Organizational Tools for People with Learning Disabilities

In some cases, the primary need that people with learning disabilities have is assistance with organization. This may affect organizing thoughts, tasks, or both. This article covers mind-mapping software, which helps with brainstorming and thought grouping, and calendaring software, which helps with time management.

Mind Mapping Software

Mind mapping software lets users record thoughts in any order. It then provides tools to allow them to organize these thoughts into an outline. In some cases, the outline can be exported to a word processing program. By default, programs allow for free-form use, although some include templates for specific types of writing (reports, resumes, etc.) that can be useful to people who require a more structured method of idea generation.

Several mind mapping programs are available, many for free. The most popular among people with learning disabilities is probably Inspiration, particularly since it easily allows graphics to be associated with specific ideas and includes useful tools such as a spell checker. The learning disabilities-focused program Kurzweil 3000 also includes a basic mind-mapping feature.

Calendar Software

There are many powerful, free, mainstream calendar programs like Google Calendar, as well as the calendars available in mobile phones, and in office suites like Outlook in Microsoft Office. For many people, an ideal situation will be to use a calendar program that can be synchronized among all the devices they currently use -- such as a desktop computer and a smartphone -- so that they have access to these programs at all times. The program should also allow flexibility, so that users can set preferences for reminder functions such as how frequently reminders pop up and how far in advance of a task the first reminder appears. Some times it is important to synchronize appointments with other people, or to have other people add appointments to your calendar.

There are also some calendar programs specifically designed to meet the needs of people with more significant cognitive disabilities. For example, PEAT schedules can be used to break complex tasks into smaller steps, and The Jogger records user responses to prompts so that caregivers can see these responses and give feedback to the user.

To-Do Lists

Just as with calendars, there are a lot of mainstream, free task management tools. Some are built into office suites, and some are web-based, like the popular RememberTheMilk and Tada List -- these 2 have very simple interfaces and are visually appealing and sharable.

Choosing Software

It's important to remember that schools and employers may have made their own choices about organizational tools, so the user may have to adapt or be accommodated. Many of the programs have simpler interfaces or ways to be modified to meet the needs of different users, but doing that may take some digging. In some cases the learning disabled user can have a simpler interface than others use, especially when the data is stored in a standard such as iCal.

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