Do mind-mapping tools help all neurodiverse students?

Ray Martin investigates…

Under the DSA (Disabled Students Allowance), students may receive some form of online mind mapping (this is often Mindview) – but they don’t all use it. Some students – neurodiverse or neurotypical – prefer the physicality of making a map by hand. This doesn’t mean they have a luddite or fixed mindset, they just prefer paper and pencil. Some want A3 maps or even bigger. (I don’t have a good feeling about this but sometimes, when a gentle suggestion agitates a student, it’s best to keep quiet, I find, and work with what you’ve got.)

Some students like to be on the move to plan. They might do this on their phone or they might use stickers – and generally speaking, they need to learn they are at their best on the move (school discourages this, of course), it comes as a surprise. One support tutor suggested using the wall to plan (lots of lovely movement) to one student, but, no, he ‘knew’ he learned best when he was sitting down. She asked him to describe his journey to college with his hands palm down, unmoving, on the table. He couldn’t do it. He then planned his essay with stickers on the wall. Freedom. Facility.

I suggested to one student that she brainstormed onto scrap paper then planned her dissertation physically, putting the scraps in piles, arranging and rearranging the piles. She came back the following week having bought a washing line on which she pegged her planning scraps. When new material came, she could run up and down the line moving things, fully physically engaged.

I’ve also had the occasional student who is almost fanatical about linear planning, with every paragraph sorted in bullet points before being able to write a sentence. It has looked painful, but it has clearly been the only way they think they can control the chaos. There is fear when I suggest a different approach. Mindview and other tools are lifelines for many, many neurodiverse students – and for PhDs, you probably can’t beat Scrivener. I suspect this is a ‘must’ for neurodiverse and neurotypical alike.

Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

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