2.6 - That's Some Thoughts on How to Design for Neurodivergent Learners!


Instructional designer Mandy Brown joins me to share a little bit about her own journey of self-discovery as a woman on the autism spectrum. We talk about ways in which designers can keep neurodivergent learners in mind when designing learning experiences. Mandy shares the ways in which her own neurodivergence affects her learning, and offers some suggestions on different accomodations that can be made which don't just help neurodivergent learners, but neurotypical learners as well.


Connect with Mandy on LinkedIn.


Producer note: In this episode I use the terms neurodiverse and neurodivergent interchangeably, but have since learned that neurodivergent is the most appropriate term for what we are discussing. Thanks for your understanding!

 

The following transcript was auto-generated and may contain typos or spelling errors.


Leslie Early

Okay, today I have instructional designer Mandy Brown on the show. And we are going to talk about neuro diversity, and how it might inform our design process as an instructional designer. So thank you so much for joining me, Mandy.


Mandy Brown

Yeah. Glad to be here.


Leslie Early

So before we jump into our conversation, did you want to take a moment to just introduce yourself and say a little bit about you?


Mandy Brown

Yeah, sure. I am an instructional designer, like you said, I have about 10 years of experience in various ways. Most of it actually with the justice system and working with learners who got in trouble with the law. And lately, I've been working with Berlitz to create language learning content for adults. We've been working on some asynchronous stuff and some virtual instructor led stuff. And it's been fun. Yeah.


Leslie Early

Cool. And yeah, so the reason we're here to chat is because I noticed you tend to post well, not I mean, I won't say you post all the time. But relative with relative frequency you post about neuro diversity and how that affects your life and what that means to you. But and I just really appreciate that because I also consider myself to be a neurodiverse person. And I feel like this is not something that we often talk about or see people talking about publicly. But I do think it affects, obviously us personally, but also can affect how our, you know, design process, and we can assume that our learners are not neurodiverse. So But before we jump in, I did want to maybe set a baseline because maybe not everybody knows what that means. So if you had to give a brief definition of neurodiverse, or the opposite neurotypical, how would you define those for the listeners?


Mandy Brown

Um, gosh, well, for a really long time, I thought I was neurotypical. So apparently, my definition is off. But for me, nerve divergence means that my brain works really differently than a lot of other people. A lot of people consider, like gifted and talented people, you know, learners, and special education. All of those are, you know, on one level or another neurodivergent. And, for me, it's been it's been really nice, recognizing that I am not typical in how my brain works. I told my husband when I when I finally figured out what was going on that it felt like, it felt like I'd been running in the wrong pair of shoes my entire life. And now I'm, I'm suddenly running in the correct pair of shoes. And I'm like, oh, oh, this makes more sense. Instead of you know, Mandy is just rude. Because she doesn't care about social cues. Now I can say like, No, I actually don't pick up on social cues very well, because my brain isn't wired for that.


Leslie Early

Yeah, so So from my understanding for you, for your own personal experience, this is something relatively new that you learned about yourself. Correct?


Mandy Brown

So my daughter had, like some really, really hard time in during COVID. And still has a hard time, but we noticed it really, really prominent with her being an at home learner. And her dad was a teacher at the school with her. And so anytime she had problems before COVID, the teacher would just, you know, go to the music room and talk to your dad and he would talk her down. And we should have taken that as a cue that something was going on, because in other public school systems that probably would have meant like getting her diagnosed and getting someone to check in. But because they were already accommodating her and stuff, we just, it didn't occur to us until we had her at home with us. And I was like, something is wrong, because like something's not working well at all. I started looking into it and finding like her sensory problems and stuff and I came across them with autism for women, basically, like that autism in women has been, you know, under diagnosed a whole lot. Because socially, those are acceptable things to have from women, right, like being shy and quiet or, or really being into your books or, or whatnot. And I read off some things, expecting my husband to go Yeah, that's totally Zoey. And I read it up and said, you know, so what do you think anyway? Yeah, that's you. So my daughter and I were diagnosed. Wow, yeah, yeah. Um, but it's becoming a trend that that we're seeing lately is a lot of women like in their 30s Plus finding out like, oh, actually, yeah, this is why I struggled. Which is unfortunate. But I'm also really grateful to know now.


