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Neurodiversity at University: A Student Interview on ADHD Support

Below is an interview with a neurodiverse student who I supported at university through 1-1 Specialist Mentoring. Their ADHD diagnosis meant they were able to access this support which is entirely funded by Student Finance England. This is their experience:

Background and Challenges

Do you identify with neurodiversity and if so how did it impact your higher education experience?

I was diagnosed with ADHD during my 2nd year of university at 21. Considering the jump from A level to university, prior to my diagnosis I found myself struggling with tasks like organising my own time which others seemed to find easy. Getting the diagnosis and understanding I was neurodivergent really helped me re-evaluate how my brain works and the best way to get the most out of my degree. 

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in your academic journey?

The biggest struggle with my neurodiversity was always time. If a project was set two weeks before it was due I would either convince myself I had no time and rush to complete the task so I didn’t forget about it, or leave it until the last minute so that the pressure of the deadline forced me to get the work done. Ultimately, my way of working was quite messy and stressful, even if it seemed like I was doing well and creating great work on the surface. I couldn’t seem to work in the typical way of just blocking out time and completing little bits of work little and often – it was all or nothing!

Seeking Support

What prompted you to seek DSA support, and how did you learn about it?

My student wellbeing team who initially helped me approach my GP regarding the diagnosis made me aware of the DSA support available. Through contacting the DSA I was made aware of the support I could receive and how it could be beneficial to me.

Did you have any apprehensions about support and did this change over time?

I felt some of the support the DSA could offer, such as additional software and hardware wouldn’t be particular helpful to my way of working, but the offer of a 1-1 mentor who could help with my coursework would be. I was never particularly apprehensive about the support, if anything was happy there were provisions in place for me to access.

DSA Support Experience

What specific support and accommodations were made available to you through DSA for your neurodiversity?

Through the DSA I was able to receive funding for a 1-1 mentor who I would have weekly meetings with during my 3rd year of studying. I was offered additional software and hardware such as mind mapping tools and speech-to-text tools but turned this down as didn’t feel it was useful. 

Did you find this support helpful, if so, why?

My weekly meetings with Laura were extremely helpful during my 3rd year. She helped me keep track of what projects I was working on, their deadlines, and how to fit my dissertation in around these projects. Having someone else setting my deadlines made me much more likely to complete the work than if I was setting them for myself and knew they weren’t real deadlines. Having a meeting with Laura in my calendar each week kept me accountable to complete the work we agreed. Together, we were able to break down my dissertation into really small steps that I completed each week so that I had completed the dissertation a month before the final due date and could focus on my other projects. Laura’s input really helped me feel calm and in control during my third year, and that I was completing the best work that I could.

University Support Experience

Did you access any other forms of support whilst at university?

I made my tutors aware of my ADHD and they were also very supportive and able to offer me additional check-ins and support when I requested it.

If you accessed other support types, did you find these helpful?

Having the support of the staff was very helpful, as I knew they were there if I needed them.

Outcomes and Improvements

How has DSA support and university support impacted your academic performance and personal wellbeing?

I’m confident that the neurodiversity support of the university and DSA played a huge role in the success of my third year and the grades I received. Unlike my previous two years, I felt confident in my academic abilities and the work I was producing when I had the support in place. I also felt less anxious than previous years and was able to manage day-to-day tasks much more easily.

Are there any achievements or milestones you’ve reached that you feel were supported by DSA provisions or university support systems?

I was able to get a high first in my dissertation and received a first-class honours overall in my degree, which Laura’s support played a big part in.

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Feedback and Recommendations

What advice would you give to other students with neurodiverse and mental health requirements who are struggling at university?

Reach out for support if you feel you need it and with someone you feel comfortable with. A lot of universities are now well-equipped to provide additional support, so whether you go to your lecturer, student support, or the DSA, you should find the support you need. If you feel like you’re struggling with your workload or deadlines are overwhelming you, don’t be afraid to ask for an extension on your work to give you more time to get your work done.

Is there anything you wish you had known earlier about navigating higher education with a neurodiverse or mental health requirements?

The support is there if you need it and is easy to get with the support of staff. You also don’t have to share your disabilities with everyone if you’re not comfortable with it either, the university and DSA are very good at keeping your support private.

Reflecting on the Journey

Looking back, how do you feel about your journey through higher education?

I really enjoyed my time at university, and academically was particularly well-equipped in my third year. I found the initial transition to university tough but it was worth it, and I’m pleased to have graduated with a great degree.

If you identified with having a neurodiversity, how do you view your neurodiversity now, in the context of your academic/career and personal growth?

I am now much more open about my neurodiversity and am able to advocate for accommodations within the workplace. My current advertising agency where I work have been very supportive of what I need and encouraged me to share with the wider team how they can work with neurodivergent staff, which was successfully received. Understanding and accepting my diagnosis has allowed me to come to work truly myself and without feeling the need to mask over what I need.

Future Aspirations

What are your dreams and aspirations for the future?

I would like to continue working in the creative field on projects that inspire me, and in the future would like to consider freelancing so that I have full freedom over my work schedule.

By obtaining a diagnosis and accessing specialist mentoring, this student got the individualised support they needed to excel at university. Everyone’s challenges vary, which is why having a mentor that shapes a support plan around each individual student is necessary to fulfil their potential. 

Talking Minds offers Private Specialist Mentoring as well as DSA-funded support, which gives everyone the opportunity to access support should they need it. This is available to anyone, including people awaiting a diagnosis.

Our support workers specialise in working with autism, specific learning disabilities, neurodiversity and mental health challenges. Contact us to find out what we can do for you.

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