Neurodiversity at School

Neurodiversity at School

19 August 2022 • Words by Karla Pretorius 5 mins

Neurodivergent students learn, think, and process information differently than their neurotypical peers. Because of this, they often face unique challenges in the school setting. Neurodivergent students may struggle with executive functioning skills, such as organization and time management. They may also struggle with typical social and communication skills and have sensory processing difficulties. As a result, they may be more likely to experience anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. Despite these challenges, neurodivergent students are often highly intelligent and creative. They may think outside the box and see the world in a unique way. Neurodivergent students include those diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyslexia, dyspraxia, and related conditions. 

According to Stenning and Bertilsdotter-Rosqvist (2021), it could be argued that seeing neurodivergent students as different and separate from neurotypical students might be more harmful than beneficial, and that both groups can learn from each other. Schools can support neurodivergent students by providing accommodations and modifications within existing structures and activities. For example, a student with ADHD may benefit from a shorter school day or a reduced homework load. They could start with a shorter day, beginning with some one-on-one time and brief assignments. This could then become a longer day and more homework assignments, if these are necessary. 

A student diagnosed with autism may need extra help with social skills or sensory processing. They might need specific social stories that explain these interactions clearly and then time to practice in real life. It is important for teachers and staff to be aware of the challenges neurodivergent students face. By creating a supportive and inclusive environment, schools can help neurodivergent students thrive and ultimately all students will benefit from these accommodations.

ADHD at School

A 2016 National Survey of Children’s Health found that 8.4% of U.S. children aged two to seventeen had ADHD (Danielson et al., 2018). That means in a classroom of 30 students, it’s likely that two to three children have ADHD. And while every child is different, there are some common challenges that these children face at school. For example, they may have difficulty paying attention in class, following instructions, and completing tasks. They may also be easily distracted, impulsive, and have difficulty controlling their emotions. As a result, these children often struggle in school. 

There are things that both teachers and parents can do to help children with ADHD succeed in school. Here are some tips:

The importance of sleep.

A child with ADHD may have difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep. As a result, they may be tired during the day, which can impact their ability to focus and concentrate in school. Moshi has some excellent tracks to support regular bedtime routines and help children fall asleep. Check out this compilation of bedtime stories and music.

Create a routine and stick to it.

A set routine can help a child with ADHD feel more comfortable and secure. It can also help them know what to expect each day, making transitioning from one activity to another easier. Most of us use our daily alarm and schedule, and we experience the benefit of knowing what to expect. For a child with ADHD, it is crucial for them to mentally prepare for these upcoming changes and to know, when a favorite activity is ending, when they will be able to participate in it again. 

Help them stay organized.

A child with ADHD may have difficulty keeping track of their belongings and completing tasks. Creating a system of organization, such as labeling folders and backpacks, can help the child stay on track. Having a task list, where you can break each activity down in smaller steps, would also help them out. They can then check each part of the activity, like “shoes on, outside time, shoes off, play time.” This strategy will help improve the child’s executive functioning skills—i.e., organizing, planning, and prioritizing.

Encourage taking breaks.

A child with ADHD may have difficulty sitting still for long periods. Allowing the child to take breaks throughout the day, such as going for a walk or stretching, can help them stay focused and calm. Moshi has some excellent brain breaks, such as Goldie’s Five-Minute Brain Break and 1-Minute Moshi Breathing exercise, that help children stay mindful and present during these breaks. 

Be patient.

A child with ADHD may need more time to complete tasks or may make more mistakes than other children. It’s essential to be patient and to provide encouragement. Remember that if a child is motivated and interested in the activity or task, they will be more likely to complete it. Try to create interest-based activities, where possible, or explain to the child why it is important to complete a particular task. If a child with ADHD understands the reason for an activity, they will be more likely to complete it. 

Keep home-school communication open.

It’s important to keep the lines of communication open between home and school. Parents who have concerns about their child’s progress or who notice a change in their behavior should be sure to reach out to their teacher. Collaboration between parents and teachers will be beneficial in creating consistent strategies for everyone to follow and implement.

Dyslexia and Dyspraxia at School

Dyslexia and dyspraxia can significantly impact children’s ability to learn and succeed in school. While there are some similarities between the two conditions, they often present differently in children and can require different support approaches.

Dyslexia is a neurological condition that affects reading skills. It can impact a child’s ability to read accurately and fluently and to understand what they read. Dyslexia can also affect other areas of learning, such as writing and spelling.

Dyspraxia is a motor coordination disorder that can affect a child’s ability to plan and execute movements. It can impact fine motor skills such as writing and gross motor skills such as running and jumping. Dyspraxia can also affect a child’s ability to process information and remember instructions.

Both dyslexia and dyspraxia can make school a challenge for children. They may struggle with keeping up with their classmates and may be teased or bullied as a result. It is important for teachers and parents to be aware of the signs of both conditions and to provide support and accommodations where needed.

There are several things that teachers can do to support children with dyslexia or dyspraxia in the classroom. These include:

Parents can also support their child by ensuring that they receive any necessary testing and evaluations, and by working with the school to develop an appropriate Individualized Education Plan (IEP). They can also provide additional help and practice at home and advocate for their child’s needs. Dyslexia and dyspraxia can be difficult conditions to manage, but with the right support, children can thrive in school and reach their full potential.

These accommodations and tips for parents and teachers will not only benefit a neurodivergent child, but their neurotypical peers too. If we create a “child-centered” classroom and parts of our home, we will witness the change in our children, as activities and tasks will be strength- and interest-based. Every child is different and requires their own set of strategies, but as the parent or teacher, you will be able to determine what is best by looking at the child, observing where they might be struggling, and then testing out ways for them to feel more supported in these areas or during these times. 

“Children are not things to be molded, but are people to be unfolded.” – Jess Lair

Karla Pretorius

A registered counselor with a MA in Psychology. Co-founder: AIMS Global & Leadership at: Augmental