Law and order in the Metaverse: legal expert warns how you could be at risk. Find out more
Conflict in Israel and Gaza – support for students. Find out more

blog

Staff stories: Embracing neurodiversity

We go above and beyond in making sure that neurodivergent students feel seen and heard, as well as ensuring they receive the support they need.

Not everyone knows they’re neurodivergent from the get-go. Sometimes discovering this comes unplanned and after a long period of time.

We spoke to some of our faculty who have been diagnosed as neurodivergent to understand their personal experiences and our support teams about their efforts towards creating an open, safe and all-inclusive environment for our students.

By April Baniqued. Published 22 March 2024.

 

When did you first realise you might be neurodivergent?

Rachel Ryan (Senior Law Lecturer, Online Campus)

I first realised that I might be neurodivergent when I was researching ADHD in relation to one of my children 3 years ago. Initially, after reading medical and academic articles, I ruled it out because I didn't recognise myself in the deficit narrative that I was reading.

It was only when I started to listen to podcasts and social media posts featuring women with lived experiences of ADHD that I had a light bulb moment of “that's me”.

Unfortunately, so many people have gone under the radar of the education system and only recognise their neurodiversity when they're exploring it in relation to their children.

Simon Hale-Ross (Senior Law Lecturer, Online Campus)

I first realised in 2022 when I was at a meeting about neurodiversity. Many of the ADHD traits became more prevalent and this prompted me to look back over my life.

I very much struggled at school. I struggled to make and keep friends as I often talked over people and was rather excitable and animated during conversations. I would speak over my teachers and I found it tremendously difficult to concentrate.

Fast forward to my PhD research days and I can see now why I struggled to finish the actual thesis.

This also explained my anxiety and depression at the time, as this often provides a mask to something underlying.

My journey to diagnosis provided the finishing touches. Due to the lateness of the day, it simply allowed me to shut the door on it and reconcile my past.

What drives you to share your experiences?

Rachel Ryan

Lived experience is powerful.

I want neurodivergent students to recognise that there are lots of simple techniques they can incorporate that can mitigate some of the challenges. I also want them to recognise the many strengths that ADHD brings and use them to their advantage.

As part of my role as the widening participation champion for the online campus, I organised a Belong and Succeed event for our students last November. The feedback from students was overwhelming.

Many commented that they had only heard a negative narrative about ADHD and that it was a relief to hear somebody talking about the strengths and positive aspects of it. Others felt relieved I had shared that I had had a long and successful legal career, because of my ADHD and not despite it, and they felt that they could too.  I also received several messages from students saying that my experience had resonated with them and they thought that they too had ADHD.

Had any of my lecturers at university shared their lived experiences, I may well have recognised that I had ADHD 20 years earlier, which would have made my life a lot easier.

What advice would you give students who think they’re neurodivergent but don’t know what to do about it?

Jason Luxemburg (Disability and Inclusion Advisor, Manchester Campus)

I’d start with seeking advice from a professional, like a doctor or an educational psychologist, the latter of which can diagnose specific learning differences.

Explain why you think you may be neurodivergent and back up your explanations with your own experiences. Although it isn’t essential, I recommend writing down your life history, including moments and challenges that stand out to you. This is what I did for my own autism diagnostic assessments, finding that it helped keep me focused.

As well as complete any suitable screeners (like the autism spectrum quotient) which can be helpful in terms of building evidence.

This evidence is important to getting oneself towards the next step of being assessed by a suitably qualified professional (like a clinical psychiatrist or clinical psychologist for autism).

Also join online community groups (like Reddit, for example UK autism subreddits, ones for autistic women and girls). Speak to other neurodivergent people and share your experiences.

Dan Lovesey (Disability and Inclusion Advisor, Manchester Campus)

Research and think about what your neurodivergence means for you.

Whilst getting a formal diagnosis can be an important step in accessing more support, self-identification can be an important part of the diagnostic process. It can also be a positive step for your mental health and wellbeing.

Should students make the University aware of their neurodiversity when they study with us?

Rachel Ryan

I think it's important that students have the autonomy to decide what information they share with us. There may be a myriad of factors that would influence whether a student would feel comfortable sharing that information with us.

Some students may feel comfortable sharing this information with us at the outset. Others might feel more comfortable sharing this once they have started their learning journey with us when they recognise that they are in a safe learning environment.

Jason Luxemburg

If you do choose to make the University aware of your neurodiversity, we can support and advise you.

If you experience any challenges or anxieties, you can share this with the Disability and Inclusion Service (DIS), or another member of staff you feel comfortable sharing this with.

Many colleagues at the University are neurodivergent and can offer advice that comes from a place of lived experience, whether it’s personal or professional.

It’s also worth remembering that if you don’t share your diagnosis with us, you risk missing out on support and advice that you may otherwise be entitled to, as is your right under the Equality Act 2010.

Many diagnoses that fall under the wider umbrella of neurodivergence are considered disabilities under the act. This grants you a legal right to reasonable adjustments, which may include adjustments for assessments and the course, access to Disabled Students’ Allowances and specialist advice from the DIS.

If you still don’t see yourself as disabled then that is absolutely fine and your feelings are valid, although you should be mindful of any challenges and seek appropriate support. I’ve worked with many students who don’t consider themselves disabled but still accessed support, as is their right.

 

Everyone has their own stories and it’s important to speak out to ensure others don’t feel alone and can better understand themselves. Whether you choose to disclose your neurodiversity or not, know that we are here to help you. Visit our Disability and Inclusion page, and the Law and So Much More page for more information of how we support our students.