Still don’t know what I was waiting for and my time was running wild… (Bowie, 1971)

    1. How many students do you know who say something like this after submitting an assignment? How many say the same- but present tense,


    1. submitting? The work we do in Student Counselling and Mental Health Service (SCMHS) and Neurodiversity often has to deal with statements like Mr Bowie’s as our starting point.

I have been working together with Pauline from SCMHS on this issue. We have a shared interest in anxiety/depression co-occurring with learning differences and have been meeting to reflect on our case work. Here are some of my thoughts that have arisen as a result of these conversations with Pauline:

1. Time and ‘space’ are vital

These really aren’t just for a relationship break-up. How can time and space not boost students’ study? We discussed that when students have the time to process learning and thinking both intellectually and just as, if not more importantly, emotionally, it plays a big role in successful academic outcomes.

Neurodiversity specialist tutors have to bear this in mind all the time. Most HE students find they need to take on new learning strategies but students with specific learning differences (SpLDs) are particularly challenged when faced with a list of new stuff to deal with:
• assistive technology (AT)/apps (sometimes even in its wrapping still by the end of the degree)
• deadline pressure
• increased demands on reading/writing skills
• increased load on information processing and working memory from academic activities
• and then there’s the personal/ workplace stuff.

2. Out with the old, in with the new

A bit like shoes that hug and love feet but let the rain in, HE students often cling to inefficient learning rituals that have contributed to their previous academic successes but are no longer fit for purpose. The rituals are often anxiety-inducing themselves in their clumsiness and yet, paradoxically, by their very familiarity, soothe. Work through a multidisciplinary team (MDT) type of approach supports students to consider their metacognition. SCMHS and Neurodiversity methodologies can help students discover how they think, how they study, find their learning styles and then build study strategies that are more appropriate for university study, not to mention better for their overall health.

3. Ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

We thought about what contribution we can make within an MDT approach towards helping students cope with the initial chaos of study. Rapid propulsion into reliving the transition of adolescence can trouble students (‘I don’t want to have to start asking for help again’). It takes confidence to be able to admit to a lack of knowledge in order to take steps to acquire more, and an anxious student may not be able to admit to a knowledge deficit in case their flimsy learning schemata crumble. Add a specific learning difference on top, and the confidence wobbles even more; admitting to a lack of knowledge at the same time as grasping all these new opportunities for learning is a lot to ask.

4. You’re never too old to feel like a child again

When it comes to mature students, they may be confident enough to say what they know and need to know, but can still resent the infantilisation brought on by study hurdles like essays and exams.

5. L > C
L=Learning C= Change

Learning has to be greater/ faster than the rate of change itself taking place for it to be effective. A former student told me this. Her husband had been trying to shed a lot of excess weight and they had come to this simple conclusion; he had to educate himself and his body about how to eat more effectively and faster than the rate at which the weight loss was occurring.

Do any of these ring true for you? What strategies have you used to help students deal with these sorts of issues?

Bowie, D. (1971) Changes. New York: RCA Records.

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