I thought I'd spend a few minutes going back and posting about what we tried at ICATER - the Iowa Center for Assistive Technology Education and Research. (Thank's again Jim!). I'll start with the things that Bug tried and liked. Keep in mind all are adaptive Computer Access Devices, not toys and are priced as such. However, if your child needs them for school, your school very well might be able to get them or already have them.
First off she liked the Joy Stick. It was an "alternative to using the mouse for movement on the computer". I think the thing she liked best was that she didn't have to use her fingers, or do any gripping motions. She just touched the palm of her hand on it and moved it whichever way she wanted the mouse to go.
Next, the more logical choice for her, was a large Track Ball. This was her favorite one, although she tried many. I think the ball and buttons were just the right size for her small hands. Logitech Optical Marble Mouse (USB/PS2)
She also *loved* Dragon NaturallySpeaking, the only problem was that because she is still so young the software had a very hard time learning her voice. Even with lots of training it still wasn't understanding even basic words for her. But she still thought it was wonderful, and wants to use it. Jim from ICATER told us that it is normal for the program to have problems with recognizing children's voices, but that he thinks another year from now we should be able to get it to work a little more easily. Of course, if we have unlimited time to train with it we could probably get it to work, but we don't right now. He said that he's even seen someone with a severe speech problem train it, it just took a long long time. So it is possible! For us, this right now is looking like our best option long-term. Bug loved it, it was amazingly fast, and it would meet her needs for multiple programs.
Kurzweil was another program that she liked, but I don't think we need at this point. It was a "scan-and-read software that reads documents and Windows applications". The great thing about it was that you can scan worksheets in it, and type the answers right on the blanks. The drawback was that someone has to create a text field for each of those lines, and if you have motor skill problems or a lot of fatigue that could be a hassle. When we talked to our AEA about it, we decided should Bug ever use that program that someone would create those text boxes for her ahead of time to reduce the extra work. Just another option for those of you who might need it. ;)
The final product that was a hit for Bug was Co: Writer. This is a "Word prediction program to use Linguistic Word Prediction intelligence". She *loved* this, and while you have to train the program to your vocabulary, it happens very quickly. The reason that it isn't the number one pick is because you still have to do a decent amount of typing, or picking out the words from the selections that pop-up. So while it does reduce the amount of time and stress on the hands, if you can get voice recognition software to work I really think it's the most helpful and logical choice for a child with hand fatigue, motor problems, flexible joints, etc.
Other options we tried but aren't really of use to us (but could be to someone else!):
HeadMouse Extreme. "Replaces a standard computer mouse for people who cannot use their hands". Way cool! Just not something we need. But it sure was fun to play with! You wear a headband and just move your head to control the mouse. Fun!!!
Fingerprint Scanner (for logging in) "Provides users a convenient and secure way to manage and access multiple security phrase and codes with a fingerprint". Again, really cool! But not something we need. One of the great things Jim did was let Bug play with some of these high tech devices just for fun. It was really great of him! (this isn't he exact scanner we tried, but a similar product) Key Tronic Secure Desktop Scanner, Fingerprints (F-SCAN-S001-US)
AlphaSmart 3000. "Allows individuals to create, edit, and store their own original compositions and essays". I suppose this is helpful for some, but not for us. For starters, it is limited, since it is not a full blown computer. Good for a short-term solution, but again, if you are looking at a child who has a long-term disability, I just don't see the point of training them on software/computers that can't grow with them. However, it is lightweight and easy to transport, less expensive, and probably a bit more durable than some of the other options. It does have some word anticipation, and I believe programs that can be loaded onto it that make it more age appropriate.
Clicker 5 was a cool little program. However, it is for children who are much younger than Bug. I'd say pre-school to K personally. It is a "Writing support and multimedia tool that enables users to write with whole words, phrases, or pictures". The plus side was that it was easy to use. The down side was that it is really limited on how it is used. You input a series of words and then a child can select each word and write with them. It does show pictures to go with the words, which makes it great for early readers. But it is very limited since you can only work with the words that are currently inputted in the boxes. Great for basic starter sentences, but not helpful for kids who are already fluent readers and writers.
Intellikeys was a cool adaptive keyboard we tried. It is really hard to explain, so click on the link to view it. I would say it is helpful for kids with fingers that tire easily, and who work with computers that have stiffer keys on the keyboard. An option for a child who is able to type and doesn't need the voice recognition software but finds a traditional keyboard a bit difficult to work with. Bug loved it, but again, it just isn't quite what we were looking for.
Other things to note. ;) Jim told me he was not a big fan of iListen or ViaVoice. Also, we are going in to test another new program which is actually a combo of two. Word Q and Speak Q. I will give an update after we go test them, just under two weeks from now.
Hopefully this will help someone out - I cannot say enough how wonderful it was to have this resource available to us. Even though our AEA has access to some of these items, they do not have a center where Bug can just go and test them off and on at her own pace. It was a huge leap forward for us to be able to do this, and I hope this post will help someone who doesn't have access to a center like us!