Preparing for exams if you are neurodivergent

My children are about to start their GCSE’s this week. Both are neurodivergent, one is autistic with anxiety and the other is autistic with a touch of ADHD and OCD.

They have each had a different approach to study and revision. I am not going to lie, we have been preparing for GCSE’s for about 2 years and have been fortunate enough to work with OT and SALT to support our children to prepare too.

Here is an example of how something that may seem like a small thing to others can completely overwhelm neurodivergent students.

My son was working on past papers. He was using a pen to write on printed pages, which is something that cause him physical pain. He finished a paper but he was very, very cross and agitated, almost near meltdown.

We talked about what was happening, initially he explained he was angry because the questions were vague and he didn’t know how to answer them. I asked him to try the next paper using his computer. He has special arrangements to use a laptop in his exams. I know writing is painful and figured that was the thing that could be causing the biggest problem for him. His head becomes full of the pain experienced from writing and he can’t concentrate on the questions and recall knowledge.

He tried a paper the next day but this time typed his answers on the computer, just like he will do in the exam. He was much happier. He completed the paper in time, he didn’t feel overwhelmed and the questions made sense.

So, now he has ditched the pens and is using the keyboard.

Before he made this change he was feeling overwhelmed, anxious and very, very cross. He was beginning to think that his exams were going to be making him feel like this and he was anxious that the exam season was going to be sending him into meltdown daily, which is something he does not cope well with.

Now, he feels confident again, he knows that he will be anxious about his exams but that’s normal most people feel that way in exams.

If you are getting overwhelmed you may not always articulate the actual cause of the problem – you will probably say its something like “the questions don’t make sense”.  In reality it could be something more fundamental that needs to be addressed like a sensory processing challenge in the environment or in technique. 

At Inclusive Change we work with individuals to find out ways to overcome challenges – we have a network of support including Speech and Language or Occupational Therapy that we can connect with to work on specific issues.

Get in touch with me if you would like to find out more about neurodiversity and studying or how we take an individual approach to support: inclusivechange.co.uk or email lucy@inclusivechange.co.uk