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Supporting Neurodiverse Learners with Chiara Horlin

Welcome to Episode 83 of the Think UDL podcast: Supporting Neurodiverse Learners with Chiara Horlin. Chiara Horlin is a Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Glasgow and a founder of the Neurodiversity Network there. She is a developmental Psychologist with particular interest in Autism Spectrum Disorder and neurodiversity in general. In today’s conversation, we talk about why she founded the Neurodiversity Network and what it does for students, faculty, and staff at the University of Glasgow. We also look into the challenges that neurodiverse students find at universities and what strengths they bring! And finally we discuss what college instructors can do to support neurodiverse students on our campuses. You’ll find that’s where Universal Design for Learning comes into play a lot in our conversation.


Check out the linktree for the University of Glasgow’s Neurodiversity Network

Find Chiara on Twitter @aussieweegie and the University of Glasgow Neurodiversity Network @UofGNeurodiv


Lillian Nave  00:00

Welcome to think UDL, the universal design for learning podcast where we hear from the people who are designing and implementing strategies with learner variability in mind. I’m your host, Lillian nave. And I’m interested in not just what you’re teaching, learning, guiding and facilitating, but how you design and implement it and why it even matters. Welcome to Episode 83 of the think UDL podcast supporting neurodiverse learners with Chiara Horlin. Dr. Horlin is a lecturer in psychology at the University of Glasgow, and a founder of the neurodiversity network there. She is a developmental psychologist with a particular interest in autism spectrum disorder, and neurodiversity in general. In today’s conversation, we talk about why she founded the neurodiversity network, and what it does for students, faculty and staff at the University of Glasgow. We also look into the challenges that neurodiverse students find at universities, and what strengths they bring. And finally we discuss what college instructors can do to support neurodiverse students on our campuses, you’ll find that’s where Universal Design for Learning comes into play a lot in our conversation. Thank you for listening, and a special thank you to the folks at the UDL a CI that’s Universal Design for Learning in Higher Education Network for their financial support of the think UDL podcast. So thank you, Dr. Horlin, for joining me today on the think UDL podcast, it’s really wonderful to meet you and to get to talk to you today.

Chiara Horlin  01:55

Thank you so much for having me, this is a delight.

Lillian Nave  01:58

Wonderful. Well, I’m really interested in what you’ve been doing at the University of Glasgow, and you are really interested in different learners and supporting them. But so my first question, though, is always what makes you a different kind of learner.

Chiara Horlin  02:19

You know, I have been thinking about this. And I think a lot of how I would respond does come down to the fact that I myself have ADHD. And how this can particularly manifest to me is that it gives me an insatiable appetite for learning, and always wanting to learn. And I’m always finding something interesting in any topic that I encounter, whether it is in psychology, or just in life. And it’s a double edged sword, because it means that I can swing between extremes of having hyper focus and hyper interest. And then having zero focus and zero, always an interest, zero ability to really harness that. So having that kind of insatiable appetite is probably one of the reasons that I’m an academic. I never have to stop that journey of learning. But it also means that I have such a variety of things that interests me. That yeah, but double edged sword.

Lillian Nave  03:18

Yeah, yeah. I appreciate actually, the way you made a clarification there. You said it’s either hyper focus, or you didn’t say no focus, you just said the kind of the ability to keep on task, when it’s not as interesting to you. I wanted to ask you, so a little bit about that. Do you recognize when that happens, or or? Yeah,

Chiara Horlin  03:43

absolutely. So regulation, for people with ADHD is one of the things that we can find particularly challenging. And that is, your ability to regulate your attention, as well as other things like your emotions. And one of the things that we’ve kind of talked about for harnessing the power of people with ADHD in particular is acknowledging your challenges acknowledging your barriers, and you know, when you’re in a time frame or a mind frame, that focus is just not going to happen, then not realizing the times when when you really can so I’m very aware of the days that it’s just not happening. And you know, there are things that you can do and you everybody has their own little tips and tricks to regulate you taking a break, going for a walk, all of those things. Personally, things like the Pomodoro techniques necessarily work for me. The nature of my role in the university. Yeah, I wish I could apportion things. But yeah, a lot of people will have a lot of self awareness in terms of have, you know the regulation?

Lillian Nave  05:02

Right, right. And you mentioned Pomodoro Technique, that’s something I do hear a lot about, which is if our listeners are just hearing about that, that’s kind of a time regulation thing that says, okay, work on task for 10 minutes, and then take a five minute break, or you can change it 20 minutes and, and take a break, and it has a little timer. And I’ve actually talked to and heard from other scholars who have ADHD and said, Oh, that’s what I do that works for me. And it’s to each their own, because it doesn’t work for everybody does it?

Chiara Horlin  05:33

Yeah, no, definitely. And I mean, it’s, it’s a day to day thing for me, I use lists a lot. And then I’ll have my lists for long term and midterm and immediate, you know, a traffic light system if you like. But I’m very aware within that list of if I get into a zone, so to speak, I can knock through a bunch of those things in one go. So why, why risk streaks that why not take advantage of that. So I have my my Fitbit and zaps whenever I you know, really do need to stick to a timeframe. But I try not to I try to kind of balance structure the flexibility for myself.

Lillian Nave  06:18

Oh, great. Oh, thank you. This is already helping me to frame this idea. And when you mentioned lists, I looked over at the seven lists that I have on my desk, and with the checkmark boxes, right? What I love it,

Chiara Horlin  06:35

I love everything about it. Exactly.

