Yesterday we looked at the impact that Universal Design for Learning tools can have for a neurodiversity classroom. Today, we examine the role that assistive technologies can have in promoting “niche construction” for neurodiverse brains. As we noted in our earlier post on neurodiversity and niche construction, one critical ingredient in improving the lives of those with mental health labels (e.g. autism, dyslexia, schizophrenia etc.), involves creating an environment or “niche” that meshes with the way in which those individuals’ brains work. In other words, rather than having to adapt to a given environment, the environment is made to adapt to each unique brain. Assistive technologies represent a critical set of resources to help accomplish these environmental modifications. For dyslexics, for example, there are a growing number of devices that actually scan printed text and translate it into the spoken word. The kReader Mobile, for example, developed by futurist and inventor Ray Kurzweil, takes a picture of text (including mail, receipts, handouts, memos, and other documents), and then reads the text aloud to the user. The electronic book Kindle, by Amazon, has a feature that, when turned on, will read the ebook out loud.
Also, there are speech to text software programs that allow the user to speak into a microphone, and have his oral language translated into printed text on the screen (a great leap from the old dictaphone-secretary combination). One example is Nuance’s Dragon NaturallySpeaking. Finally, there are many features in word processing programs that allow fonts to be increased, given color, turned into more readable fonts, and in other ways modifying text to suit the needs of individuals who have difficulty with reading skills. These technologies represent only a small fraction of the assistive technologies (both high-tech and low-tech) that are out there for individuals with neurodiverse brains. For people with autism, there are software programs that teach them how to interpret facial expressions and recognize different emotions. For those labeled ADHD, there are the hundreds of apps available for an iPhone or Blackberry, that allow one to organize one’s life, making these devices veritable Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs). With the development of virtual reality software, even more modifications to the environment will be possible, allowing those who have previously been prevented from having access to a given set of experiences, to fully explore new worlds. In a sense, assistive technologies can be considered extensions of one’s brain, helping it to function more effectively, and thus considerably enhancing the lives of countless neurodiverse individuals.
For more information on implementing neurodiversity in schools, see my book Neurodiversity in the Classroom: Strength-Based Strategies to Help Students with Special Needs Succeed in School and Life
This article was brought to you by Thomas Armstrong, Ph.D. and www.institute4learning.com.
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