Neurodivergence - different types of neurodiversity - students at university
Neurodivergence - different types of neurodiversity - students at university

Studying At University With Different Types Of Neurodiversity

Diving deep into the different types of neurodiversity and how it may impact studying at university.

People, humans, mankind — whatever you want to call them — are very complex beings. No two brains are the same and that’s what makes each and every one of us unique.

However, the modern world can be a little more complicated to navigate with neurodiversity, meaning tasks like studying may be harder to grasp for some people. As if studying wasn’t difficult enough!

Here at Student Beans, we surveyed nearly 1500 students on the topic of neurodiversity and studying at university. 

We found that just over 28% of students say they have symptoms of neurodivergence, and nearly 18% of students are unsure whether or not they have symptoms of neurodiversity. However, when asked if they’ve been diagnosed with a neurodivergence, only 22% have said they have a diagnosis — implying there’s a gap of people going undiagnosed and are likely not getting help for their struggles. 

Whether formally diagnosed or not, many people are experiencing symptoms that may be linked to neurodiversity and aren’t getting the support they need. And according to NHS data, the wait for neurodivergent diagnosis is longer than ever, with the wait for an autism diagnosis hitting 300 days.

Do you have symptoms of neurodivergence - types of neurodiversity at university

Out of the students surveyed, nearly 25% agreed that their neurodivergence or symptoms impacts how they study or revise. This suggests that some students aren’t reaching their maximum potential, or simply not even enjoying their degree because of the lack of help, awareness and understanding of their neurodiversity. 

Alana Mothershaw, Senior UX Researcher at Student Beans, tells us about the importance of conducting these student surveys:

“Our purpose at Student Beans is “empowering students to thrive” and essential to this, is understanding what it means to students to really ‘thrive’. 

We pride ourselves in having a dedicated user research team who focus on joining up the business with end-users, and ensuring every little thing we do is aligned to the needs and behaviours of the students — ultimately empowering them to THRIVE.

The team have access to our very own student research panel, and schedule routine touchpoints to talk to students which keeps us on-trend and up-to-date — these include online focus groups and surveys, as well as in-person student mornings (which are always concluded with well-earned pizza).

Last year, the team consulted 18,351 students to take part in various studies which have been pivotal in shaping our existing and future products here at Student Beans.” 

Without students, there simply would be no Student Beans.

In this guide:

What is neurodiversity?

Neurodiversity is an umbrella term to describe the concept that each and every one of our brains are unique and refers to the different ways our brain processes information. It suggests there is no ‘one’ type of brain and that each person has variances in the way they learn, think and experience. 

Neurodiversity challenges the traditional view that neurological conditions such as autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and others are inherently negative or abnormal. Instead, neurodiversity suggests that these conditions represent a spectrum of neurological differences that contribute to the richness of human experiences.

WordPart of speechDefinition
NeurodiversityNounThe diversity and variances of brain function between people, leading to different behavioural traits, skills, abilities, and needs.
NeurodiverseAdjectiveCharacterised by atypical neurological patterns and functions — describes neurodivergent people.
NeurodivergenceNounNeurological function that differs from what is considered ‘typical’.
NeurodivergentAdjectiveDescribes people with a neurodivergence — not atypical.
Table of definitions

Types of neurodiversity

Neurodiversity can be described as a spectrum and there are many ways the brain can differ from person to person. However, the most common types of neurodiversity include:

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD): Autism is a developmental condition affecting social skills, communication, and behaviour. 
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that causes difficulties with attention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity. 
  • Dyslexia: dyslexia is a learning disorder affecting writing, spelling, and reading. This isn’t anything to do with someone’s intelligence — dyslexic individuals may struggle with decoding words or spelling, but excel in other areas like maths. 
  • Dyspraxia: Dyspraxia is a condition affecting motor coordination. Activities requiring physical coordination may be difficult for people with Dyspraxia. 
  • Tourette Syndrome: Tourettes is a neurological disorder which causes the individual to experience tics in the form of repetitive, involuntary movements or vocalisations. 
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD): OCD is a mental health condition which involves unwanted thoughts and obsessions, and repetitive behaviours or mental acts (compulsions). 

As mentioned, neurodiversity is a vast spectrum and isn’t limited to the specific disorders above. Each individual experiencing symptoms/diagnosed with a disorder, will experience things differently, and many symptoms may overlap into other disorders, such as anxiety.

Studying with different types of neurodiversity

There are many different types of neurodiversity, with no two diagnosis the same.

With nearly 22% of students we surveyed saying they’ve been diagnosed with neurodiversity, it’s no wonder students are finding studying difficult. The lack of awareness and support for these individuals can lead to a more challenging time at university.

Have you been diagnosed with neurodiversity? types of neurodiversity at university

We dive a little deeper into the more familiar types of neurodiversity and how it may impact the ability to study.

Studying with dyslexia

Studying at university with dyslexia can be challenging for some students as it affects their reading, writing, and information processing. This makes usually simple tasks like taking notes or reading materials more difficult and time-consuming, as well as more exhausting due to the extra effort exerted. Their difficulties may stretch into their spelling and thought-organisation for written assignments and exams — which could overall impact their academic performance.

It’s common for people to associate dyslexia with lower intelligence but that is not the case. Many dyslexic individuals have high academic performance in other subject areas like science or maths, but can also excel in written subjects if they have support for their dyslexia. 

One helpful way to try and support dyslexia is to explore assistive technologies like text-to-speech software or speech-to-text applications. These can aid in reading and writing tasks that you may otherwise struggle with. Additionally, requesting lecture slides or notes in advance helps in understanding the material better and you’ll have more time to digest it.

