Text-to-speech software and books-on-tape can help children with specific learning disabilities in the area of reading keep up with their peers in other areas of learning. These assistive technology solutions can help your child ‘read’ books that are beyond his reading level.
The two main methods of dealing with reading difficulties are through books-on-tape and text-to-speech converters. Books on tape are audio tapes or audio CDs that contain a recording of the book being read aloud. Text-to-speech converters are software programs that read text aloud, often while highlighting the text on the computer screen.
The most widely known provider of books-on-tape is the **Reading for the Blind and Dyslexic (RFBD.org) organization, which is now known as “Learning Ally“. Learning Ally has screening procedures, requires annual membership, and certification that an individual has a disability in the area of reading. In order to play audio recordings provided through Learning Ally, you must purchase a specialized player to play the recordings. The greatest benefit of Learning Ally is the organization has been around for years and has a vast collection of recordings. Additionally, you can make a request for any materials they don’t have on hand and Learning Ally will consider the request for recording. Also, you borrow the materials, and return them, much as you check out materials from the library.
Another large source of books on tape is **”Books On Tape“. This company has a number of children’s books, mostly for the 9-12 age group, on tape or CD. No special players are required, but you do have to purchase the books on tape (and they aren’t cheap).
Given that you are going to use the purchase option, you’ll find a great selection and great prices for thousands of Children’s Audio Books on Amazon. Many recordings of popular books are available, and you can search for MP3 children’s books or for a specific title by adding the title of the book to the search box.
Text-to-speech converters are good because they can help a child follow along with the reading by highlighting the text as it is being read aloud. There are several text-to-speech programs on the market, some with better voices than others.
Microsoft offers a free text-to-speech reader called **Microsoft Reader. This text-to-speech program comes with a couple of voices that are usable, but might be difficult for a child to clearly understand (particularly if the child has auditory processing issues). If you download and use this program, many users recommend acquiring **AT&T’s Natural Voices to go along with the program. You have to purchase the voices, but there are several to choose from and the clarity is excellent.
A text to speech program designed specifically for teaching reading is the **AspireReader by CAST.org. “AspireREADER™ 4.0 is an enhanced version of the CAST eReader 3.0 that helps struggling students improve reading and learning outcomes by providing access to digital talking books, webpages, and word processing through synchronized visual, auditory, and tracking feature functions.” The number of pre-recorded books for this reader is somewhat limited at this time, but the collection is growing.
Another text-to-speech program that is great for use in browsing the Internet is the **Opera browser. This browser is recommended for reading websites, but the Microsoft Reader will perform the same task. The main difference is that the Microsoft Reader requires a cut-and-paste operation to load the text to be read. Opera will read directly off the website.
With the different options, it is difficult to know what to use, or whether you should use anything. At a younger age, you may want to limit the use of books on tape to leisure reading time. It can help a struggling child build an enjoyment of books. It will be critical to continue working on reading decoding skills.
As a child gets older, however, and is studying more complex materials from textbooks, it is beneficial for the child to have books on tape. With books on tape, the child can concentrate on learning the material rather than trying to concentrate on decoding. Books on tape can help a child’s learning keep pace with his cognitive capabilities.
We use books on tape for our Science text to insure the proper pronunciation of the words is learned, and for a variety of history books. We work on reading separately from other academics. When we are working on reading, we do not use books on tape, but do occasionally a text-to-speech program called **”Thinking Reader“. There are a limited number of books available for this program, but it is great for the books that are available.
Whichever program you choose to use, your child will have fun with the program. If the child has fun with the program, and books on tape, it will help him engage in reading and with books. This benefit will be worth more than words can tell!
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