Why a Ph.D Program

I wish I could educate far more teachers on developmental disorders and brain injuries so we don't keep pushing away some of our most gifted students. Autism spectrum disorders, frontal lobe traumas, and other conditions can cause an individual to struggle with a great many social situations, while also apparently contributing to "savant-like" gifts in other areas.

The problem is pedagogical, but educators have adopted strategies for more than 30 years that encourage groups, collaboration, role playing, and other valid techniques that isolate and even alienate those with ASDs, lobe injuries, etc. In the past, we dismissed these students as "super geeks" — and like me, many were placed on "independent study" projects because teachers ran out of options.

We really need to find ways to use technology to get past the social barriers, which I compare to being a non-native speaker of English. Probably a bad comparison, but I often feel I do not speak the same language as others.

In Minnesota, we have one of the three highest rates of autism spectrum disorders. Many of these students will be entering the universities in the next decade, thanks to mandated individualized education programs. Without the IEP approach, some future greats would never be "discovered" and much would be lost. But, I still think we need more mainstreaming and less isolation of these students.

That's really why I am here -- to work on this range of disabilities and discover better ways to educate this group, which is now as large as one percent of all students in a few school districts. In a 10,000-student district, we might have 100 students classified as ASD/brain trauma. Right now, educating those students is extremely expensive (up to $30,000/year each), which I think has to change and can change with the help of technologies.

Because I do not experience the same emotional range as others or know how to answer the question "How are you?" I end up being outside a group fairly quickly. I know facts, figures, and how my mind perceives things. I also know my perceptions are seldom the same as others' — few people experience real pain from certain colors or synesthesia at times.

Technology could, if we develop a better approach, bridge gaps for people. Right now, technology is merely serving to implement the same practices we use in traditional classrooms, but with cool new buzzwords.


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