Breaking down assignments into smaller tasks and creating a schedule can also help alleviate stress. Utilising visual aids, colour-coding, and mind maps can enhance information retention and organisation. Also, being open and honest with your university professors will ease some of the stress and pressure. They’ll be able to tailor support like extending deadlines or receiving extra time for exams.

Studying with autism

University, in general, can be daunting for individuals with autism. They may encounter difficulties with social interactions, communication, and sensory sensitivities, impacting their academic experience. They may also struggle with change, which is a big part of university life.

No two people with autism are the same — it’s a spectrum with differing degrees of neurodiversity. Challenges often manifest in establishing social connections and understanding unwritten social rules. Sensory overload, common in crowded lecture halls or noisy environments, can disrupt focus and therefore impact academic work. Additionally, rigid thinking patterns may make adapting to changes in routine or coursework challenging.

To offer support, universities can tailor accommodations to enhance concentration, by creating quiet study spaces or sensory-friendly environments. Communication with professors is also key here, as they’ll be able to understand your needs and help make adjustments. 

It may be beneficial to build a routine for yourself and break down any tasks into more manageable steps to help your organisation and to reduce your anxiety and stress. You can also join clubs or support groups for like-minded people (interests, hobbies) or other neurodiverse people. This can help with building a sense of community, hopefully making the adjustment to university life a little easier. 

Studying with ADHD

Going to university with ADHD can present challenges in the form of attention, focus, and organisation. It may be difficult to stay concentrated during lectures, and struggling with time-management can impact the ability to maintain a consistent study routine. 

People with ADHD tend to be easily distracted which can hinder their productivity — such as not being able to complete assignments or study efficiently. Impulsivity may also contribute to random and spontaneous decision making which may affect goals and planning. 

Using time-management tools is one way to help study more effectively with ADHD. Digital planners and apps can help you organise yourself in a way that will support you, prioritising all the important bits like deadlines. This, combined with ensuring you take regular breaks during studying, can help prevent burnout and improve your productivity.

Find out more by reading how to study with ADHD as a university student to find more support and handy study tips. You can also read our article about the best revision techniques, which includes mind-mapping, flash cards and study groups.

How to get support when studying at uni with neurodiversity

According to our survey, 68% of students say their university does provide mental health support. 

Of those who said they had a neurodiverse diagnosis:

  • 80% had access to counselling
  • 8% were given extra time
  • 8% didn’t know what support was available
  • 3% said the support wasn’t enough

One student reported “there is a counselling service but it’s not very welcoming – you might get a couple of sessions but they don’t want people being long-term recipients of help”.

Another mentioned that there is counselling available “which you can never get”. It seems that while universities are offering some support, it’s not enough and the demand is greater than the amount of support available.

Navigating university with neurodiversity doesn’t have to be isolating and challenging. Here are some practical ways you can seek support and assistance for anything you might struggle with: 

  • Voice and disclose your needs: Open communication with your university’s disability support services is crucial to getting the right support. Disclose your neurodiversity and provide any documentation of diagnoses in order to access the correct help.
  • Explore the services available to you: Familiarise yourself with the support services your university offers. These may include assistive technologies, specialised tutoring, note-taking assistance, and exam accommodations.
  • Engage with your lecturers and academic staff: Build relationships with your lecturers and discuss your needs. This helps to ensure they understand your requirements and can offer any necessary adjustments.
  • Join support groups: Reach out and connect with other neurodiverse individuals, like support groups or student organisations at your uni. You’ll be able to share experiences, gain valuable insights, and feel a sense of community which may help ease you into university.
  • Prioritise self-advocacy: Advocate for yourself! Articulate your needs and collaborate with like-minded peers and university staff to help push for the appropriate support.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is OCD neurodivergent?

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) can be classed as a form of neurodivergence. OCD has been considered to be both a neurodivergency and a mental health condition, but many people believe the condition to only be one or the other.

There’s no concrete answer as to whether OCD is neurodivergent or not, but it’s typically viewed as a mental health condition first, which some neurodiverse aspects.

These traits could include:

  • Hyperactivity
  • Cognitive patterns like counting and checking repetitively
  • Obsessional thinking and rituals

Is dyslexia neurodivergent?

Dyslexia is a type of neurodiversity that affects mostly reading and writing, but is not linked to someone’s IQ level or intelligence. Individuals with dyslexia may have difficulty remembering information and processing what they see or read.

Dyslexia is neurodivergent because it’s another way the brain processes information.

Is ADHD neurodivergent?

ADHD is indeed neurodivergent. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is a common neurodevelopmental disorder which can disrupt the individual’s behaviour, attention, mood, organisational skills and concentration. 

What is ‘stimming’?

Stimming is most commonly associated with people who have autism. It refers to ‘self-stimulatory behaviour’ and is often portrayed by repetitive body movements or sounds that the person tries in order to self-soothe.

Common ways of stimming may include:

  • Rocking back and forth
  • Tapping fingers
  • Making vocal sounds
  • Spinning objects
  • Hand-flapping

These behaviours are usually a way to reduce anxiety or to help the individual communicate their emotional state if otherwise unable to do so. 

What is ‘masking’?

Masking is a type of behaviour mostly seen in neurodivergent individuals. Masking can be seen as a type of camouflage for the person exhibiting the behaviour. It’s a way for the person to disguise any parts of themselves in order to fit in with the people around them.

Many people will put on a ‘mask’ when meeting new people or when experiencing new things to make us feel more ingrained with our surroundings, but for people with neurodivergence, masking is more of a common occurrence and can lead to emotional and mental exhaustion. It’s a coping mechanism to help navigate social situations more easily.

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