Lillian Nave  06:37

And when I find something that’s not on my list, and then I put it on my list, and then check the box, too, so gotta have it gotta know. So all right, so you’re doing some really great things at the University of Glasgow. And so I’d like to ask, well, actually, before, before we get into what you’re doing there, I do have a question about neurodiversity. What is your definition of neurodiversity? And then we’ll get into the neurodiversity network that you have there?

Chiara Horlin  07:06

Sure, well, in my mind, neurodiversity is really a recognition that not all brains, think or feel or act in the same way. And we may have kind of assumed a typical majority. But it’s likely to be a lot less typical, and a lot less of a majority than we actually think. And there’s also this implicit assumption that what might be normal or typical, is also the ideal, which is not necessarily the case. And partly, for me, it’s also a recognition of a need for empathy and for understanding of the unique experiences that individuals have. So yeah, that’s a multi dimensional definition. For

Lillian Nave  07:50

me. That’s great. And, and when I love reframing the idea of neurodiversity. It’s to me, it sounds a lot like biodiversity. And that’s something we hear a lot about, and how important biodiversity is right that we don’t want to lose the rainforests in the Amazon, just because we need that diversity one day, you know, that’s what I always heard growing up one day, there might be a cure for cancer right in the biodiversity somewhere, and we don’t want to lose it. And I think when I apply that to the way of thinking of neurodiversity, I think, wow, we need everybody, we need all of those people, because we kind of don’t know what we don’t know what different brains can solve what other people can offer.

Chiara Horlin  08:37

Absolutely. And it’s kind of one of those things that we can only conjecture of at this point in time, because we can’t go back in history and actually test this. But there’s the speculation that a lot of the people and a lot of the movements that have made great strides in humanity and culture have been driven or have been led by neurodivergent people that were able to think outside the box, and to have these extremes of ability or extremes of creativity, to think outside of, you know, the way that we’ve been doing things for centuries. So it’s an interesting, what if we had a time machine? For sure.

Lillian Nave  09:15

Yes. Wow. So okay, in recognizing how important neurodiversity is, you have done something with some colleagues there at the University of Glasgow and created the neuro diversity network. So I’m interested, what is the neurodiversity network? How did it start?

Chiara Horlin  09:33

Well, my own background in psychology, I’ve been looking I originally a developmental psychologist, originally, like it’s changed. developmental psychologists, and a lot of my 1516 years or so in academia has been focused on autism. And even within that time, I’ve seen such a significant shift in how we talk about autism and how we recognize it as Well, and coming to Glasgow from Australia, it expanded to, I had more experience in a research contact with things like ADHD, and specific learning differences and things like that. And it was through meeting students who really had that passion to pursue different areas of neurodivergent diagnoses that I then kind of got a broader experience rather than just my own ADHD and autism in a research context. And then I was at one of our teaching and learning internal conferences, and I met my colleague, Dr. Elliot space. And you have this moments of recognition within the neurodivergent community, when you know, you’re meeting another neurodivergent person, you just click there is compatibility, and an ease of communication and shared experience there. And a recognition of that, that, you know, you can form networks and form communities that quite quickly when that happens. And I really realized that there are a lot of us out there who hadn’t connected hadn’t had an opportunity. And a lot of people also working within that area, either academic research or pedagogical research to support students, that there was no kind of central organization or platform that we could actually all work together to make progress. Even within my own department, there were people doing autism research that I didn’t know and wasn’t actively working with. And I came from a very, very collaborative research group that was open to everybody and open to everyone working together for a common goal. And that’s really what I wanted to, to achieve here. So Elliot, and I discussed this. And we wanted to create a space for staff and students who identify as neurodivergent, or people who wish to know more, or wish to know how to better support neurodivergent people, either professionally or personally, academically. So it wasn’t, there’s very few people in my experience that are really out about their neurodivergent identity. And we kind of wanted to break that. Not really a silence, but break that barrier of people feeling comfortable enough to, to identify themselves really.

Lillian Nave  12:35

Yeah, there’s often this very negative stereotype associated with it. And in recent years, I’m seeing people like like yourself, and others across the world, really trying to change the narrative on that being something negative and finding the positives. And as we talked about biodiversity, neurodiversity, that sort of thing, that there’s there’s really great things that we’re overlooking. And so to recognize differences, and then leverage them for good. It’s, you’re creating this network, this place this space that that people can be themselves and learn from each other. Really appreciate that.

Chiara Horlin  13:18

Yeah, that disclosure is a really, really loaded issue for both staff and students. And we have lots of students who are either leaving school or leaving their undergraduate and progressing into postgraduate who say time and time again, they want to do it on their own, and they want to do it without support. So they don’t necessarily want to share that they have diagnosis, or they don’t realize until they’re in a new environment, and then they need to find support to to achieve that diagnosis. And again, obviously, as staff, it can be very, very loaded, to decide whether or not to disclose when you apply for a job. Because yeah, the implication is always that this could be more harmful than helpful. Yes, yeah.

Lillian Nave  14:08

Yeah. And you mentioned also that you came from a very collaborative space. And then you were seeing that it was separated in you’re kind of in your new area. I hear the term a lot in the United States. And it might be a very agrarian kind of farmer term silos, that universities are siloed that were cut off in a department or even colleagues are cut off from each other. And you just don’t know, the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing. Right?

Chiara Horlin  14:39

Absolutely. And I think, you know, the one thing I’ve learned in all universities, but particularly in UK universities, is the bureaucracy can so often get in the way. Yes,

Lillian Nave  14:49

yes. It’s hard to talk across departments, or colleges or wherever the university is divided up. And that’s really detrimental to know not just research, but mentoring and collegiality. And in this case of identifying and finding community, for your neurodivergent staff and students and, and such,

Chiara Horlin  15:14

I think we’re also all also busy doing our job as well. Sometimes those natural conversations can get missed. Yes, that those, you know, those social and community connections don’t necessarily fit within such a busy work.

