and frustrated because it was so difficult for me to write and my spelling was just not improving. By this time I had significant experience of both using assistive software and developing my own coping strategies. So I created a software tool for myself, to automatically correct my spelling as I typed in different programs. Itwas very crude at first, but it really did enable me to focus on my ideas, because I was not worrying about spelling.

Over many years, and with a lot of hard work, Global AutoCorrect was born, and became fully fledged assistive software. The software automatically corrects the user’s spelling as they type in any program, enabling them to focus on the flow of their ideas. The user can also print a list of their most frequent mistakes, focussing their learning on the spellings that are most important to them. And because there is a constantly expanding list of thousands of spelling mistakes(collected anonymously from users who agree), people using Global AutoCorrect do not have to spend much time adding new corrections.

Global AutoCorrect (£49) was released ascommercial software in November 2009, and is now regularly purchased through the Disabled Students Allowance (DSA) and Access to Work. It is also used in schools around the UK and internationally, as well as in HE and FE institutions. And as I mentioned earlier, I was named the British DyslexiaAssociation’s Young Achiever of the Year last June, for my contribution to the dyslexic community. All this from what started as myown individual coping strategy.


Many of you reading this article will be directly involved in devising and teaching coping strategies to dyslexic individuals. I hope this article has helped to reinforce how much of a long term difference those coping strategies can make –

  • increasing motivation,
  • reducing stress levels and
  • enabling the dyslexic person to achieve their full potential.

But just as importantly, I hope I have given you some ideas to try. I would be really keen to hear any thoughts you have on any of the strategies discussed here, or any that you use yourself!

Neil Cottrell

Useful links: – Global AutoCorrect freetrial. – Collection of tips andcoping strategies submitted by students withdisabilities.