How to overcome the challenges of writing coursework at University when neurodiverse

Updated: Sep 1


How to overcome the challenges of writing coursework at University when neurodiverse and what to do about it

Introduction


Everyone is unique and is a mix of strengths and weaknesses. For a student who has a neurodiverse brain, the process of writing coursework at university can be hampered by a number of challenges that come from thinking in this way. For some students, the emotional cost of studying with neurodiversity can be high leading to experiences with anxiety and depression and dropping levels of poor self-esteem as they are required to undertake academic tasks that play to their weaknesses and often with a tight deadline.


That said the reality is that whilst neurodiverse academic weaknesses can get in the way, neurodiverse strengths could be unlocked academically resulting in a satisfying delivery of coursework. So how can a neurodiverse student manage their weaknesses and allow their strengths to shine?


In this article we will take a look at the main neurodiverse challenges and suggest some tips for overcoming them.


Overwhelm


When writing coursework for university, a student knows that any content produced is going to be reviewed and marked accordingly. It is important that the student’s knowledge about a topic is effectively communicated within the written form. The work is going to require time, focus, concentration, and resilience to get the work produced. Often for many students with neurodiversity, it can feel like writing a piece of coursework is a massive mountain to climb especially when one’s peers seem to write coursework effortlessly. Overwhelm and neurodiversity are often experienced together. The greater the feeling of overwhelm, the increased chances of procrastination and the production of poorer quality content that has been written in the early hours of the morning before the deadline.


What can be done about the feelings of overwhelm?


Here are some tips for helping with overwhelm:


Recognise when you are feeling it and do something about it.


So many students experience overwhelm and try to ignore or distract themselves from it without actually acknowledging that it is taking place and doing something about it. If one doesn’t address it then that overwhelm is simply going to increase in intensity. So if you are experiencing overwhelm in the face of having to get some coursework written try the following:

  • Speak to your tutor or Student Wellbeing representatives about how you are feeling. They will be able to support you with your thinking and help you to find resources that can help you.

  • Speak with friends about how you are feeling. Good friends who you can trust will not judge you and more than likely will try to support you. Even just talking about feeling overwhelmed can be helpful in reducing overwhelm.

  • Try to understand what it is about a task that makes you feel overwhelmed. Which aspects of the task are stressing you out? If you can answer that question then you have a starting point as to what to do about it and who to ask for support.

Focus & Concentration


Depending upon the way that one thinks, focus and concentration can be a challenge when writing coursework. If the task of writing coursework feels like the art of chaining oneself to a desk until the difficult task is complete, then it is likely that you are going to procrastinate shortly after commencing with the task at hand. For students who have a neurodiversity profile related more to ADD/ADHD, it can be really difficult to sit down and focus on the writing and the slightest distraction can cause issues. Often, whilst writing, distractions can occur from within the app that you are using such as within Microsoft Word. For example, when using Microsoft Word, any spelling or grammar issues can be highlighted by red squiggley lines suggesting an error. This is useful for finding spelling errors, but it can stop the creative flow as the student seeks to respond to that visual notification. Disturbing the creative flow is so easy, it is, however, not so easy to get back into that flow!


Tips for helping with focus and concentration.


  • Reduce the chances of distraction. Turn off the smartphone notifications (or at least put your phone on silent), turn off PC notifications (such as ‘new emails’). You can even switch off the spell check in Microsoft Word so that you can continue with the creative flow. You can always turn it on later to use it at the proofreading stage of writing an essay.

  • Set a countdown clock for a particular task. Forty minutes is a nice period of time. Having the count down visible will help focus the mind on what one is actually meant to be doing.

  • Keep hydrated, and have snacks to hand as well as everything that you need to enhance the creative flow. Getting up and down from the desk to get items breaks that flow.

Problems with spelling and grammar.


Did you know that some of the best storytellers in the world are dyslexic? Writers such as Agatha Christie, Jules Verne, Henry Winkler (yes, The Fonz is also a writer!) and the children’s writer Tom McLaughlin are dyslexic. Whilst they are all neurodiverse and have challenges with processing and working with language, they have strengths with visual processing, big picture thinking, creating and verbally telling stories. They have all found their own strategies for getting their stories or the messages that they want to communicate down on paper even if their spelling and grammar is poor.


Having poor spelling and grammar skills doesn’t mean that you are not eligible for good marks for your coursework. You simply need to adopt the best strategy for meeting the requirements of your course.


Thankfully there are many ways for overcoming spelling and grammar challenges when neurodiverse at university.


There is a lot of technology available now that can work with one’s creative flow to ensure good spelling and grammar. Some technologies now make suggestions during the writing process before the student even needs to start worrying about whether or not they are going to make mistakes. For university students with neurodiversity who particularly struggle with this, our latest product SpellAssist can autocorrect text on the go allowing the student to concentrate on what they want to say rather than focusing on the accuracy of what they are writing from a spelling and grammar perspective. SpellAssist has been specifically developed to support those with spelling difficulties during their academic studies. Just having to make decisions on how a word is spelt can cause the student to be stopped in their tracks and thus open them up to distractions.


The good news is that technology such as SpellAssist is available on the Disabled Students’ Allowance as part of a wider provision of technology that can support neurodiverse learning.


Find out more about the Disabled Students’ Allowance.


Find out more about SpellAssist.





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