Lillian Nave  15:32

Yeah, and I must say, in the last two years, we are recording this two years into the global pandemic that started in 2020. And so much of universities went online. So now you’re not knocking on your, your colleagues door, you’re not seeing the staff and the in the office, you’re not walking by somebody else’s classroom to see that’s a really interesting way to do you know, to do things, everybody’s at home, or have been at home, or if we are on campus, masks are making it difficult to make those connections or read people’s faces. And I must say I, I’m teaching on online, so I have a zoom session with my students. And I asked them just yesterday said, what’s different now because there’s a lessening of the use of masks at this point in our community with transmission low and things like that. And it’s a whole new world for my new students on campus, like their first year students, and their whole college experience has been masked. And it’s, it’s really just cut down on that communication, the sense of community the ability to go across campus and make connections and have those incidental meetings. You know, one student even said, what’s different now is I don’t have to put on a mask to go to the bathroom. I didn’t even think about that. But it adds to that disconnection. And I appreciate anytime someone like you is creating connection. It’s so important.

Chiara Horlin  17:03

Yeah. And I think some of the loaded conversations that a student might want to have are, after two years of being physically and in some ways, emotionally and socially distanced from staff. Yes, now is really going to be the hardest time for students to reach out and ask for support, I think, because we haven’t had that kind of established rapport for quite a long time for some of our newer students.

Lillian Nave  17:27

That’s so true. Yeah. And I’ve noticed this is only my personal experience, though, students aren’t the best at asking for help. And, and finding or recognizing they need it or finding it. And one of the things you mentioned is just now about the disclosure, right, that’s a tricky subject. And that students, especially neurodiverse, students want to just do it on their own, maybe they had some sort of program in their secondary education. In the United States, it might be a 504, or an IEP, so something for learning disability, and an IEP is an individual education plan. And then they say, Okay, I’m going to college, but I don’t want that stigma. I’m not going to disclose to the disability office, I don’t want accommodations, I’m, I’m old enough, or I want to try it on my own. And so unknowingly, people like me who are teaching students, I have no understanding of how diverse my students are, they’re not going to disclose it. And certainly there are other students who may not have the funds, the the ability, the connections, to get a formal diagnosis, as well, right, because that’s a lot of hoops to jump through and money and, and such. So the recognition that we have a far diverse set of students, then what our accommodations office or disability office tells us. They’re there, we may not know they’re there. But we need to be, we need to understand that we do have this neurodiversity, and it’s a good thing. We need to, you know, leverage that.

Chiara Horlin  19:07

Absolutely. And I think it’s one of the things that unfortunately, I think it is connected to what I was saying earlier in terms of busyness and workload that making accommodations and being flexible can be seen more of as an inconvenience than anything else. And we’ve done some one of my students did some research recently. And we kind of found this contradiction in people saying, Yes, I’m really happy, I’ll accommodate anybody, but then when it comes down to it, they will contradict themselves and say, Well, I don’t want to be inconvenienced, I don’t want to have to do extra work. I don’t have the capacity for it. And it’s this, you know, this dueling motivations that are can be really problematic on the behalf of the student. But the flip side of this is, if we do enter do small flexibility if we do recognize the need to learn in different ways or meet assessments and criteria in different ways, it benefits everybody, not just people who may or may not have a diagnosis. But yeah, that’s, I think one of the things that can get lost, it’s not really about inconvenience and making exceptions for one or two, it’s the potential for everybody.

Lillian Nave  20:30

Yes, if I, if I were to make a t shirt that would be on it, which is, when you when you make some, you know, you’re flexible, you make some changes, it helps everybody. That’s certainly something we talked about in the unit, universal design for learning community all the time. I

Chiara Horlin  20:45

think Lecture Capture is one of the most brilliant examples of this, and one of my colleagues works so heavily in this, that, you know, recording a lecture is not just beneficial for a student that might need to engage with it in a different way It benefits every student that might need to reengage or re engage in a different time schedule. But sometimes we get so fixated on a hearing to tradition, or our own experiences of what university it was like that it can really hold us back.

Lillian Nave  21:17

Yes. And that feeling. I know, when I was kind of starting out as a professor, as a teacher, that that feeling, and this was not right, that I don’t agree with my younger self, that I had to do it. Now they have to do it, right. So that that shows you that you have perseverance, the ability to get over these barriers. And that’s not great teaching, I think great teaching is when you take down the barriers so that students can learn not putting up artificial barriers, for sure.

Chiara Horlin  21:54

Yeah, gatekeeping comes across a lot in a lot of the different areas of research that we do. Either just focus on pedagogy or focusing on wellbeing and the student experience GAPI gatekeeping in various forms, is a really, really big, really overarching issue. We’re holding a discussion panel next week, actually talking about diagnosis. And in here in the UK, that’s another form of gatekeeping. That is hugely problematic, not just in a financial way, but in a practical way for many people. And the knock on consequences of that are just immeasurable.

