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Mental Health Tips for Neurodiverse College Students

January 8, 2022
Mental Health for College Students

Photo by Eliott Reyna on Unsplash

Neurodiversity describes the range of behavioral traits and brain function across the human population. The unique wiring of a neurodiverse person’s brain causes them to think, react, and learn differently. Autism, attention deficit disorder (ADD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) are examples of neurodiverse conditions.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), one in every 54 kids gets diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. The rates of ADD and ADHD are even higher. So, in response to neurodiversity prevalence, the neurodiversity movement sparked to challenge the negative connotation of “learning disabilities.

Neurodiverse college students can excel, especially with tweaks to teaching methods, daily self-care practices, and innovative academic tools.

Personal Strategies for Better Learning

Whether a student has neurodiverse tendencies or not, acclimating to a college campus can be challenging. For many young adults, a dormitory is the first place they’ve lived away from home.

Without parental guidance and a familiar routine, neurodiverse students may struggle with large lecture halls and the overall “hands-off” approach college professors tend to take. However, there are many tactics neurodiverse students can implement to get ahead of the curve.

A recent article by Affordable Colleges Online shares several apps that can help neurodiverse students manage stimuli, take notes, and more.

●  Task Management: For students with ADD, the iOS app 30/30 timer encourages students to work on one task for 30 minutes, break for 30 minutes, and repeat until complete. Another option is Google Play’s StayOnTask. This app also uses a timer that randomly reminds students to focus on the designated assignment.

●  Overstimulation: Meditating can help autistic college students cultivate calm in hectic environments. The app Headspace offers guided meditations suitable for all levels. Another great tool is The Miracle Modus app, which provides soothing images and sounds that help students recalibrate to the outside world.

●  Note Taking: When students upload a PDF, e-book, Word document, or PowerPoint to the app Natural Reader, it converts the material into audio. This is an excellent tool for those with dyslexia. On the other hand, the app OpenDyslexic incorporates a font style that helps dyslexic students navigate the reading process better.

Educator Influence

Professors and teachers also have a significant impact on the success of neurodiverse college students. By implementing a teaching style and classroom setting accessible to all learning types, students can gain the confidence to reach their full potential.

Universal Design is the official term for these accessible learning environments. Educators can transform their classrooms with the following methods.

●  Provide varied ways for students to showcase knowledge

●  Use more than one method for assessing students’ efforts

●  Make sure students have a clear understanding of expectations

●  Accommodate a range of learning styles

Self-Care

All-nighters before an exam, junk food consumption, and partying on a Tuesday may be typical in a college environment, but that doesn’t mean these behaviors are healthy. Since staying focused can already be a challenge for neurodiverse students, having a daily self-care routine can ensure academic success as well as physical and mental wellness.

The following tips can help neurodiverse college students get the most out of their university years.

●  Be wary of perfectionist tendencies; learn to let go once an assignment is complete

●  Keep track of daily tasks with an electronic calendar

●  Aim for seven to nine hours of sleep every night

●  Eat nourishing foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein

●  Move your body daily

Medical checkups can also fall to the wayside when young adults enroll in college. It can be especially tough to stay consistent with dental appointments. A study found that 9% of kids and adolescents fear the dentist. This negative association is also prevalent in neurodiverse people sensitive to drilling noises and other teeth-cleaning mechanisms. However, bi-annual teeth cleanings are imperative for overall health, so finding a coping mechanism for appointments will pay off in the long run.

The Future Is Bright

Like sociologist Judy Singer said in the 1990s, neurodiverse people are not disabled; their brains work differently than those of neurotypical people. With the right tools, teaching methods, and daily self-care practices, neurodiverse college students can contribute significantly to the world. 

BIO: Dan Matthews is a writer with a degree in English from Boise State University. He has extensive experience writing online at the intersection of business, finance, marketing, and culture.