This blog talks about my experiences about being neurodivergent in university. I went through undergrad unaware that I was neurodivergent and I spent most of grad school unaware of my neurodivergence. I have still not gone through a neuropsychological evaluation yet to pinpoint which neurodivergent condition(s) I have, and I might not get a diagnosis before I graduate in December. This blog will mainly talk about the struggles I encountered in higher education.
We’re going to talk about grad school first because I didn’t have many struggles being neurodivergent in grad school. The only negative aspect of my neurodivergence is not reading things carefully. I didn’t see that we had to have a cover page for our assignments in one of our classes until I read something for the research paper proposal. That meant my first three analyses did not have a cover page. Probably would have gotten higher than a C if I did that. In another class, I didn’t follow the file naming convention for the homework. It only happened on the first homework, but I was lucky because the document with the instructions said that it might not be graded if the naming convention for the document isn’t followed. I think I just read and forget. It’s happened in two Discord servers I used to be a part of as well.
However, my (then-unknown) neurodivergence gave me the interest for my graduate project (proposal is due at the end of the semester) to deal with web accessibility for ADHD and autism (though I might make it just about autism). There is a lot of web accessibility work that has been done for users with physical disabilities, but not much work has been done for people with cognitive and neurological differences. Covid permitting, autistic people and people with ADHD will evaluate a site in my university’s Usability Lab and talk to me about what challenges they faced when navigating a web site. This will follow the expression “Nothing About Us Without Us” that I often hear by autistic people which means that anything about autistic people MUST be done with autistic people’s input. It also gave me the ability to help a friend cope with a bad exam score by giving him my worry stone… which was coral colored. I asked him the next day when he was calmer if he wanted a different color, but he didn’t care about the color since he had a pink shirt years ago.
Undergrad was when I had a lot more struggles in school to the point that I almost dropped out during my freshman year. I knew it was because college is a lot less structured than schooling from kindergarten to grade twelve. I barely kept a high enough GPA to keep my scholarship freshman year (the school’s scholarship required me to have at least a 2.6 after freshman year and I had a 2.67 GPA) and due to my grades, I couldn’t continue in the nursing major unless I retook a class and/or stayed an additional year. Now that I’m learning about demand avoidance, I had some of that too with me not doing some of my homework for a chemistry class. The stress of the spring semester of freshman year is what made me consider dropping out. I was a procrastinator since elementary school and still procrastinated with my lab reports. I kept my high school study habits until my senior year and didn’t know how to study. I found a quote from the book Divergent Mind by Jenara Nerenberg that I completely related to regarding my struggle in undergrad and shared it with my therapist.
…once that young woman enters college… whereby routine structures are taken away – and she needs to depend on her executive functioning to navigate the logistical details of daily life that she never had to think about before – her experience changes dramatically.(Nerenberg, 2020)
That quote is based on how girls may often do well academically before university due to various factors, but they struggle in tertiary education. This was in the section about ADHD, but my therapist told me that this issue also occurs in other neurodivergent conditions.
Junior year was the worst for my GPA. During junior year, the university decided to make a lot of the classes online. We had to completely learn independently and I’m not good at independent learning. Add the weekly quizzes to that and I had a very low GPA that semester (I think it was 1.5 for that semester) because I failed 3 of my 4 online classes and passed both of my in-person classes. This meant adjusting my class schedule to retake the online classes in-person in the future. I retook one class in Spring 2013 and the other two classes in Fall 2013. I felt like a failure because this was the first time I failed this badly. I worked hard to bring my GPA high enough to meet the scholarship requirement of having at least 2.8 GPA at the completion of junior year. I vastly improved my grades well enough to graduate on time in May 2014, but that left me with a 2.992 GPA. The GPA affected me because I was conditionally admitted to the Master’s program at my grad school which required me to get at least 3.0 in my first 9 credits before I could be fully admitted. I learned from my mistakes and am doing much better in grad school.
I never had (and upon reflection, do not need) accommodations in university, so I can’t talk about how accommodations could help or hinder my school performance. The only school accommodations I ever had were for speech therapy from third grade to fifth grade when I’d leave class and go to the speech room.
I’m not sure how many neurodivergent graduate students read my blog and I can’t find online support groups for neurodivergent graduate students because I want to see if there are others like me who struggled in undergrad but is doing better in grad school. If anyone neurodivergent has struggled in undergrad, but did better in grad school, let me know in the comments. I also want to figure out why grad school can be easier to navigate than undergrad. I know for me, having stricter study habits is a big part of why I’m doing better, but do we do better in grad school because we get to focus more on our interests instead of having to add general education requirements to the mix that we may struggle with? I am good at math, but English and language arts classes were hard for me. I liked science as a kid (but struggled with chemistry in high school and my undergraduate science classes), but hate history classes.