Lillian Nave  22:37

Yeah. And you were talking about kind of the side benefits of luck, Lecture Capture right things that we do for some students, and then it proves to be really wonderful for a whole host of other students. And that made me think of the big transition I’ve made recently about teaching online. So I create videos. So it’s not just somebody at the back of a classroom capturing a live lecture, I actually have to think it through i a 45 minute, let’s say, lecture hall kind of talk lecture, in the online setting is about 18 minutes, you don’t want to go any further. And it really caused me to think what’s important, how many filler words did I have before, how much you know how much I was adding to that and working the room, in essence, and a lot of times looking for feedback from students. And it made me a much more precise thinker, and creator of content, when I had to move it into this other area. And I thought this is a much better, tighter, more comprehensible, and comprehend more comprehensive and comprehend double lecture, or dissemination of information then I ever did in a classroom. Because I was so focused, and so the students now can watch it for five minutes, put it on hold, they can double the time, they can slow it down. It’s got closed captions, right. So a transcript. It’s just so much better than what it was before. And that we held on to for so long.

Chiara Horlin  24:25

Yeah, and it’s interesting. One of the one of the roles I have here, aside from anything to do with neurodiversity is a later an online distance learning master’s program. And that’s, so I had a couple of years of experience of that before the pandemic, not to say that the pandemic still wasn’t a massive shift and crisis, to adjust all the teaching, but it’s exactly that it really teaches you to focus okay, what are all the multiple different ways that someone can engage in this content? What is the main takeaway that I want? ought to have? And what can they then explore. And, you know, follow their own interests down whichever rabbit hole they wish to pursue, but still meet the learning objectives. And you know, the multiple flexible ways that we can really engage with content formatively. So that was a really nice intersection of the two things that I do. And then obviously, the pandemic and then the pivot to online teaching really consolidated the necessity and the port importance, but also the opportunity that is there.

Lillian Nave  25:33

Right, yeah. In including the lens of universal design for learning in that shift for me online. It just changed my whole way of thinking about teaching and learning, making sure everything’s accessible. And at the forefront of every lesson plan was that my learners are different learner variability offering choice. And it’s made a huge difference in, in my teaching, and in how I think, in determining why did I even use timed quizzes before you know, they like making me reevaluate so many things. That’s helped my learner’s I don’t need accommodations, the time and a half tests anymore, because I don’t require time to test because it didn’t serve the function or the purpose of the class.

Chiara Horlin  26:26

It’s a really interesting balance to strike as well, because students appreciate that flexibility. But also needs some degree of structure and guidance. And that’s that I find has been a really interesting balance to strike particularly given that I cross teach on undergraduate programs and postgraduate programs. And I’m part time versus full time students. There’s such a diversity of need and engagement, just within those population between those populations. So let alone in those populations. So it’s a constant kind of shifting sands and meeting those balance. It’s not easy by any means. But I think it’s a constant awareness and a constant kind of potential flexibility or adjustment. With what we’re doing.

Lillian Nave  27:18

Right. Yeah, you know, a criticism that I hear a lot, as a UDL coordinator, or somebody who talks a lot about Universal Design for Learning is that we are dumbing down a curriculum, we are making it easier, you’re not covering as much as you should. And that’s a common misconception for incorporating flexibility, choice and options for our students, because you’re not, but that balance between flexibility and structure is, is the key, I think, to creating this equitable, accessible learning environment for our students. Because both of those things are also trauma informed pedagogies you have to have flexibility and structure you need enough structure to to keep motivating students and having deadlines. You know, it’s not just well handed in when you can, that’s, that’s not appropriate. You know, people think that’s what it is. It’s not, that’s not it. But having that structure is so important, and helps all of our learners, not just our neurodiverse learners, it helps all of our learners, but providing choice and flexibility is going to give all those different students you just told me about those that are working part time. That may be neurotypical, right. They’re they’re in their regular, you know, population, as you might call and but they have a full time job, or they have two children at home, right? And therefore, they might need to watch my lecture and read the captions while they’re putting a child to bed or, you know, staying in the rocking chair with a sleeping child like I did for years. Not wanting to make a noise, right?

Chiara Horlin  29:03

Yeah, no, for sure. And I think that that balance, again, in in psychology in particular is our discipline is so vast, we can’t let students have a free for all because you would never be able to pursue anything that everything that you wanted to pursue. So yeah, that the domain specific application of those principles, I think, is really important to

Lillian Nave  29:27

create. So, so you have created pretty recently this neurodiversity network at University of Glasgow, and what do you hope to accomplish through this network?

Chiara Horlin  29:39

Well, one of the main things that I’ve mentioned kind of before a little bit is having this open discourse and hope having an open recognition of neurodivergent identities and really normalizing those identities, and particularly having stuff visibility, and it’s something that I was really inspired to do. By I have a colleague who runs a lot of LGBTQ plus networks within a university, who created something called Rainbow office hours. So we have our regular academic office hours, but periodically through the year, aligning with, you know, National Coming Out Day and things like that we hold regular office hours for staff who are out and happy to identify themselves to students as part of the LGBTQ plus community. Oh, great. Yeah, and the number of students that have been come to these office hours for, you know, not for counseling or anything like that, just just to share an experience and to share an identity and to make a community really then inspired me to have that level of visibility again, for neurodivergent people as well. So visibility, and normalizing and having that open recognition, but also celebrating the contribution of neurodivergent people to the university, but also to the wider community, because a lot of discourse around neurodiverse and neurodivergent people is focusing on challenges and is focusing on perceived deficits, or very pathologizing language as well. And a lot of the research that I have to read, for my job and for patients is still stuck in that cycle of pathologizing and almost dehumanizing. So that was one of our motivations was really focusing on the celebration, still recognizing the challenges and the difficulties, obviously, because we can’t deny them. But also having this awareness of success and potential around being neurodivergent that also having the sense of community for staff and students within higher education. And also giving people an opportunity to ask like, How can I better support neurodivergent students? So you know, allyship is really important part of that, too. And I have a lot of staff, who who do seek advice on how they can support an individual student, or how they can adapt teaching and learning principles as well. So there’s, there’s a level of advocacy in there as well for the needs and the well being of both staff and students. And also maximizing potential two.

