Neurodivergent traits are likely to inform many aspects of your personality that deserve to be celebrated. However, you know better than anyone else how they can also present certain challenges. One of the situations many people living with cognitive processing differences (CPDs) find difficult is the transition to life as a college student.
The traditional education system has historically been geared toward neurotypical students. The designs of classrooms, the curriculum, and even the social structure have developed on the assumption of typicality. This is despite the fact that a large part of the student body may fall somewhere on the neurodivergent spectrum. The actual number of neurodivergent individuals enrolled in college is hard to determine. In fact, only 37% of students with disabilities report it to their university — and some neurodivergent individuals aren’t diagnosed until later in life, if at all. Further, neurodiversity is complex, often not being categorized as a disability
Unfortunately, this can make the college experience feel less inclusive. Many universities are taking steps to address this imbalance, but the situation is far from perfect. As such, you may find it helpful to develop strategies and adopt existing tools to suit your needs. There are a few tactics that can help you navigate college as a student with neurodivergent traits.
Seek Relevant Resources
Unfortunately, when education is designed for neurotypical students, the resources available to those with neurodivergent traits don’t always jump out. This doesn’t mean they don’t exist, you just may have to search a little for them. Neurodivergence takes various forms and encompasses a range of neurological frameworks. Even within the definitions of the autism spectrum, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and dyslexia, individual experiences differ. This means you may have a very specific set of challenges and needs to address. It’s important to look for the resources that are most relevant to you.
While neurodivergence is not a hindrance but, rather, a difference in neurological functioning, you may still need to take the same route as those seeking accommodations at college under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Usually, student support services will be able to direct you to the resources available to you on campus and arrange meetings with any relevant members of faculty or staff.
It can be important to prepare before making these inquiries or having meetings. If you know what tools you need to effectively learn and navigate college life best, take these details along. However, if you’re not sure what resources are available, make a list of the circumstances and tasks you feel you’re likely to find challenging in college. This is not only a starting point to explore the options, but it can also help you to feel more confident when seeking resources.
Find Your People
College is a more manageable and positive experience when you make meaningful connections with other people. This tends to be true for both neurotypical and neurodivergent students. It may be the case that your CPDs contribute to the challenges of social interactions. This can make it even more important to establish a social group in college that can celebrate your differences and support you during difficult periods. After all, isolation can often add to the experiences of stress and anxiety.
Finding your people doesn’t necessarily mean you’re hunting for other neurodiverse people. Look for those who share similar interests as you. Join on-campus groups and societies. Get involved in political or social initiatives you care about in the local area. Your passions, particularly those you find easiest to talk about, can be a valuable gateway to building relationships in college.
It’s also worth considering that this approach can be a tool to bolster your life beyond college. Adopting solid networking practices now can mean you’re in an easier position to extend your circle in enriching directions later. Indeed, taking a healthy approach to networking can relieve some of the anxiety you may feel in social situations. Prepare some talking points beforehand and loosely schedule your routine leading up to it. Importantly, be clear about the emotional boundaries you want to set.
Maintain a Dialogue With Your Professors
It’s an unfortunate fact that your college curriculum and the methods used are likely designed with neurotypical students in mind. This doesn’t mean your professors aren’t able to provide support. Nevertheless, it’s important for you to make the first move here. Empower yourself to start a meaningful dialogue with your professors that you can develop over time to make your college experience more positive.
Chatting about your neurodivergent traits and how these factor into your learning is a good start. In all likelihood, your professors won’t have been provided with any advance information about your needs. Talk about the positive factors your unique perspective brings to your experience of learning and the subject you’re studying. Discuss any specific hurdles you have found in your previous learning environments.
It’s important to put some solid self-care tools in place to help you process the difficult elements of college and maintain your physical and mental well-being. This may involve creating a safe and calming space to reset in. You’ll almost certainly be sharing your space with a roommate, but work with them to agree on decorative elements that promote tranquility. Utilize neutral colors on the walls and soft furnishings where possible.
You should also build regular forms of self-care into your day. Much as your college timetable is scheduled for control and clarity, treat your wellness tools with equal importance. Take a few minutes for meditation and mindfulness on a daily basis if you feel it will help. Plan blocks of time for your interests that help you feel relaxed and positive in between your classes and work. Maintaining your well-being is a vital part of navigating the college transition.
Navigating college when you live with neurodivergent traits can be challenging. It’s important to gain clarity on your needs and seek the most relevant resources. Make regular efforts to form social connections and maintain positive dialogues with your professors. Remember, utilizing self-care tools can help you decompress during difficult periods. With a few additional strategies, there’s no reason your college experience can’t be as enriching as you deserve it to be.