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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.
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:
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:
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:
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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