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5 Keys to Neurodiverse Student Success in College

Key 5 – Get Connected

The college experience is about more than academics. It is also about meeting new people from different backgrounds, experiences, geographies, and with different goals and values. Students grow into young adulthood through interacting with a wide variety of people while learning to collaborate with others and respecting other’s ideas.

Join Clubs

Outside of the residence hall, students can make connections with others by joining a student organization or campus club that interests them. If they can’t find one that does, they can start their own through the Student Life department.

Join Study Groups

Study groups are another great way for students to connect with their peers. Whether starting their own or joining a group, regularly meeting with other students from their classes will not only help with their understanding of the material, but it will also help the student form friendships with those in their major/program.

Key 4 – Demonstrate Perseverance

Neurodiverse students have been developing their perseverance skills throughout their childhood. In college students will face new freedoms and new challenges without the daily guidance of parents, teachers, counselors, administrators, and case managers.

Perseverance skills will be strengthened as students learn to:

  • Organize their schedule: classes will not be every day all day but meet just a few times a week. Getting to class on time, every time, and completing all the homework and reading outside of class will stretch a student’s perseverance skills.

  • Self-direct their learning. Teachers in K-12 frequently reminded students of assignments and due dates. Not so in college. Professors expect students to read, save, and consult the course syllabus which details exactly what is expected of the student, when assignments are due, and how they will be graded.

Key 3 – Know Thyself

Students who do well come to campus aware of how their disability impacts them and what their strengths and weaknesses are academically. They are comfortable with their disabilities, aren’t embarrassed to talk about it, and able advocate for themselves.

Verbalize Disability

Students must be able to state clearly what their disability is and how it affects them.


Students must be able to clearly explain to the Student Disability Services office what accommodations they have used in high school, what worked best, and what accommodations they need in college.

Assistive Technology

Ideally, the student has had the advantage of using assistive technology while in high school. These tools take time for a student to learn to use, troubleshoot technical issues, and make the most productive use of them in their coursework.

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Assistive Technology that is commonly approved for use in college include:

  • LiveScribe Pen

  • Dragon Naturally Speaking

  • Kurzweil 3000

  • Bookshare

  • Notability

  • Quizlet

Strengths and Weaknesses

  • Learning Style - Students need to know what kind of learner they are (auditory, kinesthetic, visual) and be able to discuss this with Student Disability Services and their professors. Sharing this information is the first step toward professors finding ways to present course material in multiple formats.

  • Early Bird/Late Owl - If the student takes medication that causes them to be most alert in the early hours of the day, they should be aware of this so they can schedule classes during these hours when attention span is at its maximum.

  • Time Management – Students should work on this crucial skill throughout high school before leaving for college. Effective time management for college students include creating a daily, weekly, and monthly calendar. White boards and paper planners are highly effective as they provide daily visual reminders of what is due and allow for students to break down long-term projects into smaller, more manageable pieces. Students need to know what their distraction triggers are and how to manage them.

Key 2 – Utilize ALL the Resources Available

A successful transition to college includes students using all the resources available throughout college – not just disability services. During freshman orientation or before classes start, students should know where the following resources are on campus and how they can access them:

  • Disability Services

  • Student Services including academic advising, registrar, financial aid office

  • Math Tutoring Center

  • Writing Center

  • Health Center

  • Mental Health Center

  • Career Services

  • Library (for distraction free studying)

  • Computer Lab

Key 1 – Strong Self-Advocacy Skills

Self-advocacy is the ability to speak up for oneself. It means a student understanding their needs and helping other people to understand them too.

In K-12 the student’s learning issue was identified by the school and supported by parents and teachers. This changes in college where the student must self-identify their learning issue to the Student Disability Services office.

Throughout K-12, teachers would approach the student if they believed the student needed assistance, in college professors normally expect the student to initiate contact if they need assistance.

The parental role changes significantly as well. Unlike K-12 where parents had access to student records and can participate in the accommodation process, in college, parents do not have access to student records without the student's written permission. Students should ask their college’s Student Disability Services office for a Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) waiver, name their parent(s) as approved for access to student records, sign and return the form to the appropriate college office.


One in five students, or 15-20% of the population, have a language-based learning disability such as Dyslexia and Dyscalculia. One in 54 students in the U.S. are diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). And the estimated lifetime prevalence of ADHD in U.S. adults is just above 8%.

With guidance, support, and accommodations, all these neurodiverse students can be successful in higher education and achieve their goals of preparing for their future vocation.


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This blog was written Janice Royal, MA. She is the Founder and CEO of Royal College Consulting.

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