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  • 01 March 2023
  • 8 min read

How I Manage My Nursing Studies Alongside My Learning Difficulties

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    • Mat Martin
    • Richard Gill
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“A lot of the time I notice things that other people might miss because I'm observing a lot more than other people… I also have a very strong sense of justice that leads to a lot of patient advocacy cause I'm not afraid to turn around and say when I don't think something is right or if I think something can be improved.”

Laura shares her experiences as a Student Nurse with learning difficulties, as well as what help you can access, what she’s learned along the way and her hopes for the future.

Hi, my name's Laura and I'm a second-year adult nursing student. This video is about how I manage my studies as a student with additional learning needs.

I wanted to make this video to raise awareness of learning difficulties and how they can make accessing a nursing career challenging.

Being a student and a qualified nurse is already hard enough without added obstacles. It is important to remember that experiences of learning difficulties are unique to each individual.

How Learning Difficulties Impact My Studies

Sometimes, I can find the social side of nursing quite overwhelming because I mask an awful lot to fit in. I enjoy being social, however, it can be a challenge because I miss read situations, socials, don't always understand cues, I can speak out of turn, I might say something too bluntly, I struggle. I also need to help staying focused in conversations that aren't about work and aren't about a particular interest.

And some people may think that I'm rude or uninterested, and this is particularly a problem when I get tired, and I begin to struggle to mask. In these situations, I find taking five minutes of quiet time helps me to recharge.

I also say to staff that I can't handle non-related work conversations at that moment in time so that I can save what's left of my social battery to give my patients my best. They come first.

It is common for people with learning difficulties to have sensory processing issues. Working in different environments can bring a range of sensory inputs.

Some settings can be overstimulating which can cause certain behaviours based on my level of overstimulation.

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What Helps Make It Easier

I find I can desensitize myself to environments by using gradual exposure.

This is normally done by doing a two or three-hour shift on my first day of a placement and then that's normally enough to desensitize myself. Once I have been desensitized, I tend to thrive in busy environments as it's harder for me to get bored and lose interest. 

On the contrary, I struggle more with under stimulation. I get bored quickly and I lose interest in things very, very quickly. I enjoy a challenge and I need to be kept on my toes. I find lectures awfully under stimulating and they are such a struggle to sit through.

I access material in advance so that lectures are more of a revision session, so that if I can't focus, I'm not necessarily missing out on learning.

I find having colour coded notes helped to make things more visual. And oddly, music helps because I can listen to two things at once and somehow I focus better.

I also find that I unconsciously ‘stim’ a lot and this can come across as disruptive or fidgety. However, my lecturers are a lot better with it than my teachers were at school.

One thing that helps me focus is having squishy Dinos. It's, you know, play over my hands. It's a sensory input, it helps.

My most significant sensory issue is noise.

As I struggle to filter out background noises it can make conversations hard, and I lip read an awful lot. Again, as I said I need help staying focused during verbal discussions and I often forget what has been said. As a nurse, this creates a lot of room for errors and confusion to a occur.

To make life easier for everybody, I tend to ask for things to be put down in writing or I will put it in writing myself. This way I have a visual reminder and it's the same as lectures. I need notes and slides and something visual for lectures.

As I said, I am forgetful, but I also experience object permanence. And this means that if I don't see something, I forget about it. So having everything written in a notepad is a lifesaver.

Benefits Of Being Neurodiverse In Nursing

Some of my traits actually make it easier for me to be a nurse, for example, I am very observant, and detail orientated. This makes me very analytical about things and I find it difficult dealing with ‘half job’ situations. If I'm going to do a job it's going to be done A, B, C, D textbook, fully done.

It also means that a lot of the time I notice things that other people might miss because you know, I'm observing a lot more than other people. My attention to detail and I also have a very strong sense of justice that leads to a lot of patient advocacy. I'm not afraid to turn around and say when I don't think something is right or if I think something can be improved.

I've said it to a sister on a ward before now, I've said, I don't care who you are. If I don't think something is right, I'm going to say it.

