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Arbie's Unoriginally Titled Book Blog

It's a blog! Mainly of book reviews.

Currently reading

Nonlinear Time Series Analysis
Thomas Schreiber, Holger Kantz
Progress: 29/320 pages
NeuroDiversity: The Birth of an Idea
Judy Reene Singer
Progress: 52/82 pages
Ursula K. Le Guin: Hainish Novels and Stories, Vol. 1: Rocannon's World / Planet of Exile / City of Illusions / The Left Hand of Darkness / The Dispossessed / Stories (The Library of America)
Brian Attebery, Ursula K. Le Guin
Progress: 440/1100 pages
Life and Letters of Charles Darwin - Volume 1: By Charles Darwin - Illustrated
Charles Darwin
Progress: 310/346 pages
Basics of Plasma Astrophysics
Claudio Chiuderi, Marco Velli
Progress: 58/250 pages
Ursula K. Le Guin: The Complete Orsinia: Malafrena / Stories and Songs (The Library of America)
Brian Attebery, Ursula K. Le Guin
Progress: 359/700 pages
A Student's Guide to Lagrangians and Hamiltonians
Patrick Hamill
Progress: 7/180 pages
Complete Poems, 1904-1962
E.E. Cummings
Progress: 110/1102 pages
The Complete Plays and Poems
E.D. Pendry, J.C. Maxwell, Christopher Marlowe
She Stoops to Conquer and Other Comedies (Oxford World's Classics)
Henry Fielding, David Garrick, Oliver Goldsmith
Progress: 76/448 pages

Neurodiversity in Higher Education, David Pollak (ed.)

Neurodiversity in Higher Education: Positive Responses to Specific Learning Differences - David Pollak

Neurodiversity is a label for the concept that there is not merely one way of thinking but many. This doesn't mean variation of opinion. It means fundamental variation in mode of thought and processing of information that does not constitute an intellectual impairment. Things covered by this umbrella term include amongst others: Dyslexia, dyscalculia, dyspraxia, AD(H)D and autism/Asperger's Syndrome. The term originally arose within the online autism/Asperger's Syndrome (AS henceforth) community.

 

This book represents an excellent introduction to its topic. Whilst some of it is UK specific, most of the material applies across national boundaries. The UK-specific material is about the law and the existing specific support services. The remainder can be imported to any country where there is willingness to adapt within the Higher Education sector (HEIs henceforth).

 

Key concepts are the medical vs. social models of disability, the responsibility on institutions to pro-actively adapt to the needs of disabled students and adoption of a constructive culture amongst the lecturing staff and the consequent need for education of the same.

 

Medical vs Social Model: The medical model is that there is something wrong with the disabled person and this should be fixed where possible. The social model is that disability arises because of the barriers put in place by society that prevent people who are different from that society's concept of "normal" from fully participating in society. These concepts are generally taken as being fundamentally in conflict. An example from outside neurodiversity is the Deaf community which tends to believe that its culture is under threat of extinction from modern medicine which is increasingly able to cure or mitigate severe forms of hearing impairment. Within neurodiversity the AS community is for the most part extremely hostile to the concept that the have a medical problem that is in need of a cure. The opposing forces are mainly the USA's medical insurance industry which cannot make money out of a condition that requires lifelong support and intervention and parents who "just want their child to be normal." These forces are so strong that AS has been removed from the latest edition of the USA's psychological diagnostic manual, the DSM V and many desperate parents subject their children to quack practioners' harmful and ineffective "cures."


I do not believe that casting medical vs. social models of disability as complete polar opposites that necessarily must conflict is necessary or fully accurate. For instance many people with AD(H)D can and do benefit from drug therapies. It should be entirely down to the individual to decide whether to go down this road. The decision should be an informed one and social pressure to conform to standards of normality should not be a factor. On the other hand, "curing" AS means effectively destroying one personality and replacing it with another. I can't really see the distinction between this and murder.

 

Pro-active adaptation to the needs of disabled students: This means that waiting for a student with a specific disability to rock up at an institution before considering what needs to be changed for them isn't good enough: best practice needs to be implemented across the board regardless of whether any specific disability is represented within the student body at any given time. This is a legal requirement for HEIs in the UK. This approach has enormous benefits for the affected students, who face less of a battle to get the adjustments they need and reduced institutional hostility towards them. Many of the adaptations are beneficial regarding more than one type of disability are incidentally beneficial to many students who aren't legally classified as disabled in any way.

 

Staff attitude and awareness: without this, most of the necessary adaptations for neurodiversity simply are not possible, since the greatest need neurodiverse people have is to be treated with respect and understanding. Everything else follows from that - with relative ease if pro-active measures have been adopted by the institution. By contrast, attitudes that perceive neurodiversity as a bogus label for people who are stupid/badly behaved are guaranteed to prevent maximum achievement. It is strongly recommended that appraisal/promotion of staff be linked to engagement with appropriate training.

 

The book itself is good, providing as much clarity as is possible in an area that remains fundamentally murky - definitions of many neurodiverse conditions remain varied and controvercial - and offering some insight into the problems these conditions can cause, especially in the context of HEIs. It mostly focuses on undergraduates but some space is given to postgraduate students. Occasionally it is vague or assumes knowledge. (I still don't know what "over-learning" is and I'm guessing what "multi-sensory learning" is.) Most of the advice on best practice is hearteningly specific, though. The chapter on assistive technology is showing its age already. The book was published in 2007 and in the time since then smart phones have become ubiquitous and revolutionised this topic along with so much else. One enduring point raised, though, is that one person's necessary assistive technology is another person's useful but only socially requisite toy. (Pretty much all computer technology falls into this category.)

