Note: The audio transcript is located below.
Dr. Maria Chrysochoou is the leader of the INCLUDE Project at the University of Connecticut and the Department head of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Her experience with a neurodiverse family member drives the mission behind INCLUDE. "I grew up in Greece, which has a rigid educational system. And at the time, my brother was actually dyslexic. And so I saw how he struggled with this, and how difficult it was for him to navigate things like writing and exams."
With that in mind, one of the missions of the INCLUDE Project is to introduce new methods of learning. A lot of people, neurodiverse or not, learn visually or in experiential environments. Experiential learning is an emphasis on learning by doing certain activities.
Dr. Chrysochoou discusses some of the career preparation that is part of that curriculum. “We'll also want to provide specific activities like career prep and interviewing. If somebody is on the spectrum or somebody has ADHD, they're gonna have different strengths in terms of presenting themselves in the interview.”
Dr. Chryscochoou also emphasizes that part of the INCLUDE project is about building a community with neurodiverse individuals. As part of the project, a nonresidential learning community is being offered as the class UNIV-1810, titled “Neurodiversity in Engineering”. Topics include goal setting, self-advocacy, engineering identity, and assistive technology tools.
Aside from the learning community, the admins also offer a Microsoft Teams group chat and a tentative Discord server. The need for neurodiverse community like this clearly exists. CHADD, which is one of the main ADHD support organizations in the U.S., does not have any support groups based in Connecticut.
With all of this in mind, the future of neurodiversity at UConn is flourishing. Dr. Chrysochoou discusses upcoming technologies that could be used to accommodate a wide variety of learning styles.
“These new technologies are coming out of places like Harvard and Stanford that use different kinds of technologies to assist learning. We're still exploring and learning and seeing what's out there. We've started a little bit by using virtual reality and creating a virtual reality lab that is very useful in engineering and especially for students with ADHD who have great visualization skills. That's a type of technology that can help assist with learning.”
Listen to more of Dr. Chrysochoou's interview and story below.