After struggling to find any comprehensive help on this subject on the internet I decided to make a list of important things to consider and share them with you. Many children with dyspraxia can achieve reasonable handwriting but when the volume of writing and increased speed required significantly increases the handwriting can become illegible and the child may become very tired trying to keep up. Also the art/skill of listening and taking notes at the same time can be extremely challenging for our children, especially those with short term memory difficulties. If the problem is severe then you may need to seek an in-class scribe for your child. Also, there are many speech to text programmes available that may help. Some children may need to record the lesson and download it to their laptop using specialist programmes. I am going to keep this fairly simple for the moment though and focus on the general criteria we need to look for in a laptop that we provide to our children for use in school:
- Battery life – Look for at least 8 hours battery time
- Look for an Intel Core i5 or i7 processor – the higher spec you can stretch to the longer it will be useful through secondary school and University. A processor with a 6000 in it will indicate it has the latest Intel Pentium 6th generation chip. Watch out for noisy cooling fans that protect the processor or no one will want to sit within 5 metres of your child!
- The desk spaces have to be shared and so the screen needs to present clearly visible text but not occupy too much space – we found around the 13″ to be perfect, you could get away with a size from 11″ up to a maximum of 14″.
- Weight – dyspraxic kids and especially those with low muscle tone do not want to be hawking around weighty laptops – ideally 2kg or less. Look for a school bag that has a padded pocket to slide the computer into easily, avoids time pulling it out of a zipped up laptop bag during lesson time – a lot of messenger style bags and rucksacks have this feature.
- Keyboard – have your child play with a few keyboards and have them tell you which they prefer. We popped into John Lewis to try a few and the closeness of some of the keys on the keyboard was problematic for Oli. Also, there seemed to be a trend for brightly coloured and decorated keyboard areas on the laptops which were distracting to Oli and would cause unnecessary attention from other students. There also seemed to be a trend for illuminated keyboards (for gaming in the dark) which will drain battery, cause distractions and again, create unwanted attention (there is an off button you can press though). Oli also declared after playing with a few keyboards that it was easier to see the letters on some keypads than others. The responsiveness of the keys was also important to Oli – he tried an Apple keyboard and stated that he couldn’t tell if he had pressed the key or not – this would be a problem for children with poor proprioception. Some of the keyboards were very clunky and therefore noisy in use which would not go down too well in the classroom. The keyboard should be springy and comfortable, not mushy. Look for deep travel and strong feedback. The touchpad is equally important; ensure the responsiveness is smooth and that multitouch gestures like pinch-to-zoom are sensibly reactive.
- RAM – minimum 4GB, ideally 8GB plus to allow multi tasking between programmes
- Durability – Look for durability manufacturer claims: aluminium, magnesium alloy or carbon fibre provide additional sturdiness. Some laptop manufacturers even make claims that they can be dropped! Spill resistance is also an important feature.
- High resolution screen – Don’t be fooled by the label HD which most manufacturers claim. You need to look for a model with a display that’s at least ‘Full HD’ : 1080p, or 1920 x 1080. Even sharper screens are often labeled as 4K / Ultra HD (3840 x 2160), 2K / QHD (2560 x 1440) or are just listed by their pixel count.
- Storage / Hard Drive – Get an SSD (solid-state drive) rather than a mechanical hard drive: because SSDs have no moving parts, they run three to four times faster than typical 5,400 rpm or 7,200 rpm hard drives. That means faster app opening times, start times and task switching, along with much better responsiveness.
- Wi-Fi – Make sure you get a laptop with 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard, rather than the older 802.11n.
- Ports – USB Type-C ports are the future, but regular USB Type-A ports are the present. If you can get a laptop with a mix of both, that’s ideal. Definitely try to get a laptop with multiple USB ports, so your child doesn’t need to carry a lot of dongles around with them
- Finally, ease of use – if your child can’t open the laptop and put it down safely on the surface then it’s not for them. Once you are down to your final few to choose from make sure they really play around with them in the store. If they have problems with fine motor skills then this may come into play in your decision making.
- Avoid the 2 in 1’s with detachable keyboards and monitor stands – there’s too much to drop, set up etc. making them time consuming to get ready for the lesson with parts easily left behind!
- Consider the operating system. Check with your school about software requirements. Sometimes schools will need you to have a specific type of software or operating system to ensure compliance. Windows 10 is the most popular operating system and most versatile.
- Consider any program requirements and storage demands they may place on your system – speech to text etc. You may need to spec your system a little higher if you have a lot of these.
- Once you have decided on the make and model you desire check out Game stores and second hand electrical stores, it can save you hundreds of pounds.
- So what did we choose? The HP Envy 13-d008na laptop, Intel Corei5, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD, 13.3″ Full HD is probably our number 1 choice but it is pricey at around £649, there is a cheaper HP Envy with a 4GB RAM at a more sensibly priced £499. I’m going to search around for the best prices but this is the one that Oli seemed most comfy with and should last quite a while into the future… We still haven’t purchased one yet so if there are any techies out there reading this your advice would be very welcome! Read a couple of reviews about a slightly noisy fan on the upgraded i7 model so will test for noise production again before purchasing the i5…
I’m just working on the details below and would be really delighted to hear from any parents who have children currently using their laptops in school to learn the positives and avoid the negatives and share these with you.