Leslie Early

Yeah, I just be for myself the way I discovered my own neuro divergence is being a teacher, I would. I'm sure other teachers can relate, but you have to sometimes fill out questionnaires about your students if they're going through a diagnosis process. And so, as I was looking through the questionnaire and answering these questions about one or two students of mine, I'd be like, actually, this applies to me, this has been applying to me since you know, since I was, however old, so, yeah, it's, it's and I was also quite old, in my 30s. So, but it's, it's a relief to know that there are underlying mechanisms that explain some behaviors that maybe didn't, I didn't have a good explanation for prior to that. So thank you for sharing your story, by the way, that's really great. So I guess, using your own personal experience, you know, now that you know a little bit more about yourself, and now that you're in an instructional design role, how does this newfound, you know, awareness? How does that inform your design process?


Unknown Speaker

Well, it's been really some some things I've already designed for Neuro divergence without even recognizing it, because my brain is already there. But I've been trying really hard lately to think about the ways that I learned best for my own my own brain wiring and and recognizing where that works in other things. So for instance, I can't do a whole lot of sensory stimulation during something like so if there's a billion colors, or if there's a lot of sound tech, if there's even like, a weird perfume in the air. Like, that can be too much for me, because I'm trying to learn something, while taking in all the sensory input that I can't actually filter out. Having questions that are very, to the point and not something that is implied helps, because anytime there's implied information, I miss it. So like, for instance, I was in a virtual instructor led training, and someone wanted us to just very quickly answer a yes or no question. And the yes or no question was like, Do you have an idea for this? And she, like, you know, Mandy, do you have an idea for this? And yes, I do. And then like, I expected the popcorn to keep going to someone else. And she was really awkward. She she was like, Well, what is it? Right? But that that implied, like what is the idea wasn't in her question to begin with. And so it, it put me in this weird, awkward space of like, Oh, crap, like, I missed another social cue. And like, now, I feel weird. And now like, I wonder if my, my cohort thinks I'm rude or like, so it pulls me out of being a learner, and puts me into more of a, like, navigating the social dynamic around me. Um, and so, as an insert, as a designer, I try to create less instances where that might happen.


Leslie Early

Yeah, less ambiguity. I have to say what you're describing, I know that feeling of like, Oh, no. Like for you, it was, Oh, I missed this social cue, or whatever the case may be. But then now, you're totally taken out of focusing on the point of the lesson. And now Yeah, focusing on yourself and like, did I do this wrong? Like, what's wrong with me? It's very easy to go into that sort of rumination, at least for me, I don't know, if you felt like that.


Mandy Brown

Hopefully, because then you're also like, oh, no, does the instructor think I'm rude? Like, am I gonna have to help this relationship and like ease the damage I might have done simply because I didn't catch up on on the subtext that was there.


Leslie Early

Well, I think that's a noble goal, then, you know, now that you know that about yourself and knowing that maybe other learners are also in the same situation, to try to take any of the ambiguity out of those types of questions. So I guess I have a follow up question for that. That wasn't really an open. It wasn't explicitly an open ended question, but in a way, it was an open ended question, do you how do you have an opinion about opening questions.


Mandy Brown

Waiting for the instructor to say like, we're going to have a rapid fire, you know, one sentence, what's your idea? Like that I would have been like, oh, here is my idea. But when it's just a yes or no, and there's this implied, like, Okay, this person's gonna give me more information behind the question, just ask that other question that has that implied subtext. Yeah. And this is also something that bugs me about assessments. So for me, if you give the opportunity for me to take the assessment, at the very beginning, and I pass, I shouldn't have to go through and do the lesson.


Leslie Early

Fair, I can't really argue with that.


Mandy Brown

Right? Like, my logic is that there's this trust that I have with whoever's build out the experience, that the assessments will actually measure what they're supposed to measure. And so it proves that I don't need to learn that thing, because I did the assessment. So it's like, and it's, I don't want to call out LinkedIn learning. But that totally happens. Right? Like you go to the you go to the quizzes and you answer them and then you don't get the don't get their certificate until you've watched the videos.


