What Neurodiversity Looks Like In The Classroom

Neurodiversity in the Classroom
Neurodiversity is a term used to describe the range of neurological differences that exist among people. These differences can include learning disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), processing disorders, dyslexia, dysgraphia, and more. Often, these conditions make learning and interacting in school more difficult.

These conditions can manifest themselves in a myriad of ways, so it can be difficult to identify the signs. This makes it even more tricky to connect the signs of neurodiversity to the actual issues that may be present and even more difficult to find the right support needed for a neurodiverse student to succeed.

In the classroom, it is essential to recognize and accommodate these differences to support the learning and growth of all students.

As we explore what neurodiversity looks like in the classroom, we'll cover some common skills that are often overlooked, as well as some of the different types of conditions of neurodiversity that can make learning difficult. Being familiar with this information can help parents support their children in school and many other facets of their lives.

Skills That Neurodiverse Students Struggle With

Executive function skills are cognitive processes that allow individuals to plan, organize, prioritize, initiate, and self-monitor behaviors necessary for goal-directed activities. Neurodiverse students may struggle with these skills, which can impact their success in school. Here are some executive function skills that neurodiverse students may struggle with in school:
  • Time Management: Neurodiverse students may struggle with estimating how long tasks will take and with prioritizing tasks. This can lead to difficulty in completing assignments on time.
  • Organization: Students may struggle with organizing materials and information. This can make it difficult for them to keep track of assignments, notes, and other materials needed for school.
  • Working Memory: Students may struggle with remembering information, such as instructions or key concepts, needed to complete assignments.
  • Self-Regulation: Neurodiverse students may struggle with regulating their emotions and behaviors, leading to impulsive actions, difficulty controlling attention, and difficulty staying on task.
  • Flexibility: Students may struggle with adjusting to changes in routines or unexpected events. This can make it difficult for them to adapt to new situations or tasks.
  • Initiation: Neurodiverse students may struggle with initiating tasks or activities, leading to difficulty starting assignments or projects.
  • Planning and Prioritization: Students may struggle with planning and prioritizing tasks, leading to difficulty in breaking down large assignments into smaller, more manageable tasks.

Strategies to Help Neurodiverse Students Succeed

These executive function skills can impact the success of neurodiverse students in school. Teachers can support students by providing explicit instruction, modeling strategies, and providing accommodations to help students develop these skills.

Strategies such as visual aids, checklists, and task analysis can help students with organization, planning, and time management. Teachers can also provide structured routines, clear expectations, and positive reinforcement to support self-regulation, goal-setting, and flexibility. By supporting executive function skills, teachers can help neurodiverse students succeed in school and beyond.

Common Types of Neurodiversity

ADHD is a common neurodiverse condition affecting students' ability to pay attention, control impulses, and regulate behavior. In the classroom, students with ADHD may struggle to focus on a task, have difficulty following instructions, and act impulsively. To support students with ADHD, teachers can provide clear and concise instructions, break down tasks into smaller, more manageable steps, and provide frequent breaks to help students refocus.

Processing disorders are another type of neurodiversity that can affect a student's ability to process information. These disorders can impact a student's ability to understand language, follow directions, and organize information. In the classroom, students with processing disorders may benefit from visual aids, such as diagrams or charts, to help them understand information. Teachers can also use multisensory teaching strategies, such as incorporating movement or hands-on activities, to help students engage with the material.

Dyslexia is a learning difference that can impact a student's ability to read and write. Students with dyslexia may struggle with phonemic awareness, decoding, and spelling. Teachers can provide accommodations such as audiobooks, assistive technology, and extra time for assignments and tests in the classroom. Teachers can also use a multisensory approach to teaching reading, incorporating visual, auditory, and kinesthetic elements to support students with dyslexia.

Dysgraphia is a learning difference that affects a student's ability to write. Students with dysgraphia may struggle with handwriting, spelling, and organizing their thoughts on paper. In the classroom, teachers can provide accommodations such as allowing students to type their assignments, providing extra time for writing tasks, and using graphic organizers to help students organize their thoughts.

Dyspraxia, also called developmental coordination disorder, impacts a person's coordination and ability to perform motor skills. Dyspraxia can be noticeable at an early age by delays in sitting or crawling, but it can also go unnoticed until a child is older and is just considered "clumsy." This motor disorder affects approximately 6% of school-aged kids, more commonly boys.

Dyscalculia is a condition that impairs a student's ability to understand concepts related to numbers, including arithmetic, telling or keeping track of time, measuring, and subitizing. It is often compared to dyslexia, but instead of struggling with reading, students with dyscalculia struggle with math. However, the disorders are different and impact different parts of the brain.

How Can I Help My Neurodiverse Child Succeed in School?

No one knows your child better than you, and that is a great strength when it comes to supporting your child with the realities of neurodiversity. Here are just a few ways that you can help them be successful in school:
  • Build a partnership with the school: Work with your child's teachers and school staff to understand your child's needs and strengths. Share information about your child's neurodiversity and collaborate with the school to develop strategies and accommodations that will support your child's success.
  • Advocate for accommodations: Make sure your child receives any accommodations or services they are entitled to under the law. This may include things like extra time on assignments or tests, assistive technology, or a quiet space to work.
  • Encourage self-advocacy: Help your child develop self-advocacy skills by teaching them to understand their own strengths and challenges and to communicate their needs to teachers and other school staff.
  • Provide structure and routine: Many neurodiverse students benefit from predictable routines and clear expectations. Work with your child to create a daily routine and schedule that includes time for homework, studying, and other activities.
  • Foster independence: Encourage your child to develop independence by allowing them to make decisions and solve problems independently. This can help build confidence and self-esteem.
  • Celebrate successes: Celebrate your child's successes, no matter how small. Recognize and praise their efforts and accomplishments to build their confidence and motivation.
  • Seek out support: Connect with other parents of neurodiverse students to share experiences and resources. Consider seeking professional support, such as therapy or tutoring, if your child is struggling with specific challenges.

These are just a few ways parents can help support their neurodiverse students in school. By working with the school and providing structure, support, and encouragement, parents can help their children succeed academically and emotionally.

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