Study hacks for neurodiverse incoming students

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Embarking on the journey that is your college career can be a difficult process, even more so if your brain works differently than a neurotypical’s. If you have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), medication isn’t always the solution. Even if it is, it is still important to learn compensatory skills. Autism, like ADHD, is an immutable characteristic endowed from birth, but unlike ADHD, does not have medication to change it. Still, going to school with autism can be difficult. Here are some tips and tricks I’ve learned as an upperclassman:

Use your interests as an asset

Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

If you have a neurodiverse way of thinking, you may focus your attention on a singular interesting topic. Autism allows you to have encyclopedic knowledge about an esoteric topic. ADHD grants you the ability to hyperfocus, but only if you find the topic interesting. In this way, you can have a leg up over your peers. Professors appreciate when you apply conceptual information to real-world examples, and use associative thinking to demonstrate your understanding of the material. If you like “Bojack Horseman,” for example, relate it to Robert Nozick’s work when discussing happiness in your ethics class.

Resist the attention economy

Training your brain to focus on long-form material is not something just required for schoolwork, but part of a greater lifestyle you need to cultivate. This can be fun, actually. Watch movies you love, without taking breaks to do something else, like checking social media. Speaking of phones, when you are doing any schoolwork, make sure your phone is in another room; studies confirm that having it nearby can actually negatively influence your cognitive abilities. When you are done, you can reward yourself with a few minutes of time priming yourself on the Twitterverse. You will find that, when following these steps, neurodiverse or not, you will have an easier time focusing on important tasks.

Schedule times to do your homework

You may struggle with executive functioning, whether with physical objects—where did you put your textbook?— or overall time management. Routines are incredibly important; they help you self-regulate and alleviate anxiety, even if they are hard to execute. Your classes won’t necessarily be of the 7:30-3:00 schedule you had in high school. As a result, you might have a lot of free time in the morning before your afternoon class. Establish a set time to do your homework, even if you want to be more spontaneous and only get it done when you feel like it or have the chance.

Have conversations with the text

I have a confession: I am a junior in college and I have no idea how to take notes. Because of my autism and ADHD, everything seems important when note taking. I either write down everything or not enough. In the classroom, I still do not have a system, but for homework, my favorite thing to do is write little comments in the margins of the readings as if I’m having a conversation with whoever wrote it. It is so much easier to actively read and write, mid-paragraph, “OP, WTF ARE YOU DOING?!” than to inattentively read an entire text without interacting. No one will see your notes, so do not worry how weird they may seem or how many smiley faces you draw. Besides, when reviewing it for class or pulling quotes for an essay, you can see your reactions and identify important points from the text.

Bonus

It’s always good to self-advocate, whether by requesting accommodations or simply asking for help if you do not understand the information. No professor is going to think you are stupid for asking a clarifying question. It may even help other students, too. Good luck!

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