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Anisha Johal and Charlotte Blackburn-Peer

Charlotte Blackburn-Peer (left) and Anisha Johal (right)

What is university life like if you have a neurological condition? Two students share their inspiring stories from their time at Loughborough

Anisha Johal and Charlotte Blackburn-Peer are both preparing to graduate from Loughborough University next week.

After what has been a challenging year for all students, they have both overcome additional challenges during their time at University that some of their peers might not have even been aware of, making graduation a particularly poignant achievement.

During her childhood, Anisha spent a lot of time in hospital as both herself and her brother were diagnosed with rare genetic disorders. She helped care for her brother who was also diagnosed with Autism at a young age, but shortly before coming to university, Anisha was told she also had Autism, which came as a huge shock to her.

She was daunted about starting university and the challenges she may face as a result of this new diagnosis. She even considered not attending at all, but was determined to join Loughborough University to study a BSc in Economics.

Anisha chose to live at home but commuting had its own challenges as changes to schedules or unusually busy trains would make her very anxious. However, she worked hard to incorporate strategies into her routine to help deal with these moments, including practising her journey at different times of the day and learning to accept that sometimes things do not go to plan, and that’s okay.

Socialising at university was something she was also particularly anxious about, so she joined the group chats set up for new students to engage with people on her course. Doing this introduced her to some of her closest friends and created a support network for her.

The Student Wellbeing and Inclusivity team also worked with Anisha to give her the support that she needed; they helped to familiarise her with the campus and ensured accommodations were put in place to aid her university experience. These included a Dictaphone to record lectures so that she could listen back to them, helping her to absorb the information, and she was given support to improve her time management and study skills.

When asked what her advice would be for those with Autism she said: “Try to engage with the support teams at the universities. Talk to them about your needs and discuss how they might be able to support you.

“The most helpful tool for me before joining was requesting private tours of the university on days that were not open days. If someone is hyper-aware of their surroundings, this might be useful to avoid being over-stimulated on open days where there are many people and there can be lots of noise.”

She added: “For current students who are struggling with challenges in their personal life, my biggest advice would be to access support. Nobody is ever alone at university and there are so many ways in which you can be supported.”

Sports Management graduand, Charlotte, was diagnosed with ADHD, Asperger’s and Dyslexia when she was 15 and was told she would find it hard to even complete her GCSEs, let alone go to university. However, Charlotte became the first person in her family to enter higher education.

She explained that lectures were quite difficult to follow when she first started at Loughborough, and she found it hard to convey her thoughts in essays. To support her, the University introduced her to a Study Skills Support Worker who helped her navigate any software she needed to use and taught her techniques for planning and writing essays, as well as revision and exam tactics.

Helen Shaw, Disability Access and Learning Manager said: “Student Wellbeing and Inclusivity (SWAI) is proud of the journey the University has taken to support disabled students through their academic journey. It is always a pleasure to see students we have worked with progress towards graduation and we wish Anisha and Charlotte the very best for the future.”

Reflecting on her journey, Charlotte said she did not feel confident when she first started university, as her Asperger’s can make it difficult to engage in social situations and she found it difficult to adapt to university life. The Disability Support Team provided two mentors who were able to discuss any situations Charlotte was struggling with and coach her through it. They also helped her with her ADHD, providing tips on staying organised and getting the most out of lectures. She joined the Women’s Football club which encouraged her to meet others and eventually gave her the confidence to be part of the club committee.

For those who might have a combination of neurological conditions like Charlotte but feel anxious about going to university, she said the following: “Loughborough is incredibly supportive in the inclusion of neuro-diverse people. There is plenty of support available and if you think the help you are receiving isn’t working, the University will do everything in its power to facilitate what’s right for you.”

After graduation, Charlotte will be studying nursing at King’s College London. She commented: “I’m excited and proud of myself. I know looking back to 16-year-old me I’d be so surprised and impressed at myself. I’m very happy to be graduating and I’m excited for the future.”

Anisha will also be moving to London to start a graduate scheme in assurance: “Moving to another city is a very daunting prospect, but the skills that I have learned when adapting to university life will definitely help me to tackle the next chapter in my life.” 

ENDS

Notes for editors

Press release reference number: 21/139

Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for research that matters, excellence in teaching, strong links with industry, and unrivalled achievement in sport and its underpinning academic disciplines.

It has been awarded five stars in the independent QS Stars university rating scheme, named the best university in the world for sports-related subjects in the 2020 QS World University Rankings and University of the Year by The Times and Sunday Times University Guide 2019.

Loughborough is in the top 10 of every national league table, being ranked 7th in the Guardian University League Table 2021, 5th in the Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2020 and 6th in The UK Complete University Guide 2021.

Loughborough is consistently ranked in the top twenty of UK universities in the Times Higher Education’s ‘table of tables’ and is in the top 10 in England for research intensity. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, Loughborough has been awarded seven Queen's Anniversary Prizes.

The Loughborough University London campus is based on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and offers postgraduate and executive-level education, as well as research and enterprise opportunities. It is home to influential thought leaders, pioneering researchers and creative innovators who provide students with the highest quality of teaching and the very latest in modern thinking.

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