How can neurodiversity affect revision and planning for exams?

Neurodiversity doesn’t come in a neat package with just one condition or one way of thinking. Quite often you will meet people who have a mix of neurodivergent ways of processing the world.

What do I mean by this? Well, you may be autistic and have adhd, or have adhd and dyslexia, you could have any mix of multiple neurodivergent conditions, what I would call a multi-neurodivergent profile. (I am sure there is a better phrase but this is what I have right now).

When it comes to preparing for exams it is important to consider and support an individual who may have such a profile. Here is an example:

My younger son is taking 1 GCSE this year (he has asked me to point out that this is 2 years early, he is in year 9 and has done this so he can fit in more GCSE’s before he is in year 11, so please don’t think he isn’t smart just because he is taking 1 GCSE this year). He began revision at the beginning of the Easter holidays and both him and I have noticed some challenges based around his neurodivergence:

Autism

He needs a plan, he needs to follow that plan , to the letter, he wants to follow that plan and will put pressure on himself, if he slips from the plan. However, he needs help to create a plan because he finds it difficult to make plans about things he hasn’t yet experienced. He is also an “all or nothing” kind of guy.

ADHD

He gets distracted, if he is in his room revising he will end up on youtube watching videos of magic tricks with monkeys. So, he often will not meet the objectives set in the plan. He can hyper focus for a period but if there is anything that links to something seemingly random in his head (those monkey magic tricks) that will mean he will go off into another world for a bit.

OCD

He has to do things right and quite often in an order. Up until a year ago he couldn’t hand write in a textbook because of the need for perfection, if a bullet point was the wrong size the whole page would have to be started again, and sometimes the whole book. This would mean any revision can take much, much longer. Fortunately now he has overcome much of the OCD but when he gets stressed these behaviours do come back.

Complex example isn’t it? So, how have we supported him?

One of the key things to focus on for us has been keeping him in a calm and relaxed mindset.

We take away pressure, It also doesn’t matter what grade he gets – seriously it does not matter, Just do your best.

We have helped create a plan that is realistic and not too rigid and we have reinforced this is just a plan, it can be adapted and changed, that’s in our control.

We help with timing and focus for his revision. We help him not put unrealistic goals in place – like “I will revise for 3 hours after 7pm” when his friends will be contacting him on discord to play online.

We communicate with his teacher, when we have questions or we can see problems arising at home and between us we have overcome the subject challenges.

We found some tips online and iIf you are looking for practical strategies the NHS has some useful tips online. We have adapted some of these tips so they work for us.