A loose guide for Neurodivergent learners and students

A loose guide for Neurodivergent learners and students

Posted on: 10/05/2022

A loose guide for neurodivergent learners and students

"Respect is not fear and awe; it...[is]the ability to see a person as he is, to be aware of his unique individuality. Respect, thus, implies the absence of exploitation. I want the loved person to grow and unfold for his own sake, and in his own ways, and not for the purpose of serving me." Erich Fromm
“The Art of Loving: The Centennial Edition”, p.26. 

We need to be 'free to learn'. 

  • As a Neurodivergent learner you are most definitely not alone! 1 in 7 people (15%+ likely more as understanding improves) of the general population are neurodivergent. We exist in a neurodiverse population that unfortunately leans towards catering to the neuromajority. 
  • Invisible disabilities are real and dynamic and subject to change over time. One day you could be flying and the next not be able to engage. 'Forcing it' in to neuromajority ways can (and has) caused physiological and psychological harm (I am currently researching 'Allostatic loads' and will place details here. But please look up deatils in the meantime). We all have ‘spikey’ educational profiles. There is no such thing as a ‘perfect learner’. No being is linear. Neurodivergent people don't just have neurodivergent minds we have neurodivergent bodies. Brian and body are crucially interlinked and I cannot wait till we finally move away (we are, we have, we will) from Descartes pronouncement 'I think therefore I am'. I and others (Antonio Damasio for one. Worth also reading/ cross referencing with Lisa Feldman Barrett's work 'How Emotions are Made' ) cite ' I feel, Therefore I am!' Dualism perpetuates separation and 'other'. 
  • It is your human right to access an education. Accommodations are your right.
  • Look for educators, tutors and lecturers who are openly Neurodivergent and/or disabled. Some educators still (have to) hide the fact they are neurodivergent unfortunately.  Representation matters. For further information please see research : 'Autistics working in academia:  What are the barriers and facilitators?' Sandra C Jones *Not Open Access unfortunately- will update if made available or please contact author of study directly. 
  • Look for tutors who have made the effort to understand our culture(s) and have had necessary training by and for Neurodivergent/and or disabled tutors. They may have read X and been on X marches but how do they nurture you as a learner? Care is critical and intersectionality is part of that.  
  • Ableism exists within education – you are not imagining things - awareness is growing and approaches are changing, but more is needed. You can be a part of this.
  • Your medical history is private! Only share details if you feel you are in a safe, sensitive, supportive environment and with trustworthy individuals. This is imperative. Be vulnerable only on your terms.  
  • Look for educational establishments who don’t outsource their support to different campuses. Accessibility is key!
  • Look for courses (tutors and peers) that don’t expect you to be ‘switched on’ all the time. You are not there as a part-time surrogate tutor or to organise your tutors or your peers. Assess if those around you are responsible for their actions.
  • If you feel your tutors understanding is limited in terms of neurodivergency, try to talk to them initially and if possible. For example: Your tutor only questions you in constant discussion but then provides no transition time between queries. Ask for transition time or for them to move on to another learner or task. If they don’t do this think of complaining. Also, if you feel you are being side-lined, complain. If you feel unsupported, complain. If you feel the validation processes are biased, complain. All educators need to be trained by Neurodivergent Trainers and Educators for Neurodivergent learners. 
  • Educators:  Spread the physical and psychological loads around a class. Example:  Who's tools and time is being used the most and who's isn't? Are you visable and approachable?  Are you loading supervision or general responsiblities on to the same few learners? Is it their responsilbity or yours? 
  • Your educational environment is hugely important!! Neurodivergent learners are more sensitive to their environments (this will vary). I know I am less likely to have a quality learning experience in perpetually negative, cold and sensorially demanding environments. There is no ‘getting over’ these aspects or ‘toughing up’ for me as a neurodivergent learner. For further information please see this following study from 2020,  'Distraction, distress and diversity: Exploring the impact of sensory processing differences on learning and school life for pupils with autism spectrum disorders' *Full open access article available

'Data indicates that it was largely negative sensory experiences that impacted learning, in turn
causing distraction, anxiety and limited participation'

