The Erasmus School of Economics intends to offer extra supervision for students with attention and concentration deficits, autism, or otherwise acquired brain injuries, during the writing of their bachelor and master theses.
At this point there is a small-scale pilot for economics students, a study that yields hundreds of theses every year. Marketing lecturer Nel Hofstra remarks that the factory like approach practically excludes people with ADHD, ADD, or for instance individuals who have concentration problems after an accident. “Within our rigid system everyone has to write their thesis in a couple of months. However, not everyone follows the same pace.”
Those who are affected by an attention or concentration disorder, or another affliction, get through the first year of their bachelors on sheer willpower, says Hofstra. “Once they are in the thesis procedure and more independence and initiative are expected, things start going wrong and they get stuck. Regardless of intelligence.” There are about 65 students officially registered with ADHD or ADD at the EUR.
‘Flexible thesis supervision’
In order to alleviate unnecessary frustration and disappointment, the marketing lecturer recommends customized supervision. On her own initiative, backed by the faculty board, she started to set up ‘flexible thesis supervision’. Next to herself, she found two lecturers who are willing to supervise an additional student, on top of their regular work. In the long-run she hopes that at least one lecturer per study will join the initiative, so that students can find supervisors regardless of their subject.
Hofstra herself leads the charge. She just finished supervising a student with more individual needs. Now, she is looking for a good description of the process. Calling it balancing fits well, because on the one hand you have to push the student to get their work done, on the other hand you need to give them space. “The beauty of it is that you gain insight into the life of a student, because frequently they are open, creative and spontaneous. At the same time that makes the process of supervising more intensive.”
Teachers don’t know how to help
When approaching lecturers, she finds that many are willing to help but do not know how. This is reflected in the results of the National Student Survey. EUR-lecturers scored a 6.5 on the category ‘understanding of students with special needs’ and a 6 for knowledge of these afflictions. That is below the national average. And, once again, the EUR is at the bottom of the list in the category facilities for students with special needs. At least the overall score improved to a 6.34, up from a 6.2 last year.
Working together with the cluster Study Supervision – consisting of study advisors and psychologists – from the Student Affairs division, Hofstra is working on a plan to make her initiative more concrete. How lecturers can interact with special needs students in the most constructive way is part of the plan. LJ