Think of neurodiversity as being like biodiversity.

All plants and animals are unique - a little different to others in it's species in one way or another. All people are different too, in how they think and behave.
We all share characteristics, but we all have our own unique characteristics - right from early childhood.

Being neurodiverse is not abnormal, but simply a variation on the “typical” brain.  From brain imaging, we have seen that people with neurodevelopmental disorders and differences in their way of thinking may have some differences in brain structures, and there is a suggestion that they could be “wired” differently to their peers.  

There's no one size fits all in Education

For neurodivergent children and adolescents, they often think, learn, and process information in a different way to their peers, which can affect their socialisation and education.
These differences can lead to challenges for children in education. For example, they may find it harder to learn to read or take notes or sit the tests that their peers do. They may find it hard to focus and pay attention in the classroom.  It does not mean that there is something “wrong” with neurodivergent children, just that they may be different to others in their class or group. But as we have already mentioned, aren’t we all different to everyone else?

Education does not have to be a negative experience for neurodiverse children –

  • We can encourage children by telling them how their differences are to be celebrated, not feared.  
  • We can encourage neurodivergent children to self-advocate in the classroom, encouraging them to speak up for their rights, thoughts, and needs.
  • By encouraging the child to think of neurodivergence as a difference, not an impairment, it can help the child to understand their uniqueness, which can benefit their self-esteem.
  • Being able to bring about these positive adjustments can be helpful to them later in life, in college, university, and the workplace.

Some Neurodivergent Issues and Education

It is important to consider individual differences when looking at how any child performs at school. Much as neurotypical students vary considerably in their strengths and weaknesses, so too do neurodivergent children. 

Neurodivergent children who have problems with learning may have issues with one of more area of learning e.g., reading, mathematics. Many will struggle in schools if they don’t receive special education services. Dyslexia, or reading difficulties, is the most prevalent learning difficulty. However, there is often a disparity between intelligence and reading ability i.e., dyslexic children may have average or higher than average general intelligence yet still find it difficult to learn to read. 

Different types of reading skills may be affected such as word recognition, reading comprehension, or reading fluency. It may be due to visual spatial difficulties (processing printed material), or problems with morphological (usually meaning or grammar) or phonological decoding of words (often due to delayed language or problems naming). Sometimes these problems may all be present, sometimes only one is present. Sometimes memory problems are also involved, especially short-term memory.

Some autistic children show hyperlexia. That is, they can read words at levels beyond what is expected for their developmental level though they also have poor reading comprehension. Other children with language difficulties may also show hyperlexia.   
Reading difficulties do not remit over time, and children who struggle in this area at school usually don’t attain the same reading levels as their peers. They tend to avoid reading and this can affect their general knowledge over time and writing skills.      

Children with reading differences may benefit from early intervention during kindergarten years and through to age 6. ‘Systematic synthetic phonics’ is an approach which can be used. It involves teaching students to convert letters into sounds and to blend these sounds to form words. However, no single approach is usually effective on its own so using several strategies is more helpful. Ways to enhance vocabulary can include -

  • Guided oral reading and repeated reading
  • Pre-teaching new vocabulary words before they are encountered in text
  • Repeated exposure to new vocabulary words in different contexts

Ways to improve comprehension can include -

  • Teaching comprehension monitoring
  • Using graphic and semantic organisers (like story maps)
  • Examining the story structure
  • Question generating and answering
  • Summarising content 

Autistic children often benefit from approaches that help to increase their social interaction and communication skills.  These can include -

  • The use of verbal modelling or prompts when teaching
  • Using the child’s interests, choices, or preferred activities 
  • Provision of class notes or lesson outlines
  • Allowing more time for written work
  • Reducing written work requirements
  • Modifying tests to reduce the handwriting (graphomotor) requirements
  • Self-monitoring for some children

For some autistic children the intensity of interventions and learning programs needed may not be possible in an inclusive school setting.

Click for information on our Neurodiversity Course