The key problem of many traditional approaches to education is that programs and standards are built based on the idea that all learners are the same and that all of them have the same interests, preferences, and skills. However, this idea is far from reality.
We want to help learners with special needs to cope with difficulties that they typically face in the education process. In this article, we’d like to talk about one of the problems in education that is often underestimated – the lack of adequate solutions and learning methods for people with dyslexia.
What is dyslexia?
The British Dyslexia Association (BDA) defines dyslexia as “a learning difficulty that primarily affects the skills involved in accurate and fluent word reading and spelling”.
Today, around 15-20% of the world’s population is affected by dyslexia. In other words, approximately 1 in 5 individuals suffer from some form of this learning difficulty.
Though some signs of dyslexia may be noticed even when a child is very small (these toddlers may start talking later than others), let us mention those symptoms that are common among older children, teenagers, and adults:
- Difficulty reading and spelling;
- Problems telling apart parts of speech;
- Trouble learning different letters, especially those that have similar shapes (like “b” and “d”);
- Difficulty learning how different sounds go together and their correct order in a word;
- Trouble pronouncing new words.
Despite a stereotype, dyslexia shouldn’t be associated with low intelligence. It can happen regardless of the intellectual level that a person has. It means that it doesn’t affect the cognitive functions of individuals. And this idea should be made widely known, especially within the sphere of education. Students with dyslexia can demonstrate amazing academic results, they have excellent visual, spatial reasoning, and analytical skills. However, for solving some tasks they may need to apply more effort than students who don’t have learning difficulties.
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Quite often barriers in learning appear when teachers do not have the possibility to address the existing issues in a proper way. That’s why while thinking about solutions that can facilitate the learning process for people with dyslexia, it is also worth considering various tools that can help teachers with them.
How AI helps to deal with difficulties caused by dyslexia
At Sigli, we have deeply studied the possibilities to apply Artificial Intelligence tools for addressing the problems caused by dyslexia in learning. And we have already delivered a couple of products with such goals for our customers.
Though there are some limitations in this sphere that we are going to discuss further in this article, AI has turned out to be a reasonable choice for building solutions for students with dyslexia. AI-powered products can help users overcome limitations related to their difficulties with spelling, grammar, and syntax and to fully open their potential in learning.
Visual and voice aids
Visual and voice support for reading is a very useful thing for learners with dyslexia. When a user is reading a text it can be also automatically voiced and highlighted within the process. In such a way a person will have the possibility of not only listening to the text but also having a look at how different words are spelled and pronounced. Modern solutions can also offer definitions for words that are unknown to a person. When a user doesn’t know a word, he or she can just click on it and get an explanation.
Moreover, Artificial Intelligence can visualize written information. It can support words with images which makes it easier for learners with dyslexia to remember them. One of the examples of such solutions is Microsoft’s Immersive Reader.
For people with dyslexia, it is required to invest more time and effort in practice. For example, they need to fulfill various exercises that help them better understand the difference between various parts of speech. For teachers, it can be rather challenging to prepare the required number of exercises for students. And AI can do it for them. Teachers will just need to formulate their inquiry and Artificial intelligence can generate unique exercises based on the student’s needs and requirements.
Complexity level estimation
AI-powered solutions can be of great help for self-education and self-preparation for students with dyslexia. As reading causes difficulties, it may require a lot of time, the exact amount of which may depend on the complexity of the text itself. It is practically impossible to estimate the complexity of the text without reading and predict how much time you need to spend on working with it. That’s why it is a good idea to implement such AI tools that will analyze the complexity of written content to let users decide whether they are ready to start reading the text based on the time required for it.
Context word prediction
When people with dyslexia need to write a text, this task may also take too much time and turn out a very irritating process. What’s more, it may be practically impossible to avoid mistakes in spelling. As a result, students may be fully discouraged. But AI can contribute to solving this problem, at least when they are typing texts on their laptops, tablets, or smartphones. AI can analyze the context and predict the following word. All that users will need to do is just to choose the best variant from the offered options.
