Websites to support your path towards typing to communicate.

By: Celina Viloria, Certified RPM Provider 
Builders of Eloquence and Engagement, LLC


Typing to communicate is a skill that many hope to achieve on their path to communication independence. For the motor-typical individual, typing to communicate sounds simple enough: you think of a word, you type it, done!

For many individuals who use alternate modes of communication such as letter boards typing becomes a series of complex voluntary tasks that have to be coordinated, mastered and executed in order to achieve typing.  It can be an intermittent eye convergence that makes the keys shuffle and dance or fall of the keyboard, a global apraxia that makes placing both hands on the same surface at the same time very difficult, an attention challenge that makes it hard to recall the letters long enough to type them in sequence, an eye muscle coordination challenge where looking down at a screen and keeping a steady gaze at that level takes a gargantuan effort, a sensory sensitivity that makes the keys on a keyboard feel like touching nails or an incredible need to move that makes staying in one place long enough to type a great obstacle.  All of these happening well before even thinking about getting to the “pick a word” part of the equation. 

Typing is a beautifully orchestrated dance of visual, auditory, tactile and kinesthetic tasks that result in the seemingly simple act of pushing a button.  For those of us who are lucky enough to see the incredible beauty and amazing effort that goes in to typing here are some thoughts on the different typing programs out there.   

This list is not comprehensive, I am sure there are many more options, please send me your thoughts as you discover options that may make the dance floor smoother as we travel towards independence.  

I first and foremost view touch typing as a motor task and therefore approach it as a dexterity exercise.  Once the finger movement is conquered I add the additional cognitive layer that leads to accessing academic content and communication.  If you are familiar with Soma®RPM books, you could say I see it as more of a blue book activity than a red.
Typing is done with two hands, using all fingers in the correct touch typing position a long with proper sitting.  In the beginning typing is slow, you may be achieving a good 2 to 3 letters per minute, I said letters, not words. You are creating and nourishing new neuropathways, every single movement, including the sitting position is likely unknown to the body.  Practicing for a few minutes at a time will be the equivalent to a marathon.  Pace yourself, take your time and be comfortable with very short sessions.  When you least expect it you will build the tolerance and endurance necessary to return to the 25 min. sessions. 

Remember, fingers have muscles, and typing is an exercise of those muscles, fingers will hurt, they will get tired, they are going to the typing gym. Be kind and take it slow.
Even though typing is being approached as a motor/dexterity exercise there is plenty of cognitive material to digest as you grow your skills.  Definition of proper sitting position, home row, finger rows e.g. “e”, “d”, “c”, etc. are all concepts that need to be learned and practiced.   Typing skills will be impacted if you type the letter “a” with your index finger.  Both the cognitive skill of learning that “a” is typed with your pinky and the motor skill of actually moving your pinky to touch “a” is needed.

Initially, your communication goal is to produce the letters being given by the screen.  Your learner see a “j” and touches a “j”.  Finger motor pathways will not be established, therefore they may see a “j” and type a different letter.  Seeing and then touching is not as easy as it may seem.
Your skill goal will be set by the program you choose, if you are working on “jjjj ffff jjjj ffff” your skill goal will be to type the letters “j” and “f” using the right and left index fingers respectively. 

Now, you may be tempted to let movement slide and allow some typing with a different finger.  Remember, practice does not make perfect, practice makes permanent.  Whatever you practice you are ingraining in you motor pathway and therefore creating a “typo” or “wrong touch” that will become permanent.  Aim for one hundred percent accuracy with correction support (delete and retype with the right finger).

Working on these tolerance, skill, cognitive and communication goals will move you through the exercises and allow you to walk towards independent communication. 
The applications and software being reviewed are only a very small part of all that you will do and support as you learn to type.  These programs are intended to be used as a tool that will take away the burden of having to figure out what exercises to do first and which ones to do second.  You just turn them on and continue from where you left off. 

However, I am not suggesting that they, by their own magic, will teach typing.  Consciously and meticulously supporting the four learning channels: auditory, tactile, kinesthetic and visual, is key in achieving progress.  Auditory, visual, tactile and kinesthetic prompts will be needed as you work towards fluency and independence in the motor movement.
Once you master the motor movement then you can integrate a different cognitive goal focused on non-typing content such as structured lessons.  Think of the red, orange and green books as a point of reference.  If you achieved fluency on the stencil or letter boards first (recommended), then you may be pleasantly surprised by the speed at which you can merge both skills.  

Here are some thoughts on the different typing programs we have trialed.  We have used the free trials or the beginning part of the programs, we have not used the programs in their entirety.  If their format changes substantially as it progresses then it will not be reflected here.

Typing Club.

When you enter typing club there are two options, you can start typing club (logo are some cute white pieces of paper) or typing jungle. This refers to typing club.  At first, I was not keen on this program mainly because it initially does not allow you to hit backspace.   If you type the wrong letter or you type the right letter with the wrong finger there is no way to click backspace and “clean up” the movement.   This was a big deterrent.   However, after a few lessons I discovered that you can gain the privilege of hitting backspace.  Visually, this program is easy, the screen is clean, there are not too many graphics.  There is a finger prompt and other supporting functions that can be turned off to simplify the screen further.  Dexterity exercises do not require unnecessary hand movements (more on this later).  You can increase the font size and turn the auditory stimuli on or off.  The cost for this site is Free!! It is among my favorite sites.   

