How mind-mapping can help learners with ASD

This post was created by PGCert participants in Team Mercury as part of their assessment for Unit 1 of the course. The brief was to evaluate technologies that could help students with specific learning needs to learn more effectively.

This post is the outcome of research we have conducted during our PGCert course as a group for team task 3 on assistive technologies. We will be sharing some of the main learning difficulties students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) face, and the technologies we have considered that may be useful. Finally, we will suggest the use of mind mapping applications, including a demonstration video on Scapple, that may allow the learner to target their specific learning needs and endow them with adequate technical tools to address these.

1-Main issues on learning difficulties with ASD

We have identified that students with ASD mostly share learning difficulties that arise from anxieties around social interaction and communication especially when experiencing a huge shift in their learning environment upon starting the university (Martin, 2018). This shift entails an increased capacity in certain areas of a student’s life that may require special focus.

Independent assessment of learning needs

University lectures can be less straightforward, requiring more interpretation, research and note taking that can be overwhelming for learners with ASD.

Self-organisation

The increased capacity for independent learning and research also triggers an increasing need for self-organisation. Learners with ASD need to be appropriately prepared and equipped to plan and organise their tasks in more concise ways.

Keeping track of deadlines especially when dealing with many tasks such as day-to-day scheduling

Learners with ASD may struggle seeing the larger picture of a unit, a term or a programme. They may lose track of scheduling and/or submission dates therefore assistive technology can help learners to focus on individual components.

2-Which technological tools can address these learning needs?

With all the pressing learning needs that the university environment brings, learners with ASD might be in need of a tool that can materialise their tasks and act as a log for their learning, to stay focused and revisit these whenever they need reassurance. To address these all at once we have looked at mind mapping applications.

Mind mapping applications allow learners with ASD what Martin (2008) describes with the acronym; REAL, which stands for reliable, empathic, anticipatory and logical. They provide:

  • a reliable tool that can act both as a planner and a reminder
  • an emphatic tool that can be customised to fit specific organising needs
  • an anticipatory tool that avoids uncertainty by making planning more efficient and predictable
  • a logical tool that enables planning with efficient and unambiguous graphics

Learners with ASD often struggle to put tasks in an efficient order. Mind mapping is therefore a REAL solution in helping them to capture their ideas and organise them efficiently in a visual way.

3-What do we suggest?

We have mainly observed Scapple and MindView as mind mapping tools. We think that they both address the learning difficulties of students with ASD for a variety of reasons and functions as listed below. Especially the feedback given by Mohammed Asif (who works on ATM operations) on MindView (Matchware, 2021) has provided some insight on what these mean for a learner with ASD.

compatibility (ability to toggle between various document formats Word, Excel, PowerPoint)

MindView can be easily integrated with Office programs, which can be adapted both for personal use and classroom needs. Scapple too is highly compatible – it can be exported as a picture file (PDF or PNG) and also as a text file – so this can be imported elsewhere, as well as Microsoft Word as a text file but may lose its layout. This is especially useful when learners have to share their maps from more visual-oriented personal formats to more textual formats.

capturing ideas before they are lost

With Scapple users can jot down ideas faster, upload multimedia files as a learning log. Its interface is very intuitive as well, enabling users to draw connections between ideas with arrows. For MindView, Mohammed underlines that it also helps to think more efficiently and creatively without having to worry about formatting.

planning ahead

Mind mapping is also an efficient organizing tool for research projects and daily tasks. Mohammed uses MindView to help prioritise his workload within the timeline he has and visualise them in a commanding manner.

customisable, empathic

This is perhaps the most important aspect of both Scapple and MindView. Students can customise the view of the maps by adding color and images as this allows them to relate ideas with these formal aspects. Learners can think through their ideas through their spatial position, colour or appearance in a much quicker way. They can also use the text to speech tool to check their spelling.

Students’ experience of mind mapping software can also present a larger picture. A recent study by Hedges et al (2018) also finds that many students with ASD integrate a variety of assistive technologies to support learning, stay organised, communicate and reduce stress. This may often be more directed to specific areas of need such as calendars and alarms to help with organisation skills. We therefore highly suggest learners to integrate mind mapping tools to their specific needs in their learning adventure. Especially for students in creative disciplines we found Scapple to be more intuitive and flexible to work with visuals as is also demonstrated in this tutorials video.

References

Asif, M. (2021) How an Employee with ASD Copes at Work Using MindView AT Mind-Mapping Software. At: https://www.matchware.com/case-study/lloyds-bank/ (Accessed 25/01/21)

Hedges, S. H., Odom, S. L., Hume, K., & Sam, A. (2018) ‘Technology use as a support tool by secondary students with autism’ In: Autism 22 (1) pp.70-79.

Martin, N. (2008) A template for improving provision for students with Asperger syndrome in further and higher education. Northampton: National Association of Disability Practitioners.

Martin, R. (2018) ‘Changing Places: transition into university for students on the autism spectrum. A mini meta-analysis of literature’ In: Journal of Neurodiversity in Higher Education, (4) pp. 24-35.

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