On one hand, somebody may say that AI will kill creativity and people won’t use their imagination at all. On the other hand, we insist that AI can help people with dyslexia to stop being afraid of expressing themselves which is even more important for the learning process.
Sometimes we do not need to read a text attentively to get all the details. It may be enough just to look through it to grasp the main idea. Let’s admit a lot of students regularly do this to save time. Unfortunately, this trick doesn’t work for those who have dyslexia. But AI can be also helpful in this case. It can process a long text and provide its short summary that will contain the main idea.
Supportive tools: Grammar checkers and voice assistants
Speaking about solutions for learners with dyslexia, we can also mention some tools that are known and widely used by a very wide audience, including those people who do not have learning difficulties. That’s writing assistance and grammar checkers like ChatGPT or AI-powered Grammarly tools that can help users correct errors in their texts and can even provide real-time recommendations on text enhancements. Thanks to such tools, students can fully focus on the content of their texts while AI will help them avoid grammar and spelling mistakes.
Well-known Alexa and Siri (or any similar solutions) can also be very helpful for students with dyslexia. Instead of typing their requests for any information (which can become a rather time-consuming process), people can interact with such solutions using voice commands. These voice assistants can also read the necessary information for students so that they won’t need to do it on their own if they have difficulties with it. As a result, as well as in the previous case, they can concentrate more on the information itself instead of worrying about how to read the required texts.
Challenges for using AI to help people with dyslexia
If you asked us whether AI is a good choice for addressing the issues that people with dyslexia face in learning, our short answer would be “definitely yes”. However, we should admit that in this aspect, there are still some challenges that require serious attention from the side of developers. And we’d like to draw your attention to them.
First of all, AI-powered solutions can’t fully eliminate the necessity of human involvement. and it doesn’t matter whether we are talking about creating special personalized tasks and learning plans for students with dyslexia or about writing some type of content like essays, for example. AI is a great tool. It can help teachers in their work but it can’t fully replace a teacher. It can help students but it can’t do everything instead of them (but in general, it is even okay as to learn something people need to invest their own efforts in this process). It means that even if you have the best AI solution, you still need to control and manage its work.
And the second point here is the limitations related to the use of AI in testing solutions that help to detect whether a person has dyslexia or similar symptoms are a consequence of other issues. Already now such solutions are available. They are enriched with natural language processing, speech recognition tools, as well as ML algorithms. These technologies can detect patterns in the behavior of a person that may be signs of dyslexia.
Of course, such tools can successfully complement traditional diagnostics methods and reduce the time that is typically required for this process. Nevertheless, there are still a lot of concerns related to their reliability. Moreover, we shouldn’t forget about ethical factors. Is it really ethically correct to let AI deeply study and analyze the behavior of individuals and accumulate data about them from different sources? This question remains to be rather disputable.
The existence of the mentioned challenges doesn’t mean that such problems can’t be solved. They can be and should be solved and already now the work on them is being conducted. It is expected that in the future such solutions will become more powerful and efficient. And it will be possible to fully rely on them. However, now it is too early to do it.
As you can see, today artificial intelligence can be successfully applied to enhance the process and quality of education for everyone, including those people who face learning difficulties.
It can help learners spend less time on some basic things that they have issues with, like reading, and concentrate more on core learning activities like studying new information or solving the set tasks. Quite often such learning difficulties as dyslexia and their impact are ignored. However, AI provides us with a chance to stop closing our eyes to these issues and finally create a learning environment that will be comfortable for everyone.
In the next article, we will share some insights that our Sigli team gained while working on the development of an AI-powered dyslexia compensation solution. Stay tuned!
About the Author:
In his current position, Artem Pochechuev leads a team of talented engineers. Oversees the development and implementation of data-driven solutions for Sigli’s customers. He is passionate about using the latest technologies and techniques in data science to deliver innovative solutions that drive business value. Outside of work, Artem enjoys cooking, ice-skating, playing piano, and spending time with his family.