Kreader mobile-screenshots2 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

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I'm the author of 19 books including my latest: If Einstein Ran the Schools: Revitalizing U.S. Education -

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3 Responses
  1. Janet Purcell

    I’m loving the application of these technology tools. If the Industrial Revolution served to marginalize people experiencing disability, then the Technological Revolution puts us right back in the game! For the last couple of years, I have used iPods for read aloud of texts and tests with my middle school students. This delivery system allows students to listen independently, at their own pace, repeating or skipping ahead as needed, just the way their peers do. Now, I’m recording video of myself working math problems and sending those home with students via iPod. Our high school recently bought a set of iPod touches to be used for read aloud, video tutorials, and organizational assistance. Great stuff!

  2. Ben

    I recommend text to speech software Panopreter Plus ( ). The software reads out text, text file, rtf file, word document, pdf file and web page, and converts the text to spoken audio in mp3 and wave file formats. On Windows 7, you can listen to Microsoft Anna’s spoken speech. It’s very helpful in language learning and special education.

  3. sarin

    The current best text to speech software is Text Speaker. It has customizable pronunciation, reads anything on your screen, and it even has talking reminders. It is great for learning languages as it highlights the words as they are being read. The bundled voices are well priced and sound very human. Voices are available in English, French, Italian, Spanish, German, and more. Easily converts blogs, email, e-books, and more to MP3 or for listening instantly.

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