Pillars of neurodiversity in learning

Claire O’Neill from the University College of Cork uses the UN Sustainable Development Goals to underpin her work on the ENGAGE Programme. SDG Goal 4 is about inclusive and equitable education to promote lifelong learning. She explains how she used it to design the Programme for neurodivergent adult learners.

Infographic showing the 4 pillars of neurodiversity. Neurodiversity occurs naturally. No neurotype is better than another. Neurodiversity operates like other dimensions of equality and diversity. There is a collective value and strength in diversity.

Image from the Engage Programme in the AHEAD journal.

The 4 Pillars of Neurodiversity

Neurodiversity occurs naturally. No neurotype is better than another. Neurodiversity operates like other dimensions of equality and diversity. There is a collective value and strength in diversity.

The Programme is influenced by the three principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL). Briefly, they are about providing multiple means of engagement, representation, and expression. In essence, the why, what and how of learning that motivates learners and gives them access to knowledge.

The ENGAGE is an acronym for each workshop within the programme’s framework and builds on the UDL concepts. The programme was developed with autistic adults and the Thriving Autistic and Galway Autism Partnership. The aim is to be a safe, inclusive and equitable way for neurodivergent adults to learn.

Participants were highly satisfied with the programme because of the neurodiversity-affirmative approach and the spirit of collaboration. They also appreciated the online environment and spirit of co-operation.

The title of the article is, The ENGAGE Programme – Creating an Online Inclusive and Equitable Learning Environment for Neurodivergent Adults. It is published by the AHEAD journal.

Higher education: digital equity and autism

A view of Griffith University building which is new and about seven storeys high. Digital equity and autism.Beware the diagnosis – it leads to stereotypes and misplaced assumptions. This was one of the findings from a research project at Griffith University on digital equity. A common assumption is that people with autism find it difficult or stressful in social situations. For example, university discussion groups and making presentations. An assumption that follows is online learning would be their preferred learning method. Turns out this is not the case.

Digital equity for everyone

All students had difficulty with online content for three key reasons:

    1. Students had problems identifying which parts of the online content were most important.
    2. They needed clarification of content by instructors to aid their online learning
    3. Students found it helpful when the instructor communicated links between content across the weeks or modules. 

So, the diagnosis is not the person. The research paper includes a literature review and a survey of students who identified as having autism. It has much useful information regarding the design of teaching and learning. The major point is that what’s good for students with autism is good for everyone. 

The title of the study is, “Online learning for university students on the autism spectrum: A systematic review and questionnaire study”. It was published in the Australasian Journal of Educational Technology – special issue: Digital Equity. It’s open access.

From the abstract

Online course delivery must consider the equity of the learning experience for all students. Online delivery may reduce challenges and stressors present in face-to-face delivery and promote student learning for specific student groups including autism. However, the experience of learning online for autistic students is largely unknown.

Findings from two studies identified that the online environment provided both facilitators of and barriers to the learning experience for autistic students. The way design factors are employed in online delivery can create barriers to the learning experience.   

Inclusive practice in higher education

The 2016 Journal of Inclusive Practice in Further and Higher Education includes papers from the International Conference. All articles include the concept of universal design in learning with a focus on neurodiversity.  It covers methods and research in higher education and transition to work.

Contributions to this journal encourage emancipatory methods with neurodiverse people, particularly involving their personal experiences.  The Journal is published in Word format making it widely accessible.

The papers cover a diversity of topics such as academic access for diverse learners, thinking and practicing differently, experiences of staff, links between perceptual talent and dyslexia, and modification of exam papers. 

Study tips for neurodiverse students

The amount of study work required can be a bit of a shock for some students. So, it’s important to develop study habits and techniques that match their working styles. 40 Study Tips for Neurodiverse Students lists different techniques for students to try out. Studocu is an online resource for university and college students to help them with their study techniques. It provides free study notes for courses which are provided by the student community.

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