How Technology Empowers Neurodivergent Tweens and Teens

Monday, September 4, 2023

Technology plays a pivotal role in the lives of tweens and teens, including those who are neurodivergent. All too often, the conversation around screen time is a one-size-fits-all conversation which usually falls under the "ban/block" or "zero screen time" philosophies. Neurodiversity encompasses a wide spectrum of neurological differences, including autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and more. For these young individuals, technology can be a powerful tool that fosters growth, enhances communication, and provides much-needed support in navigating the challenges of daily life. I thought it would be really important to highlight this as we not only help parents change their mindset around the role of technology, but to understand how screens can help kids self-regulate in a healthy way.

Building Communication and Social Skills

Neurodivergent tweens and teens often face unique social and communication challenges. They may struggle with face-to-face interactions or find it challenging to decipher non-verbal cues. Here's where technology steps in as an invaluable ally:

Personal/Social Skills Apps: Numerous apps are tailored to enhance personal/social skills. Some apps employ interactive scenarios, quizzes, and real-world examples to teach individuals how to initiate conversations, interpret emotions, schedule time, and respond appropriately in social settings. Try apps such as "First Then Visual Schedule", "Choiceworks Calendar", "Conversation Builder", "The Social Express 2", or "Stories in Motion". 

Communication Aids: Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) apps give individuals a voice. Take a look at "Proloquo2Go" and "TouchChat". These apps can be customized to their specific needs, helping them express their thoughts, emotions, and desires.

Online Communities: Social media platforms and online communities provide teens a space to connect with peers who share similar experiences and challenges. These virtual connections often lead to genuine friendships and a supportive network.

Virtual Reality (VR): VR technology offers immersive social experiences in controlled environments, helping individuals practice real-world interactions in a safe, stress-free setting. Try "Floreo".

Opens Up the Ability to Learn at Their Own Pace

Traditional classroom settings can sometimes be overwhelming for neurodivergent students due to sensory sensitivities or difficulties with focusing. Technology offers personalized learning experiences that cater to their specific needs:

Educational Apps: Tailored educational apps can adapt to an individual's learning pace and style, allowing neurodivergent students to grasp concepts at their own speed. Try apps such as "News2You", "Khan Academy", and "Duolingo". There are SO many more. These apps often incorporate visual aids, interactive lessons, and gamification to make learning enjoyable.

Text-to-Speech and Speech-to-Text Tools: For students with writing difficulties, technology provides tools like text-to-speech and speech-to-text software, making reading and writing tasks more accessible. Try "Dragon".

Online Tutoring: Virtual tutoring platforms offer one-on-one instruction, allowing learners to receive personalized support and guidance from experts in various subjects.

Alleviates Anxiety After Sensory Overload

Sensory overload is a common experience for many neurodivergent individuals, leading to heightened anxiety. Technology serves as a valuable resource for helping them regain composure:

Sensory-Calming Apps: Designed to reduce stress and anxiety, sensory-calming apps offer activities like guided breathing exercises, soothing visual animations, and calming sounds. Think of apps like Calm or Headspace. These apps can help self-regulate emotions after sensory overload.

Wearable Tech: Devices like smartwatches (Apple Watch) can run sensory-calming apps or offer vibration-based sensory reminders, such as "Breathe", "Calm", and "Mindfulness Bell". 

Digital Journals: Some find solace in digital journaling, where they can express their feelings and thoughts in a private, sensory-friendly format, often getting more thoughts out with the assistance of technology versus struggling with pencil and paper. Apps such as "Day One" (end to end encrypted) and "Journey" (also encrypted) are digital journaling platforms that can be customized for sensory-friendly journaling experiences.

In conclusion, technology is far more than just a form of entertainment for neurodivergent tweens and teens. It's a powerful tool that offers tailored support, fosters social growth, and enhances their learning experiences. As we continue to embrace the digital age, it's essential to recognize and harness the potential of technology in empowering neurodiversity, providing opportunities for these young individuals to thrive and lead fulfilling lives.

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