About ten years ago, my husband went back to university. Already with a Master's degree in Psychology that wasn't getting him anywhere, he returned to get his Bachelor's degree in Social Work, hoping to land a job. The thing is, John is dyslexic. Writing papers was a long, hard process where he'd write things by hand and I would valiantly attempt to decipher his script onto a computer screen. Often, it took many hours.
Somewhere along the way, we discovered Dragon Naturally Speaking, and it changed his life. No longer relying on me to scribe his words, John could simply speak into a computer and have the words appear on the screen. The independence, and resulting improvement in his writing skills, was incredible. Today, he uses Dragon at work every day, writing emails and paper work with ease. In fact I haven't scribed for him in many years, and even when he does occasionally ask me to proofread something there are very little changes that need to be made.
Which is great, you say, for adults. what about children? Can children and youth who are learning disabled, or who have trouble with writing, benefit by using Dragon? As someone who works with youth and trains them to use Dragon, I say yes-but there is much you should know.
1. Dragon is a technical program that doesn't work for everyone
Too often, people think that they can just hand a youth a laptop with Dragon on it, train them, and it should work seamlessly. They get frustrated when it doesn't, then say that it's not really the greatest program, and set it aside. This is just wrong. Dragon is built for professionals; doctors, lawyers, and the like and not really for kids. Youth can learn to use it, but they must be directly taught how. The kind of youth who succeed with Dragon can tolerate frustration and understand that by working now and teaching the program, it will pay off in the long run. They must be motivated and determined. It also helps if they are into computers and understand the basics of how they work such as how to save a file, basic formatting (underlining, bold, copy, paste), printing, moving files around, etc. They must be able to understand the commands that make Dragon work, and that by using them, it will be more accurate. A requirement that I have while training them is that they must follow my directions. If they don't, the program won't do what they want.
If the child is easily frustrated and cannot understand that hard work now will pay off later, they won't be successful with Dragon.
A note re: kids with autism: in my experience, I haven't had success with autistic kids using Dragon. Their level of frustration is high, they have difficulty not making extra sounds (which interferes with accuracy), and they often can't see that the end will justify the means. I'm not saying that it will never work, but I haven't had success here. It may be worth a try but there are many, many other programs out there that may be a better fit.
2. Be sure you have the right equipment
First of all, the computer that you have installed Dragon on has to have enough memory and a sufficient sound card to handle the program. If it doesn't, the program will not work. Dragon isn't a "well let's just try it and see" program, it's one where things have to be exactly right. There is no half way, with Dragon it's pretty much all or nothing. To see if your equipment is compatible, check this list.
From personal experience, I suggest that you have the optimal amount of memory required. Also, note that different operating systems require different kinds of memory and may affect how Dragon operates. Our experience has been that when new operating systems come out, they sometimes don't work well with Dragon and it takes a bit for the people at Nuance to catch up by releasing a patch.
Your microphone is important-the one that comes with Dragon is sufficient, but a better quality one will increase your accuracy.
3. Location, location, location is important
First of all, let me impart a really crucial piece of info on you: Dragon MUST be installed on a computer's hard drive for optimal performance, AND the youth needs to use the SAME computer each time. What you are doing is building a file. Each time one uses Dragon, the program learns your voice and adjusts itself-so logically you want to be building on that profile every time you use it. If you have Dragon on a server and multiple machines, using it here and there, you will only end up with multiple voice files that never accumulate into one really accurate file. The very point is to build your file, so this completely defeats the purpose. Having Dragon on a server, as my husband discovered at work, isn't the best because as you talk and Dragon deciphers what you are saying, the info must pass through the server and often becomes corrupt-which greatly decreases your accuracy. Dragon will become ridiculously slow, crash, it won't recognize commands, and behave erratically.
Once you have Dragon trained and you are using it, you should be able to use the program in environments with some background noise as long as you:
a) re-calibrate the microphone
b) have a really good noise cancelling microphone
Without these things, your accuracy will be impacted. With kids, I have found that sometimes it depends on the student. I have some students who speak clearly and with enough volume that they are successful even in a moderately noisy room, and others who do not and the program just can't pick up their voice well enough.
So, now you have the equipment and a motivated student, what do you do? Watch for part 2 this week when I point you to a great Dragon curriculum that I'm using, and give you tips and tricks on how to actually get kids in there and dictating.