Typing Jungle

Part of the Typing Club family, Typing Jungle is the "fun" sibling of Typing club.  The exercises are mostly the same as Typing Club, however, Typing Jungle takes advantage of the video game concept and integrates some typing games that can be motivating for some or too much pressure for others.  At the beginning when the motor control is still in its initial stages of development and you are typing 13 letters per minute or less (letters/not words) the games can be too hard and frustrating and may lead to disappointment and anxiety, I would skip them, which is possible, until you gain a speed of about 5 words per minute. At 10 words per minute the challenge of the game is fun instead of unreachable.  Every certain number of lessons Typing Jungle requires the user to continually press the letter J or F as he uses the other hand to type the letters on the screen.  This continuous pressing of a key creates a motor pathway that is not useful in daily typing and that, depending on the individual, may have to be unlearned before you are able to move forward.  This unnecessary movement is not my preferred choice and I have worked around it until the child I am working with is able to execute it without creating motor planning chaos.   This small inconvenience is worth bearing with in exchange for the games that create a powerful and playful motivator. This website is also free.
In motor planning practice makes permanent, I want every keystroke to count toward a motor pathway that will lead to independent typing. In the beginning Typing Club does not allow you to use back space and when you make a mistake you just keep going, as I mentioned before, I did not like this at all, however, after a few lessons it allows you to use back space which in turn allows you to press backspace every time you need to retype to makes sure the right finger+letter is being pressed.

Keyboarding without tears.

Keyboarding without tears is definitely not for us.  It is a great website with thoughtful graphics and activities.  However, at the beginning it forces the user to continually keep the "J" key down while you type with your left hand and to press the "f" key to type with the right.  This is required for various lessons one after another at the beginning.  I understand that the purpose is to create a habit o f having both hands on the keyboard, however, for individuals with movement challenges this is a lot of motor learning only to have to unlearn it later as, in practice, we do not type while constantly pressing any key.   For many individuals this may be no big deal, for us practice makes permanent and I don't want to create a motor pathway to pressing "f" constantly only to unlearn it later.   Subscription is 10 dollars a year.
This is a fun one.  In order to have full access to the site it requires a subscription and it is not easy to upgrade from the trial to the full version.  I only used the trial.  The program is based on a story, student has a mission to complete and as they complete tasks they can save things or drive drones powered by their typing.  The trial level has 4 or 5 games and some are for easier for beginners than others.  We stuck with the easy, untimed games until our finger dexterity improved and then moved to the timed harder ones.  The practice exercises are fun and engaging the kids want to keep playing to complete a task.  However,  the games a very visually stimulating, graphics, movement, colors, floating things, they can be too much at the beginning where, from a learning channel perspective, you are competing with the sound from the game, the animation, etc.   It can be too much, fun, but too much. That being said, it may be engaging enough to push you through the beginning stages of motor learning and leave you in a good place to move to a site like Typing Jungle/Typing Club.  The drone game is a favorite and kids gain a lot of movement because they want to keep playing again and again.

This is a plain vanilla type-for-dexterity free program.  No bells and whistles.  From a sensory, learning channel perspective it is similar to typing club, the lowest input program.  They do have more adds on the page so be mindful of the visual distraction this may cause.  Great for getting started. Free website.

More thoughts on typing.

Touch typing is a difficult motor task, is it worth it?  Every individual is different and there is no right answer for everyone.  It is a long term goal.  If you are fluent on the letter board it may feel like a good parallel skill to start developing from a pure motor skill/dexterity perspective while you continue to work on whatever your chosen skill/communication goal is during separate RPM lessons.  Think of it more as a movement goal than an cognitive goal, even though you will need all of your RPM skills to implement it and support the user. 
Once the motor becomes automatic, where fingers are moving easily from one letter to the next with proper home row use the motor impact will be low enough to allow you to add additional layers of cognitive impact.  You may move to close ended questions and start moving up through the language ladder towards open ended communication through typing.
Once you have conquered the dexterity necessary to move towards an additional layer of cognitive challenge your lesson goals may look like this.  
Skill: type with all fingers (a motor skill that is now easy when approached as dexterity exercises)
Communication: answer close ended questions 
Tolerance: 15 min.   User tip, even if your child can work on 45 min. lessons start your typing practice at 10 to 15 min (or less if it applies).  The finger exercise are hard and the fingers are not accustomed to the movement, the fingers will be tired and fatigued, build the stamina and the interest.  It is better to have a fun 10 min. session than a 45 min that no one enjoys. 

Cognitive: your choice.

One of the big "losses" when using alternate modes of communication is the lack of speed compared to verbal speech, ideally 10 finger typing would allow for both independence and greater speed.  However, every child is different, every family's goals  are different.  There is no wrong way to learn and communicate.  Whether you are on paper choices, three stencils, full stencils, letter boards, keyboards, ipads, devices or other, celebrate whatever your skill level is today!

**This article does not provide medical advice, we are neither doctors, occupational therapists, etc.  Please consult your therapy professional.