 

This book is worth the time of anybody involved in education, giving or receiving, largely independently of at what level, and additionally to anybody interested in neurodiversity at all or disability generally.

Reading progress update: I've read 190 out of 320 pages.

Neurodiversity in Higher Education: Positive Responses to Specific Learning Differences - David Pollak

AD(H)D: Widely not believed to exist in adults, even among medical professionals: not true! The only neurological condition known to respond to drug therapy - though individual response varies and the most appropriate drug/dose must be determined on that basis. Some ADDers may choose not to take medication - a decision which should be respected if it is informed. Hyperactivity may or may not be present.

Reading progress update: I've read 169 out of 320 pages.

Neurodiversity in Higher Education: Positive Responses to Specific Learning Differences - David Pollak

Asperger's Syndrome: Not a lot of specific advice.

Reading progress update: I've read 149 out of 320 pages.

Neurodiversity in Higher Education: Positive Responses to Specific Learning Differences - David Pollak

Dyscalculia: not just "being stupid" but a profound inability to grasp the concept of number. Can lead to inability to tell the time, read transport timetables. Does not imply below average intelligence - capacity in any and all other intellectual areas may be average or above. Can co-occur with dyslexia. Having both must be extraordinarily challenging in modern society. Seems like not much can be done to mitigate it.

Reading progress update: I've read 125 out of 320 pages.

Neurodiversity in Higher Education: Positive Responses to Specific Learning Differences - David Pollak

Dyspraxia: Parts of this chapter are frustratingly vague e.g. what does "provide opportunities for over-learning" mean?
Considerable overlap with both dyslexia and Asperger's. Executive function problems appear again.

Reading progress update: I've read 29 out of 320 pages.

Nonlinear Time Series Analysis - Thomas Schreiber, Holger Kantz

If I've understood this properly, linear filtering will not remove dynamical noise from a non-linear time series but can remove narrow-spectrum error noise.

Reading progress update: I've read 13 out of 320 pages.

Nonlinear Time Series Analysis - Thomas Schreiber, Holger Kantz

Second hand copy: some unmentionable has annotated the text in ink!
Arrrrrrrrrrrghhh!

Reading progress update: I've read 91 out of 320 pages.

Neurodiversity in Higher Education: Positive Responses to Specific Learning Differences - David Pollak

Dyslexia: Not well defined. A component seems to be "weak executive functioning" - something common to AD(H)D and autism. A tendency towards visual thinking. Similar reports of "take away my dyslexia and you take away what makes me ME" to those of Aspies and their syndrome.

Reading progress update: I've read 295 out of 320 pages.

Neurodiversity in Higher Education: Positive Responses to Specific Learning Differences - David Pollak

Seems to me that we have a loooooooooong way to go before teaching and assessment techniques match potential best practice.

Reading progress update: I've read 276 out of 320 pages.

Neurodiversity in Higher Education: Positive Responses to Specific Learning Differences - David Pollak

There is still an issue that many people do not wish to be "labelled" because of consequent "stigma." My view is that those people are to some extent perpetuating stigma with this attitude; vicious circle that it's very hard to break out of, because they are not entirely wrong.

Reading progress update: I've read 269 out of 320 pages.

Neurodiversity in Higher Education: Positive Responses to Specific Learning Differences - David Pollak

Teaching, Learning and Assessment: Low on specifics, high on references to  other resources. I am concluding that the efficacy of some adaptations would be heavily dependent on subject. STEM might have different problems from humanities and subjects with a practical hands-on aspect look to be different from those that do not.

Reading progress update: I've read 243 out of 320 pages.

Neurodiversity in Higher Education: Positive Responses to Specific Learning Differences - David Pollak

Reading the chapters out of order means the page numbers will jump around a bit. The book is designed so that most of the chapters are independent of each other.

 

Assistive technologies: Being published in 2009, this was before the era of ubiquitous smart phones. Which is to say it's out of date on the specifics and if you re-wrote it now it would go out of date just as fast or faster.

Reading progress update: I've read 63 out of 320 pages.

Neurodiversity in Higher Education: Positive Responses to Specific Learning Differences - David Pollak

Diagnostic assessment: One should keep an open mind during assessment because people frequently have more than one neurodiverse condition, they have overlapping symptoms and without a detailed personal history assessment scores can be grossly mis-interpreted.

Reading progress update: I've read 52 out of 82 pages.

NeuroDiversity: The Birth of an Idea - Judy Reene Singer

The autobiographical segment seethes with emotion.

Reading progress update: I've read 40 out of 320 pages.

Neurodiversity in Higher Education: Positive Responses to Specific Learning Differences - David Pollak

Higher Education Institutions in the UK are under a legal obligation to pro-actively adapt to the needs of disabled students. Waiting until someone with a specific kind of disability to rock up before considering what mitigating action to take is not good enough. I wonder how many of them actually do this?

Reading progress update: I've read 24 out of 320 pages.

Neurodiversity in Higher Education: Positive Responses to Specific Learning Differences - David Pollak

UK disability legislation: we didn't have any until 1995!