Neurodiversity and University Accommodation

Disability Rights and Education

Neurodiversity and University Accommodation

I am neurodiverse, my brain and CNS function differently.  In 2004, following what looked to be a stroke I say an MRI of my brain speckled with lesions. A spinal tap confirmed a diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis (MS).  After 15 years of looking at MRI’s, my new neurologist pointed out that my corpus callosum, the thick bundle of nerves connecting the two hemispheres of the brain, is thinning due to MS.  This piece of information, never before shared, let me understand for the first time that I am neurodiverse.  The words that fail to show up are symptoms of the right and left hemispheres miscommunicating.  The need to look away or gaze at something when someone is talking is because I can be flooded with sensory information easily throwing off my ability to listen.  My inability to fill out simple forms because by the time I am ready to answer I forget the question.  This may also explain why all multiple-choice questions were guesswork, and I always perform poorly.  I am very capable of failing a mystical choice exam on a topic I know very well.  All the information is jumbled, cognitive links are impossible to make.  Crossing out the wrong answers made it worse because then the lines distract my attention. This is an example of education serving technology instead of the student. 

 My corpus callosum begin to thin when I contracted MS in 1977. Despite this and dyslexia I completed 2 degrees and 2 graduate certificates with a learning disorder and no accommodation.  I found my accommodation, my undergraduate degrees are in art.  I was short 3 credits from graduating and could not write another paper and painted my way out of my degree. 

The Art Therapy school I attended is not accredited. A surprise I found out when I first asked for accommodation and was denied.  Non-accredited schools can issue degrees by claiming to be preparing students for ministry and legally deny students accommodation.  I sued and lost.  There was to be no accommodation to help me pass my thesis.  My options were, take the graduate certificate that does not allow me to register or pay continuation and tuition fees and complete the Capstone course.  My 2014 Canadian Art Therapy Association presentation on Making Sense of MS using Art Therapy; and Autoethnography and the technical paper published for the University of Alberta, a qualitative study into graduate students’ experiences of the Community-Based Research graduate program, that lists me as an author were rejected as substandard examples of my ability to perform research.  I was also denied the right to use an editor to help me revise the failed thesis.  They are correct, I cannot put things into nice tidy order.  I took the Certificate, gave them the finger, and got on with life. 

I say this to help the reader understand that I am not talking out of my hat. I am as well qualified as my papered colleagues.  My brain works differently and for that reason my papers are different. Mine ignore the 350 hours of art therapy practicum work I completed, or the thesis I wrote, “How women living with MS express Post Traumatic Growth through art”; an ethnography.   

This is also a cautionary tale.  If you are planning on entering a Post Secondary Institution in Canada and have a disability make sure the College is accredited and ask them before you start how they can accommodate your learning needs.

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