What's a Mind Supposed to Do?

Mind article in Word format

What Is A Mind Supposed To Do?
Use Of Assistive Technology In Intervention With Psychiatric Impairments
Special Focus For The Classroom
J. Michael West, Ph.D.
Carolina Neurobehavioral Associates, LLC
Florence, SC
March 14, 2002


Psychiatrically impaired persons seldom are considered candidates for Assistive Technology (AT) devices.  Fewer than 5 articles in last 10 years were found with any real use of how to judge what technology may be appropriate for increasing the quality of educational experience for the psychiatrically impaired child.

Evidence through research is confirming that psychiatric impairments will carry certain identifiable characteristics which may be aided with the use of AT in the classroom.

Experience shows that often the use of AT will not be considered with the emotionally disturbed child in IEP meetings.  This is not due to a failure to assist the child, but a lack of knowledge of what technology is available and how can it aid these children.

Federal guidelines through IDEA make specific provisions for the use of AT with this population and why not take advantage of all available helps?

What is the psychiatrically impaired child?

Diagnosis of the psychiatrically impaired child is one of the most controversial topics in discussion today.  Psychiatrists, psychologist, pediatricians, and especially families are asking these questions.  Diagnosis is difficult due to the fact of the fear of labeling a child may marr his future and prevent possible successes.  True, but proper diagnosis is the key to finding the etiology of the problem, correct interventions, and compensation methodology to aid in meeting potentials.

Children who are having learning disabilities, emotional instability, increased anxiety, failure to meet demands, and showing aggressive tendencies where traditional intervention does not help, SHOULD BE EVALUATED!

It appears that neuropsychology has identified common cognitive problems facing the psychiatrically impaired child and appropriate assessment can aid in determinating what intervention is appropriate and therefore, what Assistive devices should be considered.

Common Psychiatric Complaints met in a classroom setting:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety Disorder
  • Obsessive – Compulsive Disorder
  • Bipolar Disorder*
(Making sure that the common ADHD child who is also showing Conduct Disorder is not just showing symptomatology that is representative of a larger disturbance!!!)

This talk with consider the most talked about and problematic disorders now in focus in the classroom – Bipolar Disorder

Behavioral symptoms include:

  • Attention deficits
  • Poor listening comprehension skills
  • Poor handwriting
  • Aggressive tendencies
  • Increased anxiety
  • Defiance with limitations are presented
  • Swings in mood
  • Poor socialization
  • Learning disabilities
  • Tendency to daydream
  • Increased somatic complaints – head and stomach
  • Failure to complete assignments
  • Obsessive – compulsive tendencies

From a speech at MUSC: A zebra in a pack of horses!

Upon neuropsychological assessment, cognitive impairments include:

Executive Dysfunction (No real differences between mood states)

  • Poor memory including short and long delayed recall – CVLT
  • Poor verbal fluency – FAS
  • Poor sustained attention and decision-making – Trailmaking Test
  • Poor fine motor control – grooved pegboard - 37 % of impaired children

Speech and Language Disorder

  • 32% of students with psychiatric impairments
  • Poor listening comprehension - CAPD -  15% will have hearing loss
  • Poor phonological processing skills
  • Poor reading, spelling, and writing skills

Visuospatial Difficulties

  • Understanding the whole from parts
  • Correct placement of operations
  • Poor understanding of mathematics

Attention Deficits

  • Poor concentration
  • Strained attention
  • Weak switching of attention
  • Increased fatigue
  • Racing thoughts and poor focusing skills

Non-verbal learning disabilities!?

What are the Assistive Technologies that should be considered?


  • Word processing
  • Increasing writing speed
  • Spell check
  • Increasing attention
  • Decreases distractibility
  • Decreases fatigue and work loss
  • Can be taken outside the classroom

Electronic Assignments – E-mail

  • Missing assignments due to appointments and sicknesses

Tape recorders

  • Makes note-taking multi-sensory

Books on tape

  • Reading speed is normally slower and more labor intensive

Books designed for the visually impaired

  • Aids in reading disorder and “chunking”

Abacus for counting

  • Helps to visualize mathematics

Computerized learning tools

  • Aids in multi-sensory approach and increases time limits – less stress to keep up
  • Programs designed for learning
  • “Quicken” to budget
  • Note-taking
  • Mapping out problems – outline programs
  • Dragonet


  • Casio watches to remind
  • Day planners
  • Internet for socialization and learning
  • Dictaphones for notes and reports
  • Videotaping for gaining insight

ABC’s of What A Mind Is Supposed To DO:

  • Assessment
  • Acceptance
  • Broadening
  • Building
  • Competence
  • Consideration

Increasing quality of experience through technology!

Main References:

  • Neuropsychological Impairment Among Manic, Depressed, and Mixed Episode Inpatients With Bipolar Disorder, 1/2002, Neuropsychology
  • Child, Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics in North America, 1/1999
  • Communication Disorders and Emotional / Behavioral Disorders in Children and Adolescents, 5/1990, Journal of Speech and Hearing Disorders
  • The Bipolar Child, 1999, Papolos & Papolos
  • Practitioner Review:  The Treatment of Bipolar Disorder in Children and Adolescents, 2001, Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry

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