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Supporting Neurodiversity in the Classroom

With an estimated 1 in 7 people in the UK thought to be neurodivergent, it’s important that teachers are aware of how to support the neurodiversity of their pupils.

Neurodivergent is an umbrella term that describes people whose brain structure, chemistry and/or function is different from what is considered normal. Conditions such as ADHD, autism, dyslexia dyscalculia, and more are included in the umbrella of neurodiversity.

Neurodivergent students often have lots of strengths and excel in many areas, but may find themselves being left behind by conventional teaching methods. Therefore it’s important that teachers adapt their approach to the variety of different learning styles a class may have.

Get to know your students, and if you have any students with known neurodivergent conditions be sure to do plenty of research to cater for their needs to the best of their ability. Be mindful however that neurodiversity can present differently in everyone and some students may be neurodivergent without a recognised diagnosis yet.

Here’s our 5 recommendations for how to support neurodivergent students in your classroom:

Set clear, structured routines

Try to keep a consistent routine in lessons where possible and start each session with some time to outline the lesson plan to students. At the start of the lesson write a brief list of activities on your teacher board so that students can see it throughout the lesson. Then talk through it before starting, and as you move onto each task be sure to refer back to your list as you explain the next task.

Be sure to include things from outside the daily routine like if a visitor will be coming to the classroom or if a fire alarm test will be happening. Writing it on your board and talking through it, will help neurodivergent students better cope with transitions or unexpected surprises.

Plan in regular short breaks throughout the lesson, a short movement break where you encourage the students to stand up and ‘shake out’ can help keep engagement up and help calm restless students by providing a short burst of energetic activity. You could even play some music to break through the chatter or quiet of the classroom and provide auditory stimulation for those who need it.

Communicate Clearly

For neurodivergent students, clear, direct communication is key. Try to avoid the use of metaphors, rhetorical questions or over explaining when giving instructions. Provide information in small chunks and work through activities step by step so that it doesn’t overwhelm your students. It can also be very beneficial to write your instructions on the whiteboard for students with pictures or icons for students to refer back to if they get stuck or distracted.

Whether your students are in year 11 and taking their exams, or as young as EYFS, it’s important to also have a dialogue with them to communicate their needs. This can be as simple as asking if they need any specific help, or for students that are less forthcoming, try exercises that involve the whole
class so nobody gets missed out.

For instance, mini whiteboards are a great way to check understanding. After explaining a task, check in with your students by asking them to draw a smiley face, a face with a straight mouth or asad face and hold them up to show their understanding. You can instantly see which students need help and have a discussion with them individually about what they’re struggling with.

Remember that communication can also be the best way to tackle disruptive behaviour. For neurodivergent students, this behaviour can sometimes be rooted in overstimulation, under-stimulation or frustration at struggling with the task at hand. Give your students an opportunity to explain to you how they feel so you can address the issue that caused their behaviour in the first place.

Employ a range of teaching strategies

Every child is different and so is their approach to learning. With a class of thirty or more it can be difficult to address each and every pupil’s learning needs, but offering variety in your activities can generally get all of your students engaged at some point, for example by moving between visual, auditory, kinaesthetic, and reading and writing activities.

Where possible, avoid exclusively setting written work as this can lead to some students falling behind and taking longer to complete tasks than their neurotypical classmates.

One useful alternative could be oral practice in pairs or small groups – ask your students to discuss their answers and write down their ideas on a whiteboard. You could integrate mind maps into this exercise too, to get ideas down in a quick and easy way. Or for students who are more visual
learners and like to get creative, drawing activities such as storyboards can be a useful way to demonstrate understanding. You can also use ‘fill in the blank’ or labelling activities or matching exercises to quickly test knowledge.

As well as too much written work, try to avoid public reading as this can be a lot of pressure for students who struggling with visual stress, try to do reading activities individually or in very small groups.

Remember that although a lot of neurodivergent students may struggle with sensory difficulties, their sensory differences can also unlock useful learning thanks to sensory seeking behaviour, so get creative with engaging the five senses! Is there a catchy song you can come up with to help students memorise facts? Or a tactile activity or experiment that will help them experience the learning

Use accessible resources

A lot of the struggles your neurodivergent students may have could be down to resources simply being too difficult to read and therefore inaccessible. Try to find or create resources with dyslexia friendly, sans serif fonts such as arial or comic sans, with cream backgrounds. Some students will also benefit from text in a larger font (aim for size 16px) and from text being broken up into sections with accompanying images.

For example, all of our A3 rapid recall whiteboards are cream tinted with dyslexia friendly font and laminated with a premium low glare, matte laminate so that they are also accessible for students with visual stress.

Be open and patient

It’s important to be patient with students who may need to take longer to process information and plan responses – don’t push and pressure them into participation. Where possible offer alternative methods of communication to them and try and use clear body language and gestures to help aid their processing.

Neurodivergent students may struggle with confidence if they’re finding tasks trickier than their peers, so using whiteboards to give them a chance to practice, wipe out mistakes and try again can be really encouraging.

Be sure to listen to your students and do your best to make adjustments for them where possible. Make sure you’re also providing plenty of praise, recognising their efforts and celebrating what makes them themselves.

If you would like to incorporate mini whiteboards in your inclusive classroom, explore our popular range of Show-me mini whiteboards.
Designed with teachers in mind, the core range of plain, lined and gridded mini whiteboards have an ultra-smooth, glossy surface for optimal erasability, ideal for use in the busy classroom.