Lillian Nave  32:29

Totally brings to mind the idea that representation matters. So if you have neurodiverse students, and they see that there’s a professor with ADHD, who has a PhD, that’s wonderful. That’s encouraging, right, you can do this,

Chiara Horlin  32:47

I’m very open as well, you know, in class or during a meeting or during the Zoom lecture if my brain starts to deviate? Yeah, I’m very honest about it. And I’m not ashamed of it at all. It just happens to everybody in different ways. So yeah, really normalizing that for me, yeah. As a personal motivation as well. Yeah, it’s so important. Girls and women as well, who don’t have that as much. There’s so many loaded stereotypes of what autism and ADHD look like. Yes. And how it presents, you know, you’re trying to, to demonstrate it in a different presentation.

Lillian Nave  33:28

Yeah. Right. Yeah, we usually only hear about pretty much the young boys who have ADHD, and that they’re, you know, very running around and can’t contain their energy. And that’s kind of what the public perception is for ADHD. And it’s a much wider spectrum than that.

Chiara Horlin  33:47

Definitely, I cannot. I cannot emphasize that enough. You know, the old saying that if you’ve met one year divergent person, you’ve met one person. Well, one resume, which isn’t you’ve met one person with autism, but it’s true every other diagnosis as well.

Lillian Nave  34:00

Yes, yes. And how wonderful that is to write we want to leverage that beautiful diversity. So I want to ask the next two questions are linked. So I’m going to start with challenges what we already talked about that we talked too much about challenges. But then I want to ask strengths. So this is a two part. Question. I want to start first with what particular challenges do neuro diverse students and I’m particularly focusing on students so that our instructors here listening can can be aware of them, but what particular challenges do neurodiverse students face in the university setting?

Chiara Horlin  34:38

I don’t think we will. The vast majority of these challenges that I’ll mention are not necessarily specific to neurodivergent people, but they will have a more significant impact more likely. The biggest Well, the first probably for thinking in terms of chronology is that transition from school, which is highly regulated. highly structured, and they’ve been in that environment for, you know, 12 years transitioning to a less regulated, well, a less externally regulated, that’s an important distinction. And a less structured environment is a significant challenge to a lot of students, particularly those with autism or ADHD. And haven’t mentioned this yet, but multiple divergent people, you know, if you have, if you have autism, you’re more likely also to have ADHD and vice versa. So those transitions without support, or you know, without preparation, from highly regulated and highly structured environments, to one that has to be a little bit more self determined, self motivated, and self regulated, can be really, really challenging. So transition programs can can certainly help and mentor programs are really useful for that as well. A lot of these things will vary depending on the individual. And it’ll depend on their access to diagnosis just fought. And it will also vary across their academic journey as well. One pot might be fine, but then later years might be more challenging. inconsistencies are a really big thing. And it’s something that unfortunately, feels impossible to avoid at universities near if you’re an undergraduate student, taking multiple courses, multiple modules taught by multiple people see different levels of presentation different places that you’ll find information, different organization. And if you have your own challenges with executive functions, then organizing and time management, then all those little inconsistencies can be hugely disruptive. So a lot, a lot of what we’ve tried to do within our school is really to have consistencies, as much as we can, in terms of online learning platforms, there will always be differences. So just when you have different teaching staff, you can’t then suppress their own individuality, right, and how they present and how they teach. But any place that you can have consistency and presentation, he’s always going to be helpful for students that also have to deal with multiple platforms. In flexibility of the university structure is also a really significant issue. Particularly as a program lead and learning so much more about the administrative side of the university, you get so many circumstances that are, you know, a round peg square hole, where we have to deal with policies and regulations. And there’s a level of flexibility that the university has to have. That balancing that against individual needs and individual circumstances and flexibilities has. You know, people can hit barriers that even with the support of staff ever, ever really difficult to overcome. And that kind of ties into my next point, which is about accommodations and support. Pretty much every university will have a list of suggested accommodations, but they are not necessarily vague, but they’re very nondescript, okay, and they’re not necessarily going to be the right accommodations for individual people. So one of the things that we have here in the, in the UK, is disability allowances, you know, the actual finances that students can get from the government to support them. And however they would like to use that money and one of those things as individual mentors, okay, that can almost acts like an interface between not university staff, but between the university experience and the students so they can support them in where they should go to access resources, helping them to understand coursework and things like that. So that level of individualized support has been hugely beneficial to a lot of a lot of people. Because we, you know, we have disability advisors, but they have dozens, if not hundreds of students within their care. And that level of individual support is just not possible currently. Yeah. But having those kind of recognition of individual challenges and individual need to accommodate has been one of the things that has been really successful for students to to overcome that transition or just the challenges of staying within the university system as well. But certainly gatekeeping, like I mentioned before, and that can be gatekeeping by academic staff, that they realize they’re doing it or not, but making disabled students jump through extra hoops just to get the basic that they need to engage. Yeah. And obviously, for students who don’t come into university diagnosed, often the medical community or medical systems can be a level of gatekeeping to access, diagnosis or support. A lot of these things are structural, and, you know, infrastructure, and it’s not an individual that’s preventing any progress. But it’s a lack of recognition that a lot of neurodivergent students and disabled students will generally have to work harder just to get to the same starting point. Yeah. And I think that that’s, that’s, you know, a challenge for students with any minority, yes, as well.

