Socioeconomic Intersectionality and the Academic Careers of Neurodiverse Students

Education of students varies by SES starting at the earliest stages of education (Carter and Welner 2013). This requires special attention to the impact of neurodiversity through the same stages of education and has been explored in texts such as Thomas Armstrong’s Neurodiversity in the Classroom: Strength-based Strategies to Help Students with Special Needs Succeed in School and Life (2012) and Eric Jensen’s Teaching with Poverty

in Mind: What Being Poor Does to Kids’ Brains and What Schools Can Do About It (2010). As a result, students with neurological differences experiencing socioeconomic hardship are less likely than their peers to participate in higher education (Fichten et al. 2014).

Students from families of lower economic status have always been an underrepresented part of American higher education. They are still underrepresented in higher education. Furthermore, students from lower SES are less likely to persist or to attend graduate school (Goldrick-Rab and Han 2011). These factors are compounded by the increased proportion of students with both identified and unidentified disabilities families experiencing economic hardship. For example, although high school graduation rates have risen in the twenty-first century, students with learning disabilities in high school were less likely to either attend college and graduate (Murray et al. 2000; Murnane 2013). Even when students enroll in higher education, after five years, enrollment or graduation rate of disabled students was approximately 80 percent of those without disabilities, a disparity that has long been observed (Berkner and Chavez 1997; Smith and Smith 2014). Higher education dropout rate was found to be highest during the first part of the quarter and the largest number of dropouts occurred in the fall quarter, indicating students are often forced to withdrawal before they are given an opportunity to succeed (Fichten et al. 2014).

Finally, students coming from families with a history of financial difficulties on contemporary campuses may face additional barriers resulting from their relative lack of experience with digital technology. The majority of students entering colleges and universities in contemporary times are assumed to be digital natives. As a result, the assumption that providing online services—including disability accommodations—is embedded into the infrastructures of many colleges and universities. Not only are electronic infrastructures often behind the curve in the creation of flexible universal design, but their evermore present use by colleges and universities augments the effects of existing disparities of experience with and availability of electronic resources. For a student with disabilities, availability of electronic accommodations must be provided carefully and with responsive training option so as to avoid doing more harm than good.

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