Studying online as a neurodivergent student
20 February 2023
Creative Writing BA(Hons) (Online) student Daniel Whitaker shares his experiences studying online as a neurodivergent student.
Growing up in the education system with an undiagnosed neurodiversity was hard. The way I process, understand and retain information can be different to the majority of my peers. I thrive on routine and predictability, yet I like having the option to go over things again and again at my own pace. I was lucky that I was fairly academic, and I did well at school and college.
Then it was time for me to go to university when I was 18, and I chose an on-campus course. The experience wasn’t for me as I’m not aligned personally with the stereotypical student lifestyle; I don’t drink, nightclubs give me anxiety, and I was floundering. That, mixed with the overly relaxed attitude that students and tutors alike had in regard to attending lectures at my old university, made it untenable for me. After a year and a half, I had to drop out.
At that time, just after I turned 20, I assumed that maybe a university education wasn’t for me. I had always had passions that I wanted to pursue but I couldn’t rationalise the emotional and physical toll attending a ‘traditional’ university had on me. I always kept my eye out for the perfect course for me, but for the next six years, I managed to find myself a full-time job I could do well at, and in all honesty, I settled.
Then 2022 happened. I was scrolling through Instagram, and an ad came up for Falmouth University. It mentioned online courses, which seemed perfect. I did some more digging and discovered that they offered creative writing - I’ve always loved writing, but it’s not something I really considered pursuing. Another draw was it being online; it meant I didn’t have to move from where I live, and there was no self-made pressure to fully embrace the social aspect of a bricks and mortar university. So, I applied, and was lucky enough to get a place on the Creative Writing BA(Hons) Online course.
I’d spoken to a student who was already studying the course before I started , and they were brilliant at answering the dozens of questions I had about how online study works and ideas about the workload and pacing.
The ability to do things at your own pace, with so much support and love around you, has made this already one of the greatest experiences of my life.
One aspect of Falmouth I loved straight away was just how much everyone who works for the University cares about every student - understanding what support is there for them, and how to access it. Being online, I assumed that I might be somewhat swept under the rug as I can’t rock up to a desk and ask for help, but this is not the case at all. There are so many ways to ask for help. Whether you’re worrying about your finances or needing extra assistance with certain aspects of learning, chances are there’s at least one person who works at Falmouth who is more than happy to help you achieve and thrive on your course.
When the course itself started, I was nervous. It was a new system for me to learn to use and navigate, with a lot of new people to familiarise myself with and deadlines to plan for. It could have easily been enough to deter me, thankfully though, all the tutors and other students are so supportive. I didn’t even have to mention to them that I’m a person with autism - they were kind and accommodating right from the start. My cohort also started a WhatsApp group, so we could all talk and get to know one another outside of webinars. Whilst the idea of a group meetup in person could be really daunting to me, the fact I could talk with all my peers in the safety and comfort of my own home really helped. It was also great to hear stories and experiences of other people on my course who are also neurodivergent. We share tips and tricks on how we best utilise our time and resources, and I think we are all excelling in our studies and becoming more comfortable because of it.
Studying online at Falmouth has helped me to regain my drive and passion for learning that I lost all those years ago. It’s also given me a confidence in my abilities that was lost once I was diagnosed with autism. In fact, it’s given me so much confidence that, since joining Falmouth, I’ve had two micro-fictions accepted for publication, the chance to work on a TV pilot, and I’m in talks to potentially write a serialised story in a nationwide magazine.
If you’re thinking that a traditional university education isn’t for you - whether you’re neurodivergent or not - I honestly cannot recommend studying online with Falmouth enough. The ability to do things at your own pace, with so much support and love around you, has made this already one of the greatest experiences of my life. And I’ve still so much more to do.