Lillian Nave  41:03

Absolutely. This this is, as you said, in the very beginning, these are challenges for anybody, but the effects are far greater for our disabled students, neurodiverse students, anyone with a learning disability. But even just, you know, figuring out if you’re on campus, where to find all of your classes, how to get across, you know, that first part, you know, we might call it, and I’ll use air quotes, which you can’t see on a podcast, but adulting, like figuring all these things out. And yes, we need to be, you know, figuring a lot of things out for ourselves. That’s part of the process. But it’s also overwhelming when it’s kind of stacked against some students. And wouldn’t it be great if we had signposts, right? What if I’m dropped down in a campus and none of the buildings have names? And there’s not a map? How am I supposed to find right my classroom and same kind of thing? If we have signposts? If we have ways to help our students, it’s going to help all of them, it’s, we want them to actually learn, we don’t want the barrier to be how do I get into this program? You know, how do I get into this physical classroom? How do I start the process of this research paper? We need to be providing signposts whether physical or metaphysical or metaphorical signposts along the way,

Chiara Horlin  42:31

I think it’s, um, it’s really important as well, to draw a distinction between challenge challenges and barriers. challenge might be something particular to the individual, but a barrier is likely to be a systematic thing. Yes. And so the one example that I am aware of from our own institution is a neurodivergent. Student, and their challenge was public transport. And all it took was using part of their Disabled Students Allowance to pay for an Uber. Oh, and that was it. Yeah. It’s gone. Yeah. And so you know, it’s accommodations from a disability service on kind of include that level of individualized, yeah, we’ll fix. All right. But with the support of the disability service, that individuals barrier is gone. Yeah. Time on a quiz, or

Lillian Nave  43:31

it’s not gonna help. Yeah, nope. Right. Yeah, that I appreciate that flexibility. It’s like, well, I can’t I can’t get to campus. Well, here’s your notetaker. That doesn’t help, right, I need to get to campus, I need the flexibility to use that. And oftentimes, they know to how best to use resources or what to ask for. And we also, I think, need to work with our students. Rather than here’s, you know, here’s your note taker. Well, I don’t really need a note taker, or, you know, I would really prefer if if I could just, you know, record the lectures. Okay. So these challenges are, again, a greater, have a greater effect on I think, underrepresented groups and neurodiverse students. But it’s, you bring up a lot of systemic issues, that as hard as we try, we may not be able to fix all of them. But we can certainly make it easier for our students if we’re applying a lot of these flexibility. ways for our students to succeed. But what about the next, the other side of the coin, the strengths, what are what strengths do neurodivergent students bring to the university that we should look for appreciate? Maybe highlight?

Chiara Horlin  44:45

Yeah, I think it’s interesting too. I talked about kind of this pathologizing stereotype a lot of a lot of these conditions, and I think there’s a lot of opportunity to reframe how we think about Some of the things that would in some circumstances be framed as diagnostic criteria. Yeah, actually really powerful tools. And a lot of people will talk about, you know, oh, my autism is my superpower. And that might be true for them. There are a lot of people that really reject that sentiment because they feel it denies their own personal challenges, their opportunities, certainly. So if you think about things like hyper focus, obviously, I can use that power for good rather than evil if, if I’m in the headspace to do that. But special interests, I think, if you look at academics, just try and tell me that some of those people aren’t people that have successfully pursued their special interest into a career, right? To succeed in a PhD or to be motivated to complete one, a guarantee will love people have have found that special interest and then just pivoted into a career choice. So that level of passion and interest is a really incredible strength that can be harnessed, not just for people that want to stay in academia, obviously, but people that want to study and then move beyond. And I think creativity is something that is widely known to be a real strength within your divergent people. Thinking outside the box thinking unconventionally, disregarding conventions and expectations, that is reliably something that the neurodivergent community will talk about. And a couple of things that I think if you spoke to neurodivergent people are like people who are neurodivergent talking to each other would say this. I don’t necessarily think narrative, neurotypical people would expect this, but I think civility and communication are strengths of a lot of people who are neurodivergent there’s some recent research from some wonderful colleagues at University of Edinburgh. Dr. Catherine Crompton led this looking at communication and rapport between autistic Ansari, neurodivergent people and neurotypical Finn neurodivergent people talking to each other and neurotypical talking to each other. And Damian Nelson is one of the researchers within this area as well. It’s the double empathy problem. And a lot of the perceived communication, deficits, air quotes, again, difficulties disappear. When you’re a divergent people talk to each other. And there’s increased rapport when neurodivergent people talk to each other, and when neurotypical people talk to neurotypical people, so it’s just kind of in group out group barriers and communication. But I have a have a suspicion. Because neurodivergent people are used to being the perceived minority. I think in a lot of cases, we get used to having to adapt. And it’s recognized as the phenomenon of masking or camouflaging. And I think that gives a lot of neurodivergent people the ability to be flexible in their communication, to be able to fit into neurotypical contexts at whatever cost that might come to the individual. But then, to be able to communicate with, you know, their own neuro type, as well. So I think, from my experience, and for the people that I know, I think we’re very good communicators when given the opportunity to, and I think it also can make us better teachers. Because we can learn to be more flexible in how we teach and a recognition that other people don’t necessarily learn. In the same way. I’m a dance teacher as well outside in my my non academic life. Yeah. And it’s very much compounded to me that some people learn with count some people learn with beats and musicality, other people spatially need to move their bodies and other people say do this, and they get it. It’s brains work differently. And I think from our own experience of having to be flexible, we do learn that to a degree. Well, some of us maybe not all of us. Yeah, I have I have that conversation with my colleague, Elliot. Quite a lot that we do research looking into employment transition as well, not just higher education. And one of the things that comes up consistently is that employee ORS think that neurodivergent people aren’t flexible enough, but it’s actually their inability to adapt and be flexible to the needs of their individual All employees. This is kind of a contradiction almost. Yeah, where is the flexibility and in flexibility happening, and I think for, there’s a lot of people that have learned by necessity, to be flexible to be diverse and how they communicate. So yeah, hyperfocus special interests, creativity, and flexibility and communication, I think are our assets.

