Dr. V.S. Gayathri
How Can You Support Neurodiverse Students In A Classroom As An Educator?
Our education system has undergone a huge evolution over time, and it is still evolving. The most important thing about education today is taking care of the needs of all types of students because different individuals learn differently. And, our educators must be trained and equipped with strategies and resources so that they can enable learning for different types of students.
Inclusion is the key in today’s societal, educational, and professional space. Hence, the learning system should also incorporate ways to nurture, support, and groom neurodiverse students.
As we are aware of the #NeurodiverstityCelebrationWeek, let us understand a few simple ways in which educators can make their classroom into a production and progressive learning ecosystem for these students.
A top leader in the field of neurodiversity in education, Thomas Armstrong, Ph.D., the author of Awakening Genius in the Classroom and the Executive Director of the American Institute for Learning and Human Development mentioned in his book that teachers should help children with “finding their inner genius and support them in guiding it into pathways that can lead to personal fulfillment and to the benefit of those around them.” This approach embraces creativity, which Armstrong says children have in abundance due to not having been exposed to the “conventional attitudes of society.”
Teachers are still exploring the term ‘neurodiversity’, and it is a learning phase for them as well. According to facts, the interest in the term neurodiversity has increased significantly over the past decade, with web searches really taking off after 2015 according to Google Trends. It refers to students who have autism, ADHD, and other learning differences than their neurotypical peers.
Sometimes, the lack of training or knowledge can lead some educators to make mistakes when working with neurodiverse students. For example, they may focus on their learning differences without acknowledging their strengths and opportunities.
5 Important Things An Educator Can Do To Make Neurodiverse Students Comfortable In A Classroom
Create a psychologically safe environment: A psychologically safe for kids is a learning environment where they:
· Don’t feel left out because of any of their shortcoming
· Feel physically and mentally safe to learn new information
· Feel safe to contribute their ideas to the group
· Feel empowered to ask questions and don’t feel stupid if they do
Research shows that students in psychologically safe classroom environments reported greater self-confidence and well-being. Sometimes, neurodivergent students struggle to verbally communicate their thoughts and opinions effectively or at all.
One of the best ways for teachers to handle this is to patiently listen to them, and summarize what they want to convey. So, active listening and empathetic behaviour are crucial in these cases.
Know the strengths and weaknesses of students: Research shows that neurodivergent students typically thrive in more creative subjects, but struggle with assessments on the core subjects of Science, English, and Mathematics. So, it is important to know the student’s strengths and weaknesses rather than generalizing them.
The Education Endowment Foundation proposes these four methods that teachers can utilize:
Assess: Gather information from several sources such as parents, carers, specialist professionals, and the student themselves to create a holistic picture of the student’s needs.
Plan: Based on this information, consider what research-based teaching strategies may best support these students. These plans must be structured and well-thought-out rather than something that is occasionally implemented.
Do: Implement the plan.
Review: Gain feedback from students or how confident they are with their responses to determine how successful the strategy was and whether it needs to be modified.
Try different teaching strategies: Since different students learn in different ways, educators might need to try varied teaching techniques. First, one must know from the above step what will work best for the students. Most importantly, they need to give all the students a basic and simple understanding of what neurodiversity is.
Different teaching methods can include more role-plays, interrogative group discussions, the use of flashcards, and many others. Some other creative examples can be regular classroom debates, gamified exams and testing, etc.
Break-down things into smaller sections: Often, the brain structure and chemistry of neurodiverse people do not allow them to focus well on a single topic for a longer period of time. Here, teachers can help the children by presenting lesson plans in smaller, more easily digestible bites.
Although this might take time to finish the lesson, it has its benefits like:
Allowing students to make connections in their learning
Allowing them to make steady progress
Understanding why each step is important
Allowing teachers to assess student progress more quickly
Making the task more manageable
We have already covered why it is important to break lessons into smaller chunks which makes it easily intelligible to all.
Raise expectation levels: Finally, and most importantly, teachers must believe in the capability of each and every student. Educators must not ignore or ridicule any section of students and give them equal opportunities to learn and prosper.
They can set individual goals for students that are reasonably achievable within any limitations they may have. Teachers must be flexible and understanding, they also need to set high, but realistic expectations. They must not display the wrong non-verbal cues because many neurodiverse students are good at picking up on such cues.
Believing that students can achieve great things regardless of their learning disabilities is an essential component of supporting neurodiverse students.
Even if you only have a few neurodiverse students in your classroom (or just one) the steps taken to create a safe and engaging learning environment can benefit all the students in some way or the other. So, educational institutions and educators must take a constructive step towards acknowledging neurodiversity and including strategies that can help them create a more welcoming system for all.