Note-taking hacks for autistic students

You can’t escape taking notes during your studies. Whether you’re in a lecture, preparing an assignment or revising for an exam, note-taking abilities are an important part of not only learning, but maintaining a healthy mental wellbeing. According to Studies in Higher Education 95% of disabled students have reported struggling with note-taking

A recent study tells us that some of the challenges autistic university students reported include information processing speed, group work and following lectures. Free, multiplatform and accessible word processors like Google Docs have some great things to offer students looking to overcome these barriers and unlock their full potential. 

Read on to discover the ways Google Docs can help you to create and collaborate with confidence:

Type with your voice

Do you have difficulty transferring your thoughts into the written word? Speech-to-text software can be a real game-changer. The accuracy and ease of Google Doc’s Voice Typing tool - “shockingly accurate" according to Quartz at Work - frees students from the physical effort of typing and allows them to focus on expressing their ideas.

Voice typing can also help to remove the challenges of speed note-taking and prioritising information some autistic students face in lectures. As universities become more inclusive lectures are often recorded for students to review and process at their own pace. Why not create your own transcript of the lecture using voice typing in Google Docs? If you want to you can listen to the recording through your headphones and speak the recording out loud as you do. 

Screen capture of Google Docs Talk to Type in use

Bonus Hack!

Do you ever have flashes of inspiration or things you need to jot down quickly whilst on the go? The handy Google Keep app lets you to take photos, handwrite with digital ink and record audio. You can then integrate notes into Google Docs to flesh out your ideas! Check out this previous instalment in our hack-in-the-box series on Google Keep for more top tips!

Screen capture of Google Keep interface example showing reminders, deadlines and photos

Share documents

Group work can be daunting for all students, but for autistic students the level of social interaction required can make it particularly stressful. Google Docs offers a solution - students can share files or whole folders to edit together in real-time, from anywhere and on any device. If you are autistic, the ability to virtually collaborate on shared work can give you the time you need to think without the stress associated with anything from making eye contact to meeting up in loud and crowded places.

Sharing Google Docs is also a valuable tool for receiving study support whilst maintaining independence and control over your own work. You can send your essay to your tutor, friend or parent for them to edit with feedback, but you remain the owner of the document with complete control over access, visibility and deletion of the file. 

Chatting while you work

In a shared file you don’t need to just rely on comments to communicate with others, you can collaborate over chat too! Having a chat box in the file further helps to make group work more accessible for those with social difficulties as it enables complex discussion without meeting up and avoids the need to connect on social media. 

Choose add-ons to suit you

How people experience autism differs widely, and whilst ASD is not a learning disability, confidence with writing can be affected. Google Docs has plenty of exciting add-ons (many of them free) to assist students in creating notes that are exactly the way they want them to be. Add-ons include spelling and grammar support such as LanguageTool and visually appealing mind-mapping software like MindMeister - all yours for the choosing!

Bonus Hack!

Is the cluttered screen crushing your creativity? Stay focused with Distraction Free Mode for Google Docs! This great extension hides all controls and buttons and lets you focus on the writing. 

Example of Distraction Free Mode on screen

Studying in Higher Education? Support is available...

You don’t have to think of yourself as disabled to be eligible for Disabled Students Allowance (DSA). If you are a UK student with a disability, long-term condition or a specific learning difficulty such as dyslexia you may be eligible for extra support. Specialist hardware, software and one-to-one study support are some of the ways DSA can help you. Check if you’re eligible for DSA now by using our free Higher Education Support Checker.

AbilityNet can help

AbilityNet is a UK charity that helps people to use technology to achieve their goals. If you have questions about disability and technology you can call us on 0800 269 545 or email

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