Lillian Nave  50:29

Those are fantastic. That’s a fantastic list of strengths that I would make any employer is looking for, right? Any teachers looking for in their students? Yeah. And yes, we really should be recognizing that. And, and playing that. And, and I think, I think about some of my students who had an uncanny ability to remember infinite details, and how important that is, in certain fields, like art history, right, and recognize these things, and I would want them on my team, right? I need to have your memory and I need to have that because I don’t have that incredible detailed recall, memory. And it’s really helpful. I mean, it would be really great, especially if you’re trying to catch errors in code, right? If you’re trying to need to have that hyper focus and great attention to detail. And, you know, that feeling that something’s off, if it’s not in line, and being able to alert somebody, you know,

Chiara Horlin  51:30

it’s interesting, because that’s one of the things that, you know, people would very stereotypically associated with something like autism, and attention to detail, which, you know, people then think of in the STEM contexts quite a lot. But with increasing recognition of what autism and ADHD look like in women, empathy is a really big strength of neurodivergent people, again, almost to the detriment, yes, hyper empathy is is a remarkable power, but it has can have such negative, but it can take a toll, it can have a cost to the individual. And that’s something I’ve personally experienced as well. But a lot of autistic women will say, hyper empathy is a power but a curse.

Lillian Nave  52:18

At the same time. Yes. Oh, absolutely. I’ve seen that in people I love in my life, too, that it is. I’d never heard of it. Thank you for calling it the hyper empathy. But that’s exactly what I see. So all right, so we’ve got challenges. We’ve got strings. So what can we do? We’ve talked a little bit about this answer, but how best can we serve our neurodiverse? Students? Are there particular strategies to help students with AD ADHD, autism, or, or others that you can recommend?

Chiara Horlin  52:50

I think the first we’ve already kind of touched on and that is creating a culture where on your divergence isn’t framed as an inconvenience, or pathology or isn’t, is encouraged not to be perceived with shame, by any means. But again, touching on this individualized support, asking people what they need, asking people what support would work best for them, and helping them on that journey. If they don’t necessarily know, they might, you know, try a little bit of this, a little bit of that and realize that doesn’t quite work for them. Allowing them to go through that process is really important. Considering flexibility. We keep the way that we do. But we’re also adjusting our own expectations. And even as neurodivergent people, I’m constantly self reflecting on my expectations of students, making sure that they’re not unreasonable or inappropriate. And it’s really about what a student can achieve for themselves, not what they should achieved based on neurotypical expectations as well like, what are our benchmarks? How are we creating these benchmarks? Who are we potentially denying or ignoring in terms of what we determined for that criteria? Again, a couple of the things that we’ve talked about in terms of acknowledging the diversity of experience, particularly of neuro divergence, again, to different people with, you know, a different diagnosis, let alone people with the same diagnosis will be have a very different experience and different presentation characteristics and things like that. So breaking down those stereotypes of what you expect in terms of particularly autism and ADHD. And really recognizing that challenges and barriers can change throughout an academic journey and beyond. And they can also be compounded by a lot of other factors mental health, co occurring conditions, other invisible identities, I also have Ehlers Danlos syndrome, which means I have a lot of chronic pain, but nobody would ever know because I suppress it really well. Yeah. But there are days when you know, that pain or even the ability to manage that pain that impacts ADHD and can create an escalation that two invisible conditions on top of each other. If I wasn’t open with my boss, she would never know. Yeah, that being multiplied, divergent and having other underrepresented identities, you know, there’s evidence that a lot of people who are neurodivergent also have diverse sexual or gender identities as well. And that’s, as educators, we don’t need to know specifics if people don’t want to share them, but having that awareness that somebody might have challenges on a multiple different levels is really important. Yeah,

Lillian Nave  55:56

yeah. I’ve was reading recently read a lot about neurodiversity and disability advocacy, too. And seeing that there’s, in the autism community, too, there’s a a large percentage that are in the LGBT plus community, and understanding there’s this intersectionality between those co occurring diagnoses or CO occurring identities, thank you very much. And that that all of those compound, what maybe start out as a challenge, and then may become a barrier, if we’ve got too many of these things that are in the way of our students to even access what the learning environment is, or something like that.

Chiara Horlin  56:45

Yeah, I think it’s also really important to recognize that people might just be tired. They might be tired from advocating for themselves, and fighting to get just to that level of normalcy. Yeah. And there was an interesting paper published by Monique Botha recently talking about that, you know, for supporting neurodivergent students as a neurodivergent person as well. Are you a teacher? Are you a researcher? Are you an advocate? Are you you know, where do you sit within that and the emotional labor that comes into that as well? Yeah, that was I just derailed that, that question. I think it all ties in that, you know, just, we can best serve students and people by diagnosing the challenges that they have to deal with every day. I think, too.

