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Tuesday, May 21, 2024
The Observer

4 tips for incoming neurodivergent students

There are now several starry-eyed high school seniors who have received their acceptance letters to Notre Dame. You might be one of these seniors, excited to see the campus landmarks, find out your dorm and plan out your first-semester schedule. However, you might still have questions about how to navigate Notre Dame’s academic and social spheres. If you’re neurodivergent, you might have even more questions. Fortunately, as a symbolic gift from this veteran Notre Dame student, I’d like to share some wisdom from my four years of living on this campus. 

1. Pace yourself during Welcome Weekend 

For many people (including neurotypical students), Welcome Weekend is a frantic, loud and even confusing blur, a rancorous initiation into the Notre Dame experience. Not only are you dealing with the anxieties of living in a college setting for the first time, but you’re participating in activity after activity, shouting dorm chant after dorm chant and reciting Notre Dame Intro after Notre Dame Intro. You’re sweaty, disoriented and exhausted. If you’re neurodivergent, you might be wondering if there’s any positive to this storm before the storm. 

Personally, although Welcome Weekend was occasionally stressful, I enjoyed it, particularly because I adopted the strategy of pacing myself. I chose which dorm bonding activities to participate in and declined others when I felt like I needed alone time or rest. I recognized that even though I was giving my name and major to dozens of people, I didn’t have to feel pressured into becoming best friends with all of them. The events during Welcome Weekend can genuinely provide opportunities to form lasting friendships, so I would encourage you to take advantage of them, but not to the point of becoming overwhelmed. In any case, brace yourself for an unusual (but still fun) beginning to your college career. 

2. Know what Sara Bea can do

Like many other major universities, Notre Dame has a specific department that provides resources and accommodations for disabled students, including neurodivergent ones. For instance, students can request specific living spaces, like single rooms, if they feel like a roommate situation may impose on their need for an individual sacred space for escapism. If you’re someone who dreads dealing with countdown clocks during your monthly exams, Sara Bea can also help you secure extended time, as long as you communicate this with your professors. 

3. Prepare for stimulus overload during the night

Oftentimes, there will be loud parties or gatherings nearby your dorm room when you’re trying to complete your essay or get some sleep. This can be especially stressful for neurodivergent folks, for whom each unexpected sound can become exponentially distracting. To prepare for these moments, there are some practical measures you can take, whether it’s investing in earplugs or a noise machine. More fundamentally, however, it’s crucial to recognize that the people making noise are not doing it to personally frustrate you. The students partying in the building next door are likely as stressed about school as you are, and they’re looking for ways to release it and unwind after a long week. Thus, as hard as it is, I would recommend just being patient, and not allowing your frustration to turn into a judgmental attitude. Eventually, they’ll quiet down, so this shouldn’t be a long-lasting obstacle to your personal quiet time.

4. Find organization and planning strategies that work for you 

Between your numerous courses and extracurricular involvements, you’ll have a lot on your plate. It’ll therefore be necessary to find a personal method of keeping detailed schedules to help you keep track of assignments and obligations. For many neurodivergent folks, especially those with ADHD, this can be a tall order. There are several “life hacks” I enjoy using to plan out my strategies for completing everything. 

There are simple but still helpful actions like adding important paper deadlines and test dates to a virtual calendar. (You can even set up alerts to go off a day or so before a due date). There are also more detailed strategies like “backwards planning,” in which I select a date for finishing an essay, then map out what steps I would like to have finished in the days leading up to that target date. For example, I might aim to do a final revision a day before the target date, write the conclusion two days before, the last body section three days before, etc. 

Sometimes, you might not feel confident creating planning methods yourself, and that’s okay! There are people you can approach to work with you. For instance, Writing Center tutors can help you plan out a strategy for working on essays, and as a bonus, they can help you brainstorm or polish any finished writing you have. And of course, your professors will be happy to organize your homework-completing schedule during office hour meetings.

Jack Griffiths is a senior at Notre Dame majoring in English with a supplementary major in global affairs. His areas of interest include neurodivergence, migration and the intersections between faith and public policy. When he’s not writing, you can find him singing with the Liturgical Choir, walking around the lakes or playing Super Smash Bros with folks in his dorm. He can be reached at

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.