Assistive Technology for Children With ADHD

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on April 18, 2023
4 min read

Assistive technology is any device, software program, or tool that could help your child with ADHD become a better student or learner. It might boost their skills and confidence if they’re having a hard time with subjects like reading, writing, or math. Here are the main types of assistive technology and how they help.

Audiobooks. If your child has trouble focusing or grasping the meaning of sentences while reading, they might benefit from listening to a recording of a book instead. You can find audiobook services online, and many include a subscription fee. You’ll also need a computer, tablet, or smartphone to play these recordings, and headphones for quiet listening. If your child has a hard time sitting still to read a book, an audiobook could also help them move around while they listen to the story.

Text to speech. These programs let your child turn text on their computer, tablet, or phone screens into audio they can listen to. They may be able speed up or slow down the audio, too. Listening to text while reading along with it may boost your child’s word recognition, help them pay attention longer, and help them comprehend words better. Your personal devices may have text-to-speech software built into it. If not, downloadable apps, web-based tools, and software programs are available.

Optical character recognition (OCR). This type of text-to-screen hardware and software lets you transfer images of text -- from things like books, worksheets, or even objects like street signs -- onto a screen and hear audio of it. In general, you use your camera or a scanner to capture an image of the text, and then you upload it into a device like a computer or tablet. (A handheld OCR device called a “scanner pen” lets you scan materials portably.) Some computers, tablets, and phones have OCR software programs built in, so check your personal devices to see if any are included.

Word-prediction software. This type of tool for word processors guesses the word your child is trying to type. It may help them grow their vocabulary and write grammatically correct sentences that stay on topic.

Portable word processors. If your child has trouble taking notes or writing out assignments by hand during classes, they may have an easier time typing on these small, computer-like devices. Some portable word processors come with built-in text-to-speech and word prediction software, too.

Speech recognition software. Your child speaks into a computer or tablet’s microphone, and their words show up on the screen. This can save them time and help them express themselves more easily if they’re struggling to write by hand. You can check your computer to see if it has speech recognition software built in.

Talking calculator. It works like a normal calculator, only it speaks the numbers and symbols on the buttons your child presses, as well as the answer they get. It could help them process the digits they see in a math problem more easily and give them confidence that they’re pushing the correct calculator keys as they solve the problem. They’ll still need to write their answer down on paper (or enter it into a class computer) when they’re done.

Electronic math worksheet. This is a type of computer software that lets your child work out math problems on a computer screen. It could help them organize numbers as they solve the problem, and it can read the numbers aloud to them.

These gadgets gently remind your child to refocus on an assignment or task in case their attention drifts. One example is a vibrating watch. You can program it to vibrate as often as you want. The quietness of it might keep your child from feeling self-conscious, and your child’s teacher might not have to remind them to get back to work as often.

Before you buy assistive technology, ask yourself things like:

  • Does it target the skills your child needs help with?
  • Is it simple enough for you and your child to use?
  • Will your child want to use it? (Ask them.)
  • Will their school allow them to use it during classes?
  • If it’s a device, will it work with your other computers and tablets?

You can also check to see if there’s a free demo or a trial subscription available for assistive technology software that you’re considering.

If your kid goes to public school, they may be eligible for free special education services, including assistive technology, under a law called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Ask the school to give your child an ADHD evaluation to find out if they qualify. If they do qualify, you and the evaluation team will work together to come up with a legal document called an individual education plan. This lists your child’s education goals as well as the services that the school will offer them. The IDEA law requires that the school at least consider providing assistive technology devices and services. If they decide assistive technology is right for your child, they should provide it for free.

Private schools often provide assistive technology, too. If your child goes to one, ask their teachers or the administrators if any tech is available. They might tell you that your child needs to get evaluated for special education services first. If so, ask them to reach out to the public school district that your child's private school is located in. That’s because the district chooses whether or not to evaluate your child. If they do an evaluation and decide your child needs special education, they’ll create a plan that’s cost-free to you and similar to an individualized education program, although it may include fewer services. If the plan doesn’t give your child the extra support they need, you could consider moving them to a public school with more resources.