In 2014, as part of its Mindfulness for Mental Health project, Conestoga College launched an innovative program aimed at strengthening mental health supports for postsecondary students – in particular, students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
The college launched an in-class course to help students with ASD develop mindfulness skills aimed at reducing stress, increasing self-awareness and coping with stress in a healthy way. Feedback from initial sessions revealed that some students were experiencing challenges, including social anxiety and sensory conditions, with the in-person learning format. To improve program efficacy, Conestoga engaged Dialectic to transition the course to a digital format that would deliver a practical learning experience while addressing the unique challenges faced by students with ASD.
We first developed a model of understanding to conceptualize how individuals on the Autism spectrum process digital information. We reviewed the latest empirical data on mindfulness practices in the fields of psychology, cognitive science and behavioural science, and we researched Autism in general, the challenges it presents in educational contexts, and barriers specific to digital learning. We then held focus groups with current college students with ASD to ensure that our model incorporated their needs and expectations for mindfulness training accurately.
Based on this model, we designed a set of three story-based eLearning modules, customized to maximize accessibility and compliance. Each module was fully AODA-compliant and included:
The learning program offered both audio and visual learning opportunities, streamlined navigation, and techniques to improve relaxation during learning.
Customization was a critical success factor in Conestoga’s mindfulness training initiative. With a clear understanding of digital learning preferences among individuals on the Autism spectrum, we were able to create a tool that allowed students to work through the program comfortably and efficiently, thereby maximizing its impact and enabling the college to enhance the education experience for students with ASD.
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