An app and games to solve writing disorders

What’s a sub on a tablet got to do with handwriting disorders? Well, almost everything. Because for this submerged vessel to reach its destination, the hand that directs it by means of a stylus must exert the appropriate pressure on the screen. A way to correct a faulty pressure that is often the cause of a writing problem.

The “submarine”, now available in the Dynamilis application, is one of ten games developed by an EPFL research group within the CHILI laboratory, in collaboration with psychomotricity therapists. Dynamilis is in fact the logical continuation of an older project.

Beyond diagnosis

In 2019, researchers announced that they had developed a tablet application to identify writing problems in record time. The artificial intelligence (AI) tool called “Dynamico” measured, using a stylus on a tablet, data that was previously inaccessible: speed, pressure, tremor, inclination, etc., in just 30 seconds.

“Artificial intelligence needs children’s handwriting models. In 2018, we had 300 models and today, more than 10,000”, specifies Thibault Asselborn, project manager at EPFL. But after three years of improvement and testing, the researchers took their tool further by adding fun exercises. It is no longer just a question of diagnosing, but also of solving, or simply of improving one’s writing for children who do not have particular problems.

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The games developed are recommended based on the problems detected in the first part of the app. For example, a child who has difficulty with the pressure of the pen will be directed to a specific game, like the “submarine”. “Each game includes several levels so that the child progresses and that we follow his development, anonymously, of course,” explains Thibault Asselborn.

These activities were introduced in the app only recently, but the research team offered different audiences to try them out. And as part of a pilot project with schools in Vaud, several teachers were able to share their observations.

“Like a magic wand”

In Sion, Fatima Gaougaou works as a psychomotricity therapist. She was immediately enthusiastic about the prospect of helping to develop such a tool. “I was interested in this because we have more and more children being reported for graphomotor problems, and also because it helps to link clinical practice with research. At first, the stylus seemed to me like a magic wand that virtually allowed me to slip into the skin of the child in difficulty,” explains the specialist.

Another advantage: contrary to classic tests on paper, there are no possible cognitive biases linked to the representations of the therapist. Because it can happen that the assessment – ​​and sometimes the diagnosis – for the same child is not identical from one professional to another. And very often, the playful dimension of these tools makes young patients more eager to train in order to improve. “It’s not the same story with a sheet and a pencil,” admits Fatima Gaougaou.

The sinews of war is that between the moment the teacher detects a problem and the moment we start to deal with it, an average of a year passes and this worsens the situation.

The therapist was therefore asked to test certain games, suggest improvements, and then share her needs in order to create new activities. Today, she regularly uses the application with her patients but prefers that these moments remain brief in order to limit the effect of screens. She also sees this tool as complementary to her practice. It does not replace everything.

“It’s not: I use the tablet and more my tests, it doesn’t work like that. In any case, I have an evaluative, formative part, which serves as my frame of reference. And when the researchers make adjustments to the app, I sometimes challenge them if I find that the final score seems inconsistent with my assessments. But we have a very rich collaboration and that’s what’s important”, welcomes Fatima Gaougaou.

Early detection

On the laboratory side, we have other ambitions. The application is now also usable in English, German and Italian, and other games are in the development phase. “For the moment, the sinews of war is that between the moment when the teacher detects a problem and when we start to treat it, there is a year on average and that worsens the situation. Our goal now is to go to classes with tablets to detect as soon as possible, ”comments Thibault Asselborn. Failure to act quickly indeed aggravates the problems and undermines the child’s self-confidence.

Read again: Should we ban phonetic writing for the little ones?

Finally, in the longer term, the creators of Dynamilis plan to deal with other flaws in learning: a doctoral student is currently investigating the question of dys disorders more related to reading, which could be the subject of a new version of the program .

For Fatima Gaougaou in any case, the current tool has the advantage of highlighting the complexity of writing. “It’s not just repetition on a sheet. Writing is a work on tone, speed, coordination, the calibration of the gaze. It’s exciting to look at what’s at stake, and when you’re in trouble, to realize that it’s not just a hand that’s not working.”

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An app and games to solve writing disorders

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