University of Cumbria offers support to neuro-diverse students studying online during lockdown

For many students, trying to maintain a productive study routine in lockdown may pose something of a challenge.

By Gayle Rouncivell
Monday, 6th April 2020, 9:58 am
Updated Monday, 6th April 2020, 10:00 am

However, for neuro-diverse students it has the potential to cause a great deal of distress and upheaval.

The change in routine, environment and to how lecturers communicate now that studying has transferred online, has the potential to cause a great deal of stress and anxiety.

Now during World Autism Awareness week, the university is offering its lecturers advice on how to adapt their teaching and to consider the needs of neuro-diverse students when delivering lectures online.

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Caroline Briggs, Assistive Technology Officer, Information Services, University of Cumbria.

A webinar delivered by two members of staff who identify as neuro-diverse, Caroline Briggs, and senior nursing lecturer Claire Aubrey will share their unique insights into what it’s like to be neuro-diverse and how simple adjustments can support neuro-diverse students currently learning at a distance.

It is Caroline Briggs’ role as assistive technologies officer, to introduce students to a variety of technologies that support their learning needs and increase their ability to achieve their full potential, she says:

“I am very lucky to have a role that can be truly transformational to a student’s self-esteem and academic achievement," she said.

Caroline had a difficult time in secondary school and only felt she benefitted from returning to education as an adult where she was given the freedom to study in a way that best suited her learning needs along with using learning technologies to address the barriers she faced.

She continued: “I frequently find there are many high performing characteristics of neuro-diverse individuals that are not always recognised or appreciated in the workplace. We need more positive role models to inspire and empower neuro-diverse learners to join the workforce.”

“With the webinar I hope to inform colleagues on the choices they can make to support neuro-diverse learners and realise that reasonable adjustments do not make more work for them.

“By making an informed choice when creating learning materials they will better support all their students. It is proven time and again that inclusive learning approaches benefit all students and are truly transformational for those who rely on them.”

Around 18 per cent of students at the university identify as neuro-diverse and/or having a disability with the number rising every year.

Simple adjustments Caroline mentions include:

Sharing resources prior to a session

Providing clear content and avoiding unnecessary content that may distract

Avoiding high contrast colours, considering the dark text on pastel background

No timed assessments/quizzes if not required

Communicate in plain language

Avoid idioms and sarcasm when communicating

Use images to contextualise the subject

The webinar will be broadcast to staff on Wednesday April 8 and will be recorded and made available on the website at a later date.