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Teaching and Learning Topics

Neurodiversity in the Classroom

Neurodivergent learners include people who have Autism, ADHD, Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, Dyscalculia, and other special needs that can make learning in higher education more of a challenge. By understanding more about what some of the special educational needs are that such students require, faculty can feel more prepared to make their classrooms, lectures, assignments, discussions, and feedback more accessible for ALL. In this module, you will understand some of the special learning needs of this population, see several accessibility resources, view various applications of Universal Design, as well as find opportunities for further learning and exploration.

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” – Benjamin Franklin

In the wall on my office in large vinyl letters are these words by Benjamin Franklin. I have always loved this quote because it expresses the importance of inclusion and involvement on the part of the educator from the learner’s perspective. As faculty we are always doing both—alternatively learning about ways to teach and reach ALL of our students while meeting them where they are.

Teaching involves encouraging our students to persist and feel engaged while employing self-directed learning strategies and techniques that they can take with them throughout their lifetime beyond college. What happens, though, when the act of learning itself is challenged by a disability? We expect students in our classes to exhibit higher-order thinking and problem-solving skills, but what happens when these executive functioning skills are missing or have not yet been tapped?

For the neurodivergent student tasks such as knowing how to ask for help, understanding how to take notes and pay attention during class lectures can be significant obstacles that many may not be able to overcome on their own. Worse, faculty may be unable to know where to go for assistance (or be overwhelmed with the sheer number of resources available).

According to Lone Star College-Montgomery’s LifePATH website, neurodiverse students “include those with autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, learning disabilities, and anxiety.” When considering this definition, one can see that many of our students fall into this category. We can think of neurodiversity, then, from the standpoint that brain differences are normal and not a deficit. According to the certification course on Neurodiversity, we learned that 17.9% of students have disabilities, yet only 1-3% of this population self-report.

You may be surprised to know that neurodiverse populations in higher education includes the following:

  • ADHD
  • Autism
  • Non-verbal learning disorders
  • Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, Dyscalculia
  • Tourette’s
  • PTSD
  • Depression

There are certain characteristics that may be more common to each particular brain difference; however, in general, some of the areas you may see from neurodiverse students include:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Slower, more labored reading and writing
  • Unexpected social behaviors (for example, responding to a professor or peers about a subject that may appear to be “off topic”)
  • Tics or other uncontrollable gestures or movements
  • Resistance to group work / collaborative situations
  • Extra sensitivity to stimulation (including sounds, smells, and lighting)
  • Falling asleep in class
  • Outbursts
  • Increased anxiety during exams or class presentations

The following is adapted from the excellent text Creating Inclusive Learning Opportunities in Higher Education: A Universal Design Toolkit by Sheryl Burgstahler (2020). On page 166 of the text, Universal Design principles are applied to principles of good practice in higher education. Some of these are:

  • Include a statement on the syllabus inviting students to meet with the instructor to discuss learning needs.
  • Assign group work in which learners support each other, encouraging multiple ways for students to interact.
  • Provide multiple ways for students to participate in class.
  • Use multiple, accessible methods for assessing student progress.
  • Ensure all students have adequate time to complete tasks.
  • Keep expectations high for all, and provide accommodations to level the playing field rather than give unfair advantage.
  • Regularly adopt practices that reflect high values with respect to diversity, equity, and inclusiveness.

A syllabus statement offers you an opportunity to tell all students what your expectations are for their success. Offer examples of situations in which you explain various opportunities to participate, engage with their classmates, and access content.

Burgstahler “consider[s] it important to include in [her] syllabus 1) the audience for the course, 2) commitment to making the course accessible to everyone and invite students to communicate with [her] about accessibility issues, and 3) information about how to obtain disability-related accommodations from the institution.”

There are so many different resources available on the subject of accessibility that it can be difficult to know where to start. The following resources offer excellent tips, resources, and even “cheatsheets” intended to increase universal access by developing educational resources. This list is intended to be a “first look” and a place to begin your research.

If you have suggestions for additional resources, please contact Lone Star College-Montgomery Faculty Resource Center Professional Development Fellow, Dr. Lori Hughes at

ChatGPT & Higher Education

  • What is ChatGPT?: Is a chatbot that was launched as a prototype on November 30, 2022, and quickly garnered attention for its detailed responses and articulate answers across many domains of knowledge. (Wikipedia
  • Why does it matter? ChatGPT is capable of writing natural language text that can be used to complete essays and other assignments. Its introduction has caused waves in higher education. Faculty are concerned about students using ChatGPT to cheat, but also what advancements in AI mean for how we teach writing and assess learning. ChatGPT also has implications for how and what we teach. ChatGPT is a window into what is coming in terms of how information is created. AI will offer opportunities for gaining efficiencies in many domains, but the technology is also susceptible to bias. We need to prepare our students to understand the benefits and limitations of this technology.

Reactions to ChatGPT

Implications for Higher Education

Additional Resources