Succeeding in college can be difficult under the best of circumstances. When you are neurodivergent, however, the challenges can feel insurmountable. The good news, though, is that it is, indeed, possible for neurodivergent students to not just survive but thrive in college.
The key is to understand your needs, to work smart not harder, and to learn to appreciate your neurodivergence not as a liability but as a strength in college and beyond. This article describes four strategies students who are neurodiverse can use to help them succeed in college.
1. Find the Appropriate Class Setting
Not all classroom environments are the same and, when you are neurodivergent, variations in class settings can make a profound difference both in your learning experience and academic performance. For instance, some neurodiverse students find that a remote learning environment better meets their particular needs and learning styles than a traditional classroom setting, enabling them to focus on the material at hand without the distractions of a physical classroom.
If remote learning isn’t feasible, but you still need a quieter, less crowded environment, you might partner with your school counselor to identify courses and class times that are likely to be less populated. This can also help ensure that your class schedules and study periods coincide with your neurodivergent needs and your body’s rhythms. You can schedule studying around the times of day when you feel the most energized and focused.
2. Identify Study Hacks That Accommodate Your Needs
Just as no two students are alike, so, too, will no two experiences of neurodiversity be alike. Indeed, neurodiversity comes in myriad forms, from sensory processing differences often associated with the autism spectrum to challenges with attention and focus, such as those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Neurodivergent individuals may also experience differences in processing text or writing, as with dyslexia.
This means that college study tricks and life hacks that work well for one student may not work for you. Try not to get discouraged if that’s the case. The key is trial and error. Experiment with a range of study strategies until you find the techniques that work best for you.
For example, if you have difficulty with written text, try listening to course readings on an audio file. If the materials aren’t readily available in audio format, then change up your reading process to make it work better for you. Engage in smart studying for neurodivergent individuals, such as skimming your course readings and using your phone’s voice recorder to speak your notes, questions, and comments regarding the material. Refer to course assignments and your professor’s comments to help you understand what you are expected to glean from the text before you begin skimming, reading, and notating it.
Above all, try to focus on one task at a time. This can help prevent you from becoming overwhelmed and frustrated.
3. Become Your Own Best Advocate
When you have a learning difference, it’s important to get comfortable not only in recognizing your specific needs but also in learning how to fight for them. After all, if you can’t advocate for yourself, you can’t expect anyone else to do it for you.
Make sure that you have the resources you need not only to succeed in your coursework but also to keep physically and mentally healthy as a student managing the rigors of college life.
Connect with professors, academic counselors, student support services, financial advisors, and healthcare providers — anyone and everyone who can help you excel and endure while also keeping your mind, body, and spirit strong. Remember that their role is to support you, to help you bring your life’s goals to fruition.
4. Don’t Go It Alone
As suggested in the point above, no one makes it through college — or through life, for that matter — by going it alone. You don’t have to be neurodiverse to need support in helping you create your best life. When you live with neurodivergence, however, the temptation to self-isolate can be great. This is why joining a student club or study group is so helpful when you are a neurodiverse individual.
By joining a club for your special interest, you will also likely meet like-minded individuals to whom you may more easily relate. Often, the friends you find through these networks are the very ones to give you the motivation you need to push through tough times in college, motivation you may not be able to find for yourself.
Building a successful college career when you are neurodiverse can be tough, but, then again, you’re tough too. And that means that your neurological differences don’t have to deprive you of your life’s goals, nor should they be permitted to. This does not mean, however, that your success in college might not require a bit more commitment, a bit more effort, and a bit more strategy than some of your neurotypical peers. Nothing worth doing, though, was ever easily done. What matters is that you never give up, that you reach out for support whenever, wherever, and however you need it. Learning what your particular needs are and knowing how to accommodate them will make all the difference to your college career and, ultimately, to your academic success.