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Advice from a neurodiverse student

By Michael Topple

Advice for anyone who either has, or feels they may have, a neurodivergent brain

It is said that over one in 100 people in the UK have autism. This figure, alongside the statistic that over 15% of the UK population is neurodivergent, suggests to me that there will likely be some neurodivergent student readers of this newspaper.

My name is Michael. I am a third-year Divinity student, and I have autism. Autism is described by the National Autistic Society (NAS)  as “a lifelong developmental disability which affects how people communicate and interact with the world”, and is one of many neurodivergent conditions that affect the way that many people experience the world. Other examples of neurodivergent conditions include dyslexia, dyspraxia and ADHD.

Some worrying statistics, released this year, suggest that some 36% of autistic students drop out of University without completing their undergraduate degree, 7% more than the national average. These figures, released this year, cover the Covid-19 period, when distance learning was the norm. This could go some way to explaining why the figures, bad as they are, are actually significantly better than previous figures, which showed that only 40% of students with autism completed their studies. These figures clearly show that autistic students are likely to find university a difficult experience. There are similarly concerning figures for other neurodivergent conditions.

I wanted to offer some advice for anyone – particularly the newly arrived first year – who either has, or feels they may have, a neurodivergent brain:

Firstly, tell the University. There are understandable concerns that many have with telling the University, and indeed I have heard a couple of stories of inadequate provision being made for students by our Disability Service. However, the University cannot even begin to support you if you do not share your concerns with them. Arranging a meeting with the Disability Service team is easy to do, simply visit their website. They also have links with external organisations like the NAS, who offer weekly one to one meetings, paid for by the University, that I have found invaluable. 

Secondly, find like-minded people. University can be a lonely place, particularly to begin with, as everything around you is new. If you are neurodivergent, you may already find it hard to meet new people and adapt to new surroundings. This is on top of the general nervousness experienced by first years as they begin at University. Newly established this year is the Glasgow University Neurodiversity Society – an SRC affiliated student group, which I would recommend joining. There you will find a welcoming, like-minded group of people who also live with neurodivergent conditions. Although in our early stages of being a group, we hope to offer support, companionship and activities for our members.

Thirdly, and most importantly, be kind to yourself. University is hard. It is a big jump from school or college. There are lots of new experiences to get used to. You will have good days and bad days, and you won’t be helping yourself or anyone else if you force yourself to participate when you don’t feel up to it. This is something it took me a long time to learn, and an even longer time to put into practice! Don’t make my mistake!

University offers wonderful opportunities for its students, and with the right assistance, there is no reason that you cannot thrive like every other student on campus. I hope you enjoy your university life, as I do, as you learn more about your chosen subject, the world, and yourself.


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