Lillian Nave  57:42

Yeah. And reducing barriers wherever we can. And I must say, like the the idea that we had about signposting, you know, giving deadlines, you know, to help out with that. executive function problems or issues and self regulation, opportunities for that, how are you and and to think back on your learning and thinking these are all Universal Design for Learning principles that help all students, but as you mentioned, and I really like how you phrased it, this is something for all students, but there’s a greater effect on neurodivergent students. And so if we are to employ Universal Design for Learning principles, it’s going to make our classes better for our neurotypical students, and immensely better for our neurodivergent students. So if other educators then are interested, so my last question, I’ve loved talking to you, though, or if other educators are interested in participating in or starting their own program, what advice do you have for them?

Chiara Horlin  58:44

Just do it. Ask permission or don’t ask permission, apologize later. That was kind of my experience, I thought I would have to go through more kind of checks and balances. And within my knowledge of the university in the UK bureaucracy system, I thought I’d have to get permission and have all this. And they were just like, No, just do it. And so, yeah, that was one of the things I really wanted to focus on as well. And I would encourage, particularly educators is to really acknowledge the entirety of the individual, not just the academics, or education side of things, and that’s with a lot of the events that we do for the network, is I don’t want to focus on just another pedagogical seminar or student wellbeing. So we’ve done everything from podcasts and blog posts to a drag cabaret show with only neurodivergent drag queens, just to show the entirety of the neurodivergent experience and to focus on the creativity and the joy and not just the academic side of things, but yeah, yeah, that’s one of my passions is to really show that holistic perspective.

Lillian Nave  1:00:09

Yeah. So you’re saying that students are actually whole people? Who would have thought they’re not just brains that we have to fill with stuff and have them take tests on it there actually hold people?

Chiara Horlin  1:00:23

Yeah. It’s really, during the pandemic, my husband went back to studying as well. He also has ADHD. And so I have, you know, a real life reminder at home of what it’s like to be a student with ADHD, but a mature student returning to study like, wow, yeah, because of the challenges. But it’s a constant reminder of, I have a neurodivergent student in my house, who is also a beekeeper, a circus performer, a coach, studying to be an extreme medical technician, like, Oh, my God, show me has more special interests than that. Yeah. But if he was in my classroom, I’d never know any of that. Yeah. But it’s a really nice gateway to have those conversations and make connections outside of how I can give you better feedback for your lab report. I think is the community side of things, I think, right? austere to them, for students to see us as humans, as well as for us to see the whole of their experience too.

Lillian Nave  1:01:27

Yeah. And that emotional side of of learning, we can’t just leave that part at the door. So, or whatever, at the Zoom Room, we we bring that emotional side, there’s a lot of research about how emotions are so important in learning. And so being able to bring your host whole self, we talk about that a lot in academic circles, being able to bring who you are all of your identities, and that includes your neurodivergent identities to the class and be accepted. And not only just accepted, but wow, this is such a great, wonderful strength to have you in our classroom.

Chiara Horlin  1:02:09

Yeah. And there’s there’s no way that you can disentangle the emotions from the intellectual side of things. And something that we haven’t even touched on today, which could be an hour in and of itself, is emotional regulation. And that’s something that’s some of the research that we have talking about. If you’ve heard of rejection sensitivity, it’s a particular aspect of divergence for some people. And that is we’re finding that is quite tied into the feedback experience, which is obviously can be tied into the learning experience. Yeah. Then having that one of the things that we found is the relationship with the educator, the relationship with the educator, moderates some of those challenges in receiving negative feedback or the expectations of it, that can then give to learning. So it’s all tied up in a wonderfully complex package.

Lillian Nave  1:03:06

Yeah. Rejection sensitivity, if our listeners haven’t heard of that is, is a more deep cut, it seems are a really, almost more devastating reaction to negative criticism. And maybe you’re just saying you need to fix up the sentence, you know, you need to change the grammar here. But that rejection sensitivity is taking it almost very personally. And I’m a failure rather than let’s work on this particular thing. So the way we can phrase feedback in a way that says, hey, this is a really fantastic thought, I think you’re going somewhere here, we need to just change this in order for it to be more understandable to your audience is a, I think, a way that we can maybe reframe that. And again, it’s like treating the other person as an actual person, rather than this terrible lots of reading, and in fix this, but anyway, just thinking about the whole person and knowing that some students aren’t, that’s going to demotivate them rather than motivate them to increase their work or something like that.

Chiara Horlin  1:04:19

Yeah. And it doesn’t even have to be the actual feedback. It can be the expectation or that that can be enough to have somebody start to develop avoidant behaviors from ever being in a position where they might receive feedback. So yeah,

Lillian Nave  1:04:31

right. Exactly. Yeah. Wow. Okay. Yeah, that is a whole nother topic. But we have covered so much today. I am excited to that other people are going to hear about the things that you’re doing in the UK. And the way you’re turning around. I think the the stigma Yeah, let’s, let’s do it. Let’s get the word out. I really appreciate it and see the the one Apple things you’re doing at the University of Glasgow and thank you so much for being on the think UDL podcast.

Chiara Horlin  1:05:05

Thank you so much for having me.

Lillian Nave  1:05:18

You can follow the think UDL podcast on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to find out when new episodes will be released, and also see transcripts and additional materials at the think website. The think UDL podcast is made possible by college star. The star stands for supporting transition, access and retention in post secondary settings, and the website provides free resources and instructional aides based on UDL principles. If you’d like to know more, go to the college website. Additional support for the podcast is made possible by Appalachian State University where if you call it Appalachian, I’ll throw in Appalachia. The music on the podcast was performed by the Odyssey quartet comprised of Rex Shepherd, David Pate, Bill Falwell and Jose coach has our sound engineer is Tanner Jones and I am your host, Lillian nave. Thank you for joining us on The think UDL podcast.

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