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Neurodiverse Students Turn to "Out of the Box" Study Options

Neurodiverse students are struggling to navigate school, desperately seeking ways to realise their potential through alternative education pathways. In a new report by Children and Young People with Disability Australia (CYDA), neurodivergent students have provided a laundry list of barriers they have encountered as they finish school, including the low expectations of educators leading to a lack of post-school opportunities, and difficulty accessing appropriate accommodations. Moreover, only half of the neurodiverse students reported feeling welcome and included at school, while only 27% felt supported to learn. 

As the education system continues to fail neurodivergent students, many families have been forced to explore non-traditional pathways to access post-school study options. ATAR remains the dominant pathway to university for school leavers with recent estimates showing almost three-in-four school leavers use ATAR to gain university entry. However, the share admitted on a non-ATAR basis has grown from 15% in 2016 to at least 25% today.

This non-ATAR entry option is a growing trend with some students getting early entry into university before their ATAR results are released. Here is an overview of the most popular alternative pathways for neurodivergent students to pursue post-school studies.

Independent private schools

The number of neurodivergent students enrolled in the Independent school sector has grown substantially over the past decade to over 100,000, representing more than a fifth of all Independent school student enrolments. Families have reported that the benefits of seeking out an independent private school education include smaller classes, more individualised attention, special interest accommodations, and improved facilities. On the flip side, other families have reported that gaining access to independent private schools can prove challenging for neurodivergent students.


Towards the end of 2023, more than 40,000 children were being homeschooled in Australia, double the rate before the pandemic. It is important to know that students who are homeschooled in Australia for Years 11 and 12 cannot get a formal qualification. Often parents fear that homeschooling will lock their children out of university studies. However, students can get an ATAR to use for university entry if needed, or they can continue homeschooling up until the age of 17 without seeking a formal qualification. Homeschooling can greatly reduce anxiety and the mental load for neurodivergent students. However, the pressure on the parent to be their child’s primary educator may prove too demanding for many families balancing work and other commitments.

Certificate courses online

Obtaining a CERT III or Cert IV can also be used as an ATAR alternative and it can be as simple as completing certificate courses online. When using a Cert III to apply for a university course, the student needs to check that it will be accepted. It helps if the Cert III is related to the field that the student is studying. For example, a Cert III in music will not necessarily get a person into nursing.

University pathway courses

Several universities offer pathway courses to allow students a second chance at being accepted into their chosen degree. These courses often give students an ATAR and can at times be free. The good news is that if neurodivergent students decide to continue to a degree, they are already on the road to completion because most universities offer students credit for their completed pathway.

Choosing the study path to suit the student

The school environment often presents numerous additional challenges for neurodivergent students including the need to stick to schedules, manage relationships, navigate overstimulating learning environments and more. Alternative study options are removing the barriers to learning and ensuring that neurodiverse students can access the same tertiary education opportunities and career prospects as their peers.

About the author

This contribution is by Ben Klatt, CEO of Skills Recognition International with over 20 years experience in training and human resources.  Ben has developed a vocational and training resource outside the traditional delivery models in a drive to disrupt the education industry with new technology, research and innovative training. Ben utilises an in-depth knowledge of the latest business and industry trends, combined with qualified staff and comprehensive learning resources, to deliver a service that helps students attain the knowledge and qualifications needed to achieve their dream career.