A lot of the time I notice things that other people might miss because I'm observing a lot more than other people… I also have a very strong sense of justice that leads to a lot of patient advocacy cause I'm not afraid to turn around and say when I don't think something is right or if I think something can be improved.

But I'm also a very organised and tidy person and I thrive in tidy environments. So my workstation is clean, my meds are all organised. You know, everything is sort of bish, bosch, bam. It's hard to go wrong.

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Where And How You Can Access Support

As I said, this video is also about support that you can access.

So as a student, your first call for support is to contact DSA, Disabled Student Allowance. This can be done through student finance. They will complete a needs assessment for you, and they will help you fund, well, they pretty much fund most of it, anything that you need to make university more accessible.

So, I have assistive technology that helps with my writing, I have something that audio records my lectures so that I can play it back because, well I don't always sit for a whole lecture.

Next, most universities have an additional learning needs organisation within them. So, in BU we have ALS and these people are there to help you, to support you and to put things in place.

So, I have extra time and breaks in exams because I can't sit down long enough. I can exit lectures when needed, I have my lectures recorded, I have early access to materials. They will be your godsend for lectures or seminars or exams.

I've fallen quite lucky with the fact that my tutor is a fantastic person and he supports me so much and I honestly wouldn't have gotten that far without him.

I think it's really important that you find somebody to form that relationship with because he's the one that I go to in absolute floods of tears. He's the one that I go to with absolute joy when I've done really well.

You need that person to fall back on because if another teacher has an issue with you and you can't stand up for yourself, they will be the ones that will back you up. And he has backed me up and gotten me out of trouble for something that could have been a misunderstanding.

Getting Support While On Placement

It is also, I cannot stress this enough, it is also important that you inform occupational health of your condition because they are the people that will facilitate conversations with your placement provider and make them aware of your condition.

With occupational health being on board, placement have to make reasonable adjustments for you, and they can't discriminate against you. So, this protects you from a legal perspective, it protects your rights.

It's just really important that you get them on board. Before I attend a placement, I have a pre-placement meeting which is where I sit down with the university and the placement provider and we discuss my conditions, what my needs are, how I can be supported.

If placement have any questions, they can ask, I can ask questions. And it also just reduces my anxiety because I've got a familiar face, someone who already knows what I'm like in a way, so I don't have to be as anxious on my first couple of weeks.

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Looking To The Future

Thinking about the future, I am both anxious and optimistic when I think about my future role. I think the challenges that I face demonstrate more personal and professional development more so, than other people would have to go through on their journey.

And this is a great talking point, it has been extremely hard trying to navigate the nursing world as a neuro divergent person. In the past year I've come so far, and I hope to continue progressing and to continue getting better and being the best that I can be.

I'm anxious. I am very anxious that someone won't employ me. I know that that's technically illegal, but I have an anxiety there that someone won't employ me because some of my needs might come across as daunting or I might be stereotyped, or they might have a general ignorance. In general, I feel that there is a lot of pressure from the NMC and from uni to be a specific way.

I worry that I can be deemed unprofessional because of a general ignorance of learning difficulties in silly situations. For example, on a placement I was failed on professionalism for crying and I wasn't able to express my emotions immediately and I needed time to process them because of my needs. The nurse that was with me made me feel absolutely horrendous and told me I'm not good enough and that me crying is neglecting my patients.

So yeah, it makes me anxious.

In the future, I need to be in a role that keeps me busy and engaged. I'm not sure what that role will be. I'm sure that I will find something and it will click but I've not gotten there yet, so I don't know.

My biggest piece of advice for anybody with additional learning needs is to just keep going. It is a tricky world to navigate, and you have to find a way to make it work. It will only work if you and your institution work with one another.

It's not a one-sided battle. It is a case of trial and error and I pray that you find a support network, that is the most important part. Your support network, your coping mechanisms, your adjustments, and it will get easier, I promise.

Thank you.

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About the author

Hi I’m Laura and I’m a student nurse studying adult nursing. I have recently joined the team and look forward to creating content in the coming months. I have an interest in learning disabilities and an amazing opportunity to complete an international elective in summer.

    • Mat Martin
    • Richard Gill
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