Getting to Know Neurodiverse learning: Helping Family Members Succeed

By on May 25, 2021
neurodiverse learning

Self-sufficiency is the path to independence.  As the friend, grandmother, grandfather, aunt or uncle of a child or adult with neurodiverse learning needs, that can be a tough concept to take heart in the real world.

For many children, today’s school environment provides the necessary foundation of skills, insights and information to succeed in life. Schools standardize what kids learn, regardless of individual capabilities. We group kids into grades and define what each child should be able to achieve at each grade level.

By definition, however, neurodiverse learners process information differently, with each person interacting with the world through their own unique set of perspectives and interactions.. Covid-19 has added to this challenge. Most of the families I’ve talked with have initially seen noticeable regression in learning, routines and other measures without the consistent schedule of a school environment. But there has been a bright side. Many of these same families have realized they can customize their child’s ability to maintain their routine through technology. 

Our app, Goally, was designed to address these issues, but the basic concepts serve as valuable pointers in helping extended family support neurodiverse learning needs during these challenging times (and during so-called “normal” times as well).

Key Take-Aways:  Helping Neurodiverse Learners

  1. Give them the tools for consistency:  routine and reminders are important for neurodiverse learners (we’ll call them NDL’s for this purpose).  Keep things simple, consistent and reliable.  Changes to routine can be disruptive.  If you’re a relative or friend, be sure to understand what existing routines are so you can support them.
  2. Deep breaths. Stay calm.  Technology doesn’t lose its cool, but humans absolutely can.  Remind yourself to take a deep breath and step back.  There can be setbacks and frustrations in the process of learning and maintaining routines.
  3. Remove distractions:  For NDL of all ages, distractions, from noises, to busy technology devices to lights and visual items, can distract and disrupt.  As much as possible, keep elements in the daily routines simple and reliable.

Our work with Goally has focused on two primary cohorts, the neurodiverse and those who have special needs and it is important to note the similarities and the differences. From my point of view, special needs has a strong connection to a learning disability. Neurodiverse, as I see it, identifies people who learn differently but who are not learning disabled. For example, approximately 30 percent of kids with an autism diagnosis are not learning disabled. They just think and learn differently.

For learners with disabilities, there will be requirements and restrictions beyond the guidelines I’ve noted here – and I certainly don’t want to apply a “one size fits all” approach to this segment of family and society.

There is, however, one exception, and that is the shortage of specialized help and support systems.

The fundamental problem with both special needs and neurodiverse situations is there will never be enough service providers. Even if there were infinite resources available to support all of these people, there aren’t enough behavior therapists, speech therapists, etc… to take on these roles. 

That is why I believe technology will provide an ever-growing role in serving these populations and providing much-needed assistance to the “village” of friends, family and caregivers working to give neurodiverse learners and individuals with learning disabilities a better opportunity to thrive – by providing a reliable, affordable and consistent means of support on the path to successful independent living or as much independence as is obtainable for the individual.

About the Author

Sasha ShternSasha Shtern, CEO of Goally, a company dedicated to making software for special needs kids. Goally’s tools help parents implement at home the strategies professionals use in clinics and schools. 

A successful serial entrepreneur, angel investor, co-organizer of Ethereum Denver, and co-founder of Rocky Mountain Blockchain, Shtern advocates for other serial entrepreneurs to move into social enterprises. In 2015 he co-founded Impact Makers Table, a nonprofit dedicated to channeling data-driven philanthropy. He is passionate about education policy and healthy eating for kids. The Education University of Colorado, Denver, and Harvard Business School.

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Getting to Know Neurodiverse learning: Helping Family Members Succeed