Prepare your laptop before school commences:
- Upload all required programmes and test/practise on them
- Ensure the link to the school internet is working and functional
- Turn on the auto save to protect lost works and relieve the upset of accidents and laborious re-typing of works
- Make sure everything is clearly labelled with your child’s name, plug and all…
- If your child uses coloured overlays there is a disc that can be uploaded which will automatically place the overlay colour your child prefers over everything they access on the computer. It’s made by Crossbow and is available in our shop (not suitable for Apple at the moment. Please check programme compatibility). Click here to see the product.
- If your school has provided you with written authority to use a laptop in class it would be a good idea to keep a laminated version of this with the computer for your child to present to their teacher on first meeting – avoiding any problems with teachers who are not so good with SEN accommodations
- Set it up to your home and if possible, school printer. Some schools have dedicated IT departments that you could call in advance to help you get started effectively.
- Download a good virus protection software programme to protect your investment and decide how often to run the scan or leave it on an automatic setting (ensuring that is not going to scan during school use times).
- Set up short cut icons to the school internet and email etc.
- Decide where your files should be stored – the online ‘cloud’ is good if the laptop is stolen or broken, the files can still be accessed through another computer. Back up data onto an external hard drive at home or simply use a USB memory stick which can hold up to 1TB of data. Your choices would be influenced by how much data needs to be stored and accessed on a regular basis. Don’t forget to format any USB sticks before school starts so you’re good to go. You can buy USB sticks on wrist bands or with clips to easily clip them on and off their home key ring – helps avoid them being lost and can be accessed quickly.
Check your child knows:
The obvious ones:
- How to turn it off and on
- How to plug it into the charger
- How to print off saved work
- How to save work
- How to email work to the teacher
- Where to leave the laptop when not in use
- Which lesson the laptop should be used for
- Knows how to put it in silent mode
- How to log into the school internet
- How to open up the right program
- How to use all the programs they will need to use in class
- Daily organisation – recharging/printing and checking off work. Sometimes the auto spellcheckers can throw in a completely wrong word.
- How to adjust the screen brightness
- Passwords and access keys – agree where these will be kept ensuring they have fast access to them. If they have a school pocket diary that they can keep in their blazer pocket that would be the ideal place to write these details in. Just in case, keep a second copy of the passwords in their school locker.
Using a laptop in school requires organisation that will not appear overnight. A laptop might not be the best solution if your child’s typing speed is poor – try the BBC dance mat programme during the Summer holidays to see how well your child copes with touch typing.
A few do’s and don’ts to discuss together:
- Avoid letting friends or classmates use the laptop at school. They could accidentally delete an important document or they might try to access a document through the Internet that may get you into trouble.
- Avoid eating or drinking anything whilst using the laptop.
- Don’t play games on your laptop. Keep it purely for school work – use your other home gadgets to downloads gaming apps etc. This will keep your laptop fast for use in school.
- Discuss online safety
- Read the school IT policy together
What to do if:
- The laptop doesn’t work – checks to run through
Parents’ suggestions and experiences:
UK Mum: My child goes into school early to print off all his work from the previous day – he had a laptop provided to him at school and he could only print off his work whilst at school.
USA Mum: For learning how to type I can’t recommend enough keyboarding without tears. Yearly license not expensive and my hyper-mobile kids love it!
UK Mum: Develop an easily managed system for printing out work, making sure that it gets handed in, filed or stuck into their exercise books as appropriate.
UK Teacher: Check the location of your child’s desk. If they have sun directly falling onto their screen they may need to move. Decide whether to remove the spellchecker from first use – spellchecker cannot be used in exams. Remember to plan enough time to gather the evidence required and functions required for permission to use their laptop in exams.
UK Mum: Set up standard documents in Word with formatting in place so your child can start notes in a lesson or homework quickly. Set up a header that contains your child’s name and a ‘date’ field, so it automatically puts in the date the document was created. In the main body of the text are the words Title, underlined and bold, then the rest of the text is formatted in an acceptable font.
UK Mum: My son had to use a great amount of brain power just to write and therefore couldn’t think about what he was writing too. His comprehension strategy before using a laptop was, ‘how can I answer this in as few a words as possible?’ Now he has just come top in his class exam which was a complete shock.
I am a fan of mobile phones to support special ed. kids in school
They can be used to:
- Photograph homework notes from a friend/buddy or from the blackboard
- Photograph text from the board to have by their side to copy from.
There’s a wide range of solutions and software that may help your child:
- A digital voice recorder may help to record in the lessons that are most challenging to keep up with
- Text-to-speech e.g. Claroread, TextHelp
- Speech-to-text software e.g. Dragon dictate (free version on MS Word ad free app version
- Grammar correction software
Well, I hope this helps you to choose the perfect laptop for your child to use in school. If you have found other models or have other tips you can share please, please do, and we’ll put them into this article.
Copyright. Author: L Bochenek. Fantastic Dyspraxic. 2016.