You are using an outdated browser. Please upgrade your browser to improve your experience and security.

31 May 2022
By The Education People

Understanding and Celebrating Neurodiversity in Education

Estimated Read Time - 4 minutes

With Neurodiversity Celebration Week just behind us, we thought it pertinent to touch on neurodiversity in education.

With school being the place where most children spend the majority of each week, and with one in seven people being neurodivergent, it's clear that it must be considered (and celebrated) from an early age.

Understanding Neurodivergence

Let's kick off with some of the basics. First of all, what is neurodivergence?

Well, neurodivergence reflects the fundamental biological fact that there are limitless varieties of the human brain.

A neurodivergent person's neurotype diverges from that of the majority of society in one way or another. Different kinds of neurodivergence include:

  • ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder)
  • autism
  • dyspraxia
  • dyslexia
  • dyscalculia
  • OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder)
  • tourette's
  • and more.

As you can see, there are infinite varieties of neurodivergence and, as with neurotypical people (those whose neurotypes are typical of most people in society) every person is different. One person with ADHD can be wildly different from another person who is autistic, and further still, two autistic people can be completely different too.

Some neurodivergent people like to refer to it as a difference in processing - like a computer programme. You might be running on Apple, while I'm running on Microsoft, for example.

It follows, then, that things can get difficult for neurodivergent children when the world is built for people that run on Apple, but not on Microsoft.

Working with Neurodiversity in Education

It's critical to understand that the neurodivergence and the child are not separable. Theoretically, if you take the autism from the child, for example you take away the child's entire being.

This is the foundation to work from when it comes to working with neurodivergence in a school setting. And the key, it's clear, is 'working with' the child/young person and their needs, not around their neurodivergence.

So, what can you do?

Research and Share Resources

Understanding neurodivergence and its many sub-types is the first step to a neurodiverse-friendly learning environment.

We can all benefit from learning more about our fellow human beings, and there are some great resources out there to get you started.

Take a look at the Neurodiversity Week website's school resources here. They provide many comprehensive factsheets and downloadable PDFs on all kinds of neurodivergence, and suggestions for activities.

Printing out these resources or sharing them round in a staff email is an excellent starting point.

Promote Understanding

It's not only teachers that need to understand their neurodivergent peers. For a happier, more productive classroom, it's crucial to teach children about what it might mean to be autistic, to have ADHD, OCD, Tourettes and other kinds of neurodivergence.

Here are some approaches to take:

  • encourage acceptance and empathy by teaching children and young people that everyone is fundamentally different, and that one person's needs can vary greatly from another person's
  • reinforce the brilliance of everyone's differences by encouraging pupils to take pride in their uniqueness, and to view themselves as part of a diverse classroom and wider school community
  • build a sense of community by ensuring that every individual feels valued and knows they have an impact, and by encouraging teachers to understand the needs and strengths of each individual
  • normalise variations in learning styles and needs by modelling different ways of undertaking tasks and allowing for flexibility as such - no single method is the 'right' way
  • teach about neurodiversity both explicitly and by weaving it into the curriculum (eg teaching about significant individuals in history who were neurodivergent).

Celebrate with Neurodiversity Weeks/Months

While neurodiversity should of course be embraced year-round, awareness and celebration weeks can be vital for neurodivergent and neurotypical children and young people alike.

After all, the more we understand each other, the stronger our overall sense of belonging becomes. When one in four children/young people feel they don't belong in school, this is all the more important.

Celebrate by taking part in events like:

Neurodiversity and SEND Training

If you are looking to learn more about neurodiversity and special educational needs, browse our Primary Event Catalogue or our Secondary Event Catalogue for Special Education Needs and Disability (SEND). New events and training courses are being added all the time, if you can't find what you are looking for please contact our CPD team.

Our Specialist Employment Service offer help and support via a Supported Internship. A Supported Internship supports students aged 16-24 years with SEND who have an Education and Health Care Plan to gain the right skills for the modern workplace.

If you are an employer the service are able to offer Autism Awareness Training so you are fully confident and able to support either colleagues or customers with autism.

Further details about Specialist Employment/Supported Employment click here or contact the Specialist Employment team here.

When you have a child/young person whose first language is not English, the Equality Diversity Inclusion Team (EDIT) can offer support and guidance in determining whether lack of progress is down to limitations in their command of English or if it is from SEND. You can find out more here: Identifying Special Education Needs, English as an Additional Language or Both. For further details please contact EDIT here.

An extensive range of support and guidance is also available for early years settings around the topic of SEND.  Take a look at Thread 7 - Equality and Inclusion for information of how the Early Years and Childcare Service can assist. Or visit the Early Years and Childcare Equality and Inclusion event catalogue for CPD training. You can contact the Early Years and Childcare Service directly here.

On a slightly different angle, we have a fascinating (online) early years conference coming up this July - Bringing the Neuroscience into Practice.  Dr Mine Conkbayir will be looking at the developing brain and what the key factors are that influence the process of brain development. This will also be exploring the impact of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and why by adopting a relationship-based approach can made a huge difference on an infant's social and emotional world. Whilst Tamsin Grimmer will be looking at how through developing a loving pedagogy, nurturing children and promoting secure attachments we can help children feel emotionally safe and secure.