The Role of Technology in Helping Neurodiverse College Students

Neurodiversity among college students is something that has become all the more apparent over the pandemic. Neurodiversity is a term to refer to the different cognitive processes, conditions, and functions that are present among different people. Included under the umbrella of neurodiverse individuals are those with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and dyslexia.

These conditions all affect how an individual learns, communicates, and behaves, but instead of being a detriment, they’re seen as simply different ways of learning or interacting with the world. At least 11% of students in post-secondary education are neurodiverse, and there are possibly more that are still undiagnosed.

As learning went online, students and teachers alike had to adjust to many new changes in the learning environment. Then, students who showed little to no symptoms of neurodiversity started to realize that they might be neurodiverse themselves. Meanwhile, students with existing conditions are probably struggling more now than before.

However, the shift to online learning does come with some advantages, especially for neurodiversity. While it’s not without its flaws, technology has always helped make information, learning, and tasks more accessible for differently-abled people. In fact, many higher education institutions utilize it effectively to bring more awareness to their neurodiverse students and faculty.

Here are just some ways technology helps neurodiverse students through these challenging times.

Learning and Engagement

For students with ASD, who thrive off of a familiar routine, the disruption of their usual routines brought about by the pandemic has undoubtedly caused some difficulties in their everyday life. People with ASD love having a set routine and find it hard to adapt to new settings and environments. However, through online classes, they can establish new practices at home and easily reach out to peers, mentors, and family members for a reliable support group.

Furthermore, children and teens with ASD tend to respond well to computers, technology, and video games when used in an educational context to retain information and engage their minds, which may have difficulty focusing in a typical classroom setting. Technology plays a vital role, then, in their learning and even more so when you consider the accessibility features of online learning. This overlaps significantly with ADHD, whose common symptoms include losing focus when in under-stimulating situations. And indeed, people with ASD often exhibit symptoms of ADHD, and those two conditions are known to occur together frequently.

Better Communication

People with ASD also find it easier to communicate through text or chat than face-to-face communication. They might have difficulty forming or interpreting facial expressions and responding quickly to others. This goes with the general anxiety that many neurodiverse students may feel when interacting or talking to others in person. Most often find that chatting with people online or through text helps them communicate better and connect to their peers and teachers.

They feel less pressure to maintain the “proper” facial expressions and cues and feel like they can express themselves better through written words than verbal communication and actions.

A More Accepting Environment

college students

Despite adjusting to new routines and settings, most neurodiverse people might find the home environment more relieving or accepting, provided that they have a good home environment in the first place. New students who are neurodiverse, for example, don’t have to adjust to a new routine when they’re always at home, and the dread of being thrust into a new environment with so many new people has most certainly lessened with the implementation of online classes.

When they’re home, neurodiverse students don’t have to explain constantly and then re-explain their conditions to new people, as the people they live with already presumably know about them. Additionally, the fear of being misunderstood, belittled, or pitied is lessened in a home environment where acceptance has long been fostered.

In terms of technology, online spaces and communities have long helped neurodiverse people find other similar people worldwide. In fact, in place of a physical home, many neurodiverse people find acceptance and empathy through online communities instead, with many forming their own “found families.” The same can definitely happen even in online educational spaces.

Easy Access to Information

Throughout the pandemic, many individuals, teens, and adults alike have started to show symptoms of mental health conditions. They have become all the more aware of these conditions and their corresponding treatment methods. Because of the convenience of the internet and modern technology, people can look up their symptoms with relative ease and find out what each of them means long before they even get diagnosed.

Although self-diagnosis remains a controversial topic, it still helps to realize what it could mean and what are possible ways to contain its detrimental symptoms, especially for those who are unable to seek a professional diagnosis for whatever reason. Self-diagnosis can’t ultimately replace a professional diagnosis. Still, it does help to recognize the condition before it worsens and allows the individual to realize that it can be mitigated in some ways. What’s more, with plenty of psychiatrists and mental health professionals now opening online therapy sessions and consultations, technology has made getting help more accessible for plenty.

Besides diagnosing, the easy access to more information that modern technology offers makes it easier to find self-help resources and learning methods for plenty of neurodiverse students. Moreover, it’s even helped foster a more accepting and inclusive environment that puts the needs of neurodiverse students forward and provides reassurance for many.

Final Thoughts

Technology has always provided us with the means to achieve more extraordinary things far quicker than what would be possible without it. For plenty of neurodiverse students and adults, technology has become a necessity in their everyday lives, not only for learning but for communicating and just getting by. Technology’s vital role in neurodiversity cannot be understated and should be held in higher regard.

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