Higher Education and Neurodiversity

Higher Education and Neurodiversity

February, I told myself, was my month of networking. I certainly tried. It was tough, but so necessary and rewarding.


I’ve been immersing myself in the world of disability, both within a higher education and neurodiversity contexts. My line of work at the moment, working in widening participation of students going into higher education plus my own self-led disability initiatives have gone hand in hand last month. It provided me with valuable opportunities to attend two thought-provoking events which changed my perception of the disability sector within higher education and how not collaborative it seems to be. As well as, how unadaptable we seem to be within employment to those who face additional challenges.

These events have empowered individuals to think firstly, about how to encourage multi-agency working within disability in higher education and secondly, to encourage more neurodivergent workplaces and employers of how to deal with the particular challenges that neurodivergent people face day to day.

The events were predominately preaching to the converted, those who are within disability sectors or those who identify with having a disability themselves. However, we cannot discount the amazing efforts of Aimhigher London and Lucy Hobbs who founded The Future is ND. The steps being made internally within our disability networks will eventually help those on the periphery to challenge their assumptions of disability, through the conversations that we have with them. It is crucial that we have these awkward conversations.

We need to reach a point where our culture is tolerant and not ignorant towards disability.

Onto the events. The first event was Aimhigher London’s Annual Special Educational Needs or SEND, CPD Conference. The focus was collaboration and multi-agency working across sectors.

The other was The Future is ND, a network for fellow neurodivergents. Lucy Hobbs, a Senior Creative, founded the network and series of events in March 2018. This event was called Empowering Neurodiversity in the Workplace.

Lucy has come up with this innovative graphic, displaying all of the qualities of neurodiverse brain.  Source:  Lucy Hobbs - Passion Project

Lucy has come up with this innovative graphic, displaying all of the qualities of neurodiverse brain.

Source: Lucy Hobbs - Passion Project

I’d like to share my takeaways both events, firstly as a record to myself and secondly to solidify what was discussed.

This is almost like a diary, about two events, which you may find interesting or not at all! I think there are some really strong approaches, tactics and just quotes which will should harness and take back to our everyday real and work lives.

I apologise how bitty this is, but I hope you find it somewhat useful.

Aimhigher London SEND CPD Conference

  • A new word, psychoeducation. psychoeducation refers to the process of providing education and information to those seeking or receiving mental health services, such as people diagnosed with mental health conditions (or life-threatening/terminal illnesses) and their family members.

  • With regards to supporting a HE student, you need to involve as many people within the organisation around the student. Make sure the isolation is less extreme. A person-centred approach is key.

  • Transition process emphasis is on academic support into HE rather than emotional support.

  • We need to begin to think about what positives that the young person brings to a HE institution, instead of the other way around. Students often give back more than they receive.

  • See the disability first. (This keeps coming up.)

Some intriguing stats:

  • 7% of working age people in the UK reported that they were disabled in April-June 2017.

  • 3.5 million disabled people (49.2%) were in employment in April-June 2017, an increase of 600,000 (5.6 percentage points) in four years.

  • 80.6% of non-disabled people were in employment. The disability employment rate gap was 31.3 percentage points, having narrowed by 1.8 points in four years.

‘How do you begin to engage a student if they don’t want to identify or be labeled as having a disability?’

- The Future is ND event

  • Bring people on ASD spectrum and those with dyslexia together. One pushes one another. For example, the ASD student is assisted by the dyslexic student in a social interaction.        

  • GPs are not able to recognise disability. GPs are masters of everything.

Mental health

  • There is an ignorance of people to deal with mental health issues.

  • Children don’t go to CAMHS because they see the word ‘mental’ in the title and don’t associate themselves with that.

  • You can be trained as much as you want but an individuals unconscious bias and values affects the level of provision you can provide.

  •  Academic education <> mental wellbeing – need to work more in partnership

The Future is ND

This event has encouraged me to be a lot more bolshy when going into my workplace. Ask for reasonable adjustments. We should all strive to have more adaptable, fallible working places.

  • People with ASD have a really tough time trying to fit into systems and structure. How do we begin to make them feel a part of that structure, even though they struggle to recognise it? Does this mean they will struggle to thrive? Surely the structures and systems in place to be adapted to suit each individual, or for the structure to be autism aware. Make things less rigid. We’ll get the most of our of workforce then, right?

  • We thrive when we can be ourselves.

  • Employers need to consider how each individual works best. If we struggle to do something, whats the alternative? If there isn’t an alternative, how do we begin to put in reasonable adjustments?

  • There is a culture in the workplace of management policing behaviour and being offended by boredom. We need to remove the judgment. The unconscious judgement. Create a working environment where people can be themselves. Start the day, in a circle, give people the opportunity to tell the group how they actually feel. Allow everyone an opportunity to have a voice, to share how they feel. Then, we can’t hide from those feelings. Everyone in the room heard it. We can all acknowledge it and deal with it.

  • Sadly, lots of people can’t talk the talk. Not going to happen.

  • Why do we assume that people can do everything? Allow people to do what they are good at.

  • We live in an unpredictable, random world. Non-linear thinking is necessary

  • Education of employees as part of Equality Act 2010 is a reasonable adjustment to make. Education education education. As Mr Blair once said.

My attendance at these events has given me an opportunity to broaden my personal scope of understanding of disability beyond stammering.

I admit that I’ve pigeonholed myself into a corner of actually a very limited amount of knowledge about disability.

This is the start of me engaging with a wider community to influence my own artistic practice, the development of Hiatus and just generally being a more disability aware human being.

Characteristics like autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia and so on affect so many more people so the opportunity to know and be receptive to how to engage with such disabilities is invaluable.

Silence on Campus: Making a Noise about Stammering - Panellist

Silence on Campus: Making a Noise about Stammering - Panellist