Leslie Early

Butts in seats, metric, then an actual Yeah, but I also think that that's that that very video oriented, I don't know how to. It's really you're just watching a video taking a quiz watching a video taking a quiz. Like, that's all. Yeah, anyway, I have thoughts about that.


Mandy Brown

Just certainly, certainly, I appreciate the LinkedIn learning ones that are like, I gave you some project files and like, work through and create something because I really like those because then I can actually like, say, put that on my, my portfolio and be like, Look at my project management skills that I did on this, you know, case study kind of thing. But one thing I do really appreciate about LinkedIn learning is that I can speed them up. Yeah, I like I can't do slow. My brain is working too fast. And so if I can speed up the video to my own speed, like then I then I can actually concentrate better. energize my husband pretty crazy, too, right? Like the other day, I was looking up how to fix something. And I pulled up a YouTube tutorial and listened to it. And it was 15 minutes that I made into seven, right? Like, it went really, really fast. And at the end of it, I was like, Okay, I'm ready, I can do this thing. And he just was like, Wait, what's the first step? How did you do that? But it's because my brain works like fireworks, like those fireworks that at the end actually have more fireworks. And so the only way to kind of short circuit that for me is to go fast. Instead of like letting my brain find all the various webs that connect to that one idea that the presenter is bringing up.


Leslie Early

Yeah, yeah, I I find myself get it if I don't. I'm the exact same way I listen to things at twice speed all the time, at least 1.5 Sometimes twice. It depends on how familiar I am with the subject but I find if I don't do it that fast. I will just yeah, maybe it's the same maybe it's what you're describing. I would never have called it fireworks but I feel like I'm like the kid in T ball that was like in the outfield like chasing butterflies. Like the time to stand batter's Yeah, it was just too long, and like there wasn't enough activity going on. So I just couldn't pay attention. Yeah, that's that's where I am with my speed.


Mandy Brown

Well, it's uh, I was watching a video on on communicating with autistic individuals. And obviously, Autism is a spectrum. So everyone's in everyone's experience is a little bit different. And what works for me isn't going to work for every autistic person. But the presenter said something about how communication is a is meant to get to the end of something for Autistics. And so he gives the example of going on a walk like for him going on the walk is getting from point A to point B, but in most social settings, it's actually the goal is to go with someone. So like he'd go on walks with people and be like a mile ahead because for him it means getting there. But actually for the person he's walking with, it means go together. And that just feels like a perfect, like metaphor for how I tend to communicate because I'm ready to get to the first thing. And then the next thing and the next thing. And I forget that I'm supposed to go on this like journey with someone. So for instance, in my like Team chats, I will like, start into like, hey, we know what the freelancers are doing for XYZ. And like, have you talked to the writers about this? And how do I do this thing with this image? And then I'll go, Oh, also Good morning. Because I forgot that you're supposed to start with a greeting, right? So it's things like that.


Leslie Early

Yeah. Yeah. And by the way, I feel like I should clarify. I don't think I said at the top, I have not been diagnosed with autism. I'm not on the autism spectrum. But I have ADHD. So that so I think there's a lot of overlap there, but I just want to clarify so yeah. But what was I gonna say? Um, classic ADHD moment? Hold on. Oh, I guess so like, Yeah, so we've talked a little bit about, you know, how we're communicating like, making sure you're very clear and what you're asking of the learner as far as like stating questions. Maybe allowing people to self assess before you force them to go through like a locked navigation learning experience. Same goes for allowing people to choose the speed at which like, I also am not a fan in storyline, you still can't choose the speed at which you listen to narration. I wonder if there's any other things that stick out to you as being like, this is something I tend to incorporate in my design, or any tips that you can think of, for people who maybe wouldn't nap? Who maybe wouldn't, you know, think of that right away?