  • You are fully within your rights to think differently and to have more time and space. This does not mean you aren’t 'open minded'. The Neuromajority group think discounts a lot of the actual neurodivergent lived experience on a daily basis.  Consider who is being open minded. Is there a knowledge mismatch leading to a power imbalance? 
  • Educational social atmosphere matters.  This I firmly believe to be a part of an educators 'duty of care' and not to be simply left to the student, even in the midst of 'igniting individuation'. It is a community effort even for those who the educator disagrees with. There are multiple philosophies out there and yet more to be discovered.  Everything is subject to change. We are moving past, with huge relief (!!) 'the old white men’s' 'air of theory' now. 
  • You are allowed to laugh, not 'live the tragedy narrative' and enjoy (please, please do!) the process of art making. That in itself is a magical form of relief, replenishment and meaning.  
  • Methods of debate are in themselves ableist. How many Neurodivergent Alexiythymic learners attempts at discussion are cut across? How many AAC users are able to debate in class? How many Dyslexic students have not only their writing but speech 'corrected' continually when patience is all that's needed? Education isn't meant to worsen your disabilities. Ever.  Approach and method matter and that comes with a feeling and sense of being welcomed in community. 
  • If you can’t find an appropriate course or educational establishment, consider creating your own course and/or curriculum and seeking out appropriate mentors. Seek out discussion groups and providers. More online provision is becoming available. This can be a more trial-and-error approach at striking out in this direction but it can also be hugely rewarding and could be a lesser financial burden(s) on you.
  • You have every right to be creative on your terms. 
  • Educators:  Spread the physical and psychological loads around a class. Example:  Who's tools and time is being used the most and who's isn't? Are you visable and approachable?  Are you loading supervision or general responsiblities on to the same few learners? Is it their responsilbity or yours? 

This is not an exhaustive list and I fully realise even this list may not be fully accessible to all, so I am more than happy to hear from others to discuss aspects I’ve noted above.  Please contact me via the contact page if you wish to discuss further or add too. My aim here is to save others time and negate ableist systems. 

Good teaching is an artform.

Additional recommended reading / audio (click on titles):


' The Good University'. 'What universities actually do and why it's time for radical change'. By Raewyn Connell

'Academic Ableism: Disability and Higher Education' (Corporealities: Discourses Of Disability). By Jay T Dolmage. (Available in text and audio formats)  


'Ableist Ideologies Stifle Neurodiversity and Hinder Inclusive Education'. By Marie Adrienne R. Manalili, Ought: The Journal of Autistic Culture. Vol 3, Issue 1 (2021) 

'Anti-Abelist Takeover Issue'  The National Society for Education in Art and Design (NSEAD) Magazine. Autumn 2022. Issue 35

Recommended organisations who offer training and co-designed education improvement programmes for teachers, created with, by and for Autistic and Neurodivergent people: 

Ausome Training
- https://ausometraining.com/

Divergent Perspectives - https://www.divergentperspectives.co.uk/

Magical Women
- https://www.magicalwomen.co.uk/home

LEANS Project (Edinburgh University)
- Free downloadable Neurodiversity co-designed opensource resources available here: https://www.ed.ac.uk/salvesen-research/leans

Playing A/Part project
- 'an interdisciplinary project, exploring the identities and experiences of autistic girls and adolescents through creative and participatory research. It is a collaboration between the universities of Kent and Surrey, involving academics in drama, music, media arts and psychology' : https://playingapartautisticgirls.org/ 

PARC: The Participatory Autism Research Collective https://participatoryautismresearch.wordpress.com/

Additionl reading 

'Double Empathy: Why Autistic People Are Often Misunderstood' :  


*Please note
This page is intermittedly updated, amended and added to. 

Pernille Fraser, 2020, 2021. * Updated 2022

#BetterEducationForNeurodivergentLearners #BetterEducationalForThoseWithInvisableDisabilities #DutyOfCare #BetterEducationForAll #Parity #StudentAutonomy #LearnerAutonomy

©2022 Pernille Fraser