Mitchell Zook just completed his freshman year at the University of Indianapolis. He has had a successful year in a large part due to the assistive technology he is using. I visited Mitchell at his home to learn about the services he received through Easterseals Crossroads and how he is using the assistive technology he is using to succeed in college.
When Mitchell opened the door, he greeted me with a warm smile and he escorted me to the living room where we sat on the coach and talked. He told me that he was born in Lafayette, Indiana, but moved to Greenwood when he was 1-year old. He told me that since starting school he has always been in the Center Grove school district and graduated from Center Grove High School in 2018.
Mitchell has a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). ASD is a developmental disorder that effects communication and behavior. Mitchell has high functioning ASD and manages life skills without much assistance. He told me that his biggest struggle all through school was note-taking and some communication difficulties. In high school, he did not use any technology. He did have extended time for writing assignments, small study hall group, speech therapy, and a delayed start to school.
He told me that Math and Computer Science classes were his favorite classes in school and that English was always really tough for him. It’s hard for him to keep focus in any classes that are lecture style. He also struggles to keep focus in group work. He told me that English and writing assignments always seemed long and tedious to him. He enjoys things being fast-paced and changing a lot. He is always on a computer or reading text books. He enjoys game development, puzzles, and playing Mindcraft and hopes to work one day work as a software engineer or a game developer.
In his senior year of high school, Mitchell started receiving Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) services. VR is a state agency that assists individuals with disabilities in obtaining or maintaining employment. His VR counselor referred him to Easterseals Crossroads for an assistive technology evaluation to prepare for college. An assistive technology evaluation is a one-on-one evaluation to determine the appropriate assistive technology to meet the needs of an individual at home, work, school, or in the community.
For the assistive technology evaluation, Mitchell was assigned to work with Craig Burns, Assistive Technology Specialist at Easterseals Crossroads. Craig met with Mitchell in his home and learned that he was interested in going to college and wanted to be as independent as possible. He told him about his struggles with capturing notes during lectures.
Craig showed Mitchell the Dragon Dictation software, which is a speech recognition software that would allow him to capture notes by speaking to the computer. Everything that is spoken appears on the screen and can be used to create documents, email, take notes, or search the web. With this software, Mitchell could then take his laptop into the classroom so he could capture the lecture and then create transcripts from the audio capture of his note-taking software. In some classes, he has run into some difficulties with the software not understanding the professors’ speech. He did get a more accurate microphone to better capture the speech and sits in the front of the room. He now mostly uses Dragon to write any papers instead of capturing the lecture. He says it’s a world of difference for him to be able to speak than type. In the past, he would struggle so much with writing that his mom would have to write all of his papers for him. He would dictate to her and she would write what he dictated and now with the Dragon Dictation’s software he can do this independently.
Craig then showed him Sonocent, which is an audio notetaker. This allows him to record a lecture so he can stay focused and listen and not become overloaded by trying to both listen and capture what is being said. Mitchell said, “I capture the notes using Sonocent and then run it through Dragon. I was so horrible at taking notes on paper. This software is quite helpful. I tape it, put notes in, listen to the lecture again, and add more notes. It made college a lot more practical for me. It helped me in my challenge areas. I’m inquisitive and tech oriented so when Craig showed me technology that I could speak to it was a break through moment.”
Craig also showed him MindView mind mapping software, which is a way to visually brainstorm and organize ideas. This software allows you to brainstorm topics in a storyboard presentation and then allows you to export that information into Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, and Excel. Mitchell says he uses this to organize his notes once they have been captured.
After Craig showed him all these software options, he recommended that VR purchase a laptop with the software so Mitchell would be able to take the laptop into his classrooms. After VR purchased the equipment and Craig set everything up for him, Mitchell had already integrated the use of Dragon into Mindview and was getting quite comfortable with using all the apps and software by their second training together.
During Mitchell’s senior year in high school, he entered an engineering competition through University of Indianapolis (UIndy). They teamed individual’s up to see who would design the best system to clear ice off of the glass of a vehicle in the winter. His team designed a vibrating tool that would bust the ice off the window and they won. He was awarded a full scholarship to attend UIndy and has now completed his first full year where he took a full load of classes. He has been successful in many of these classes because of the assistive technology he has incorporated into his studies.
Mitchell’s mom reflected on their experience of getting the evaluation and she said, “It’s been really exciting to see him accomplish writing without the struggles. I was thrilled that he has been able to do the writing on his own. It has been a long journey and this has been so helpful in his success this past year.” Mitchell and his mom said the greatest benefit to the evaluation was to have someone educate them about what technology was available. They said that the assistive technology intake survey was so helpful in determining what Mitchell’s needs were and Craig’s knowledge of options available opened up an entire world of things that they didn’t know were available. Mitchell is very tech savvy so when he learned which technologies could help him he was able to spend a lot of time on his own learning all the software and apps. Craig said, “I expect him to do very well. He is not at all unwilling to jump into new technology and was that way from the very start.”
Mitchell was looking forward to a small summer break and then getting back to school in the Fall. He is enrolled in a disability support program at the university called BUILD. BUILD services allow Mitchell to have one-on-one tutoring, a testing center where he can have a quiet place to talk out test problems out loud which helps him better solve problems, social skills and social activities groups, and other support services. Armed with school support services, a supportive family, and assistive technology, Mitchell looks forward to a successful college experience and a degree in Computer Software Engineering.