Mandy Brown

Yeah, I Well, and it's the thing, like when we said, we were gonna chat about this, I was like, I actually don't know, any research that people are doing with their divergence SE and learning design. Like, we we look at Universal Design, and a lot of times it's things like color blindness and having subtitles for, for the hearing impaired, or, you know, making sure that the language hits, whatever literacy level the learner has, and these are all really like worthwhile things. But for like, neuro divergence, and having your, you know, your brain is wired a little differently, I haven't really been able to find much. And, you know, it's disappointing because in like the public school system, you turn 18, and you suddenly like, don't have a problem, right? Because the paperwork has, has graduated you out. But that's not how how things work. And we have to come up with our own ways of our own strategies for dealing with things. And I would really appreciate scene assessments that kind of let those strategies be valid. For instance, I found it was it was actually an assessment for an interview, like it's one of those job assessment things. But it had something like, memorize the names of these people. Right? And they give you like pictures? And like, in no way, is that ever going to be something that anyone will really need to do? Like, I could go on to LinkedIn, and look at their profile picture and be like, oh, yeah, that's Leslie. Like, that's a valid way of figuring out someone's name whenever I don't have the ability to memorize it. And so I ended up taking my vote and just taking a picture of it, because, like, How silly is it that I'm being asked this assessment question? That isn't one, I don't know what it measures, but also, like, there isn't a way for my strategies to be incorporated there. And so I'm not sure what strategies those would be for other things, but having having those experiences be validated and having to like, oh, yeah, you got the answer. Right. But she came through it in this totally other way. Needs to be valid too, you know?


Leslie Early

Yeah. Yeah. And that makes me think of like, different. Well, I better watch what I say I don't want to get into learning styles because that's not really like yeah, now learning styles, learning,like a maybe flexibility and how people are being assessed. That's just I'm just having this thought as I'm Yeah, out loud. But like, you know, rather than writing out your answers if you're more comfortable speaking, you know, like, if you're more or less vice versa, if you're not comfortable speaking about things, then maybe it's easier for you to organize your thoughts by writing them down. You know, it's like, this is very informal. What I'm describing is not usually what you would see the eLearning module or something. But still, I think you're making a valid point.


Mandy Brown

Yeah, but like role plays, right? Like, if you're having a role play assessment in, you know, in person, which isn't going to happen for a while. And it's a call center, no one should be worried about where my eye contact is. But you may still see instructors saying things like, well make sure that you're making eye contact, and things like that. It's yeah, like to have actually have the assessment be measuring the thing that you want someone to learn and not be asking them to, to mask on top of learning the thing. And also like being open to stems off the side, like, so as I was talking to you, and I was clicking on things and you're like, Mandy, I can hear all that. You can't do that, like, Okay, I'll find a quieter one.


Leslie Early

And you did find it, it's been very quiet ever since. I really appreciate it. It saves me a lot of work and editing.


Mandy Brown

Yeah, but making those accommodations and in other ways to one thing I really liked about the fact that I'm remote is that I you know, can turn off my camera, and I don't have to wonder whether or not my face is showing the facial expression that is the emotion I want to, you know, provide for the people around me that I can stem off camera if I need to. It drives me a little crazy when people insist I have my camera on. But that happens. Fewer and fewer now that I'm I'm in a different work environments. But things like that recognizing that not everyone's brain is, is made in the same way.


Leslie Early

Yeah, and I think before we wrap up here, I think actually all the things that were describing, make things a lot easier for people who are not neurotypical. But I think they also provide a little bit of relief, even for just neurotypical people. Yeah. Like, all of the things we've described probably would benefit a lot of people who maybe don't categorize themselves as neuro diverse, like, not being forced to be on camera, allow allowing yourself to, you know, to move around and do things that you need to do as long as you're actively engaged with, you know, the call allowing free navigation allowing listening at different speeds like, yeah, it's just good design. Right, like, right, exactly. It is a little it is a little sad now that you mentioned it that there isn't more research out there about this and best practices. But hmm, one day if we get a PhD, I guess. All right. Well, I guess if people wanted to reach out to you and you know, continue the conversation, where is a good place to connect with you?


Mandy Brown

Oh, LinkedIn is the best place. I'm on it on a regular, pretty regular basis. I'm not an expert in any of this, but I'm happy to chat with anybody.


Leslie Early

Yeah, disclaimer. Yeah, neither of us are experts in any of this.


Mandy Brown

I'm only an expert in my own experience. Exactly.


Leslie Early

Which is all we can be really. And but if there are people out there who have more research or resources, I mean, I would love to see them. So yeah, so So thank you so much, Mandy for joining me today.


Mandy Brown

Yeah, glad I could be here.


Transcribed by https://otter.ai