In this article, we are going to look at the main challenges that commonly affect the ability of individuals with neurodiversity when they are looking to write essays and then go on to look at strategies that could be useful in overcoming those challenges.
How many students experience Neurodiversity?
According to the social enterprise, Genius Within, which was set up by Dr. Nancy Doyle to help ‘neurominorities’ unlock their talents:
90% of disabilities are invisible,
5% of the population have ADHD,
1-2% of the population is autistic,
10% of the population are dyslexic,
5% of the population are dyspraxic,
1-2% of the population have Tourette Syndrome,
7 % of the population have mental health needs,
5% of the population have an acquired brain injury.
Here in the UK, there are a lot of individuals who are neurodiverse and within our education system, it is estimated that 12% of pupils in Primary and Secondary Education will be experiencing some kind of Special Educational Need. It is not clear as to how many students in Higher Education are neurodiverse but a conservative estimate from the Office For Students Equality and Diversity Data suggests that about 14% of students in Higher Education have declared at least one disability with 5% of students declaring a Cognitive or Learning difficulty. It is thought that almost 86% of the student body do not declare any kind of disability and so there will be many who are undiagnosed.
Source: OfS equality and diversity data. Note: 85.7 per cent of students do not declare a disability.
What are the common challenges that affect essay writing when neurodiverse?
Jo Crawford, an ambassador for The British Dyslexia Association and independent journalist recently released the video below that talks about how her neurodiversity associated with being dyslexic, dyspraxic as well as having ADHD affected her written work.
Below is a list of the common ch
allenges with neurdiversity that would affect essay writing according to condition:
Difficulty with reading and writing,
Difficulty with putting details in order,
Poor working memory,
Slow processing of information.
Dyspraxia or Developmental Delay Disorder:
Time management and organisation,
Difficulty learning new processes
Lacking attention to detail,
Difficulty with concentration,
Taking on too much or managing priorities effectively.
Over focus and being stuck in details,
On top of this limited list of challenges, there will be associated feelings of stress and anxiety as well as overwhelm that could lead to procrastination.
There is some really useful information about the strengths and weaknesses of neurodiversity available on the Genius Within Neurodiversity webpage.
Self-awareness and knowing that you are not alone.
Firstly self-awareness is key. If we are experiencing a challenge with writing essays related to what has been described above then it is worth noting what the challenges are and speaking with a teacher or student support about these challenges. Just know that you are not alone as the statistics at the start of this article suggest and that there are people, products and services out there that can provide support and help you to work at your best.
Change your perspective on writing essays.
It goes without saying that if we feel overwhelmed with writing an essay then we are not going to view writing one positively.
In her video, Jo Crawford said that what was important about being a journalist (someone who has to research information and write loads) is not being good at the physical act of writing, it is being good at storytelling. If one knows what they want to say in an essay then that is more important than the technicalities of writing. Yes, one still has to write, but there is help for that whether it is in using dictation software (speech to text) such as Dragon NaturallySpeaking or getting study skills advice from a tutor or teacher.
Collate the information that you need for the essay in a convenient place.
In writing this blog article I have checked lots of websites and collected resources but it can be difficult to track them manually, especially if I have to find them again to quote them. I like to use a piece of software called Pro-Study that helps me to be more confident with collating research and it saves time when I need to go back and check my source information.
Having the information in hand that I need to support the message that needs to be written about in an essay is essential to writing successfully and Pro-Study helps me with this.
The video below explains how Pro-Study works:
Mindmapping is an awesome tool for organising information and then converting that information into an essay.
Chunk your essay-writing time.
On the BBC Website, their article “The Surprising Tricks To Help You Focus At Work.” states that research in the 1990s suggests that dues to natural variations in our cycle of alertness, we can concentrate for no longer than 90 minutes before needing a 15-minute break.
So if you are considering a mammoth four-hour essay writing session then it is likely that you are going to fail to work at your best if you don’t break down that time into smaller chunks, take healthy breaks (aka not jump on social media but stretch, hydrate and allow the brain some space).
With the increased use of technology with smartphones, laptops, and tablets, it does not take a lot to break a really good period of concentration with email and social media notifications.
An article in the New York Times stated that Gloria Mark, an expert in ‘Human-Computer Interaction at the University of California, found that a typical office worker gets only 11 minutes between each interruption whilst it takes an average of 25 minutes to return to the original task after an interruption.
When distracted or interrupted valuable thinking time is lost simply trying to get back to what one was working on in the first place!
One strategy that helps with focus is to have a countdown clock visible on the desk for the chunk of time that one is setting for doing some writing. It somehow adds focus to the process.
These are just some of the strategies that could be useful in helping to engage with essay writing especially when writing with a neurodiverse brain.
What strategies have you found to be useful?
Would you like to know more about how to collate and organise your references when studying and writing essays? Click here to arrange a demonstration of Pro-Study with our specialist Sam Cock.