Mainstream Primary School

Jamie is now in year 7. He is a lively intelligent boy with a wicked sense of humour. His cerebral palsy means that he is a wheelchair user and his CP affects his ability to handwrite. He was referred to CENMAC in year 5 by his primary school. There were reports from occupational therapy, the physiotherapist and the educational psychologist. The borough’s advisory teacher for inclusion was also involved, since Jamie had originally been in a special school.

The assessment took place with the primary school’s special educational needs co-ordinator and Jamie’s class teacher and mother in the SENCO’s office. The CENMAC advisory teacher looked at Jamie’s current exercise books then tried some low-tech ideas using different pens and pencils and a sticky surface to hold paper steady. Then she tried a small word processor, an Alphasmart 3000 which runs on batteries (so there are no trailing leads and nobody has to remember to recharge it!). Although Jamie was able to use both hands, he has a tremor which makes it difficult for him to hit the keys accurately. He also tends to linger too long on the keys and get lots of letter repeats, a common problem with a tremor. The way round this was to change the settings on the Alphasmart to stop the keyboard repeats. Jamie also found a keyguard helpful. This is a metal frame that sits on top of the keyboard; it has holes over the keys so that striking the keys is a definite action. The Alphasmart connects to a PC or an Apple Mac to send files into any word processing software. The advisory teacher went with the staff and pupil to demonstrate this in the classroom and to check on what software was available to Jamie in class. The connecting lead can be left permanently attached to one PC, or the pupil can carry it round and use the Alphasmart and keyguard as an alternative keyboard on any computer in school. This is very useful now that Jamie is in secondary school.

Jamie was pleased with the appearance of his work on the word processor, but was still frustrated that the process was slower than his thinking. To speed up his keyboarding we switched on a predictor on the Alphasmart. Co-Writer allowed him to type the first letter of a word then it predicted a list of 6 words that might fit. By choosing a number from the list Jamie could put the word into his text with one key-press. Sometimes the word he wanted wasn’t in the list, but Co-Writer can be set to learn any new words you put in. When a new topic comes up in class with unusual vocabulary, an adult can just type in a list of all the words and they will be stored for prediction.

The advisory teacher ordered an Alphasmart with Co-Writer and a keyguard on her return to CENMAC and wrote up a report with copies to the school staff, parents and the local authority SEN Manager. The local authority funds the CENMAC assessment, loan and review service: there is no charge to the school. The equipment was delivered and it was demonstrated to support staff using the Alphasmart 3000 notes from the CENMAC website.

Jamie was reviewed each year after the assessment. Targets were set. The Alphasmart continues to be appropriate in secondary school. It is light and robust and easily slips into a bag on Jamie’s wheelchair. His learning support assistant prints off his work currently, but in future Jamie will take full responsibility for this.