Neurodiverse children include those with autistic traits, ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia and dyscalculia. Although each pupil is an individual, the barriers to their learning will be similar.
Barrier 1 = Limited understanding of neurodivergence in schools.
Accommodation = Awareness raising in schools is essential if these pupils are to have a positive educational experience.
Barrier 2 = Sensory processing issues.
Accommodation = Adaptation for sensory processing difficulties as standard procedure in every classroom: noise reducing headphones, coloured handouts for pupils who experience visual stress, a relaxed approach to school uniform, and an appreciation that some pupils will find that artificial lighting, noisy playgrounds, the smells in labs and busy lunch queues heighten their anxiety.
Barrier 3 = Degrees of sociability.
Accommodation = An acceptance that not all pupils enjoy socialising, with many preferring to spend time alone or with a few friends. Schools need to provide these children with safe, quiet spaces.
Barrier 4 = A tendency to emphasise traditional abilities and talents.
Accommodation = An increased appreciation of a wide range of skills, for example, practical, musical, sporting, dramatic, interpersonal, artistic, social, linguistic and technological ability.
Barrier 5 = An emphasis on traditional approaches to teaching and assessment.
Accommodation = Appropriate differentiation in every lesson and subject.
Barrier 6 = An emphasis on good secretarial skills in the classroom
Accommodation = IT to be available for all pupils: word processing, text to speech and speech to text software; the use of smartphones for research; alarms and alerts to help with organisation and time management.
Barrier 7 = Misunderstandings over communication and interaction.
Accommodation = Pupils are not shy, disengaged or intellectually challenged if their response is slower than that of their peers. Allow the child extra processing time and give warnings before asking them a question. Many pupils have a lot of good ideas they find hard to explain if put on the spot, but when allowed time can structure their thoughts more concisely.
Listen to what the pupil says, rather than how they say it. Accept that being direct isn’t necessarily being deliberately rude.
Do not assume a child is not listening because they are not looking directly at the adult or are doodling; this is how some pupils maintain their focus.
If a pupil struggles with unspoken social rules, be proactive and explain the less obvious norms of social behaviour.
Barrier 8 = An emphasis on desk learning.
Accommodation = Not every child is able to sit still and concentrate throughout every lesson; many will need movement breaks.
Forest schools and outdoor learning can be particularly engaging for neurodivergent children.
Barrier 9 = A weak working memory.
Accommodation = The use of visual aids to support learning: bullet points on the whiteboard as memory prompts, times tables grids, cloze worksheets, notebooks for rough work, crib sheets, reminders and alarms on electronic devices, and so on.
Barrier 10 = Overwhelming anxiety.
Accommodation = Reduce uncertainty, and establish routines and rules. Give pupils warning of any changes.
Consistency is important: if you say that you’ll do something, do it.
Be sensitive towards any individual areas of weakness. For example, when reading aloud in class, allow children the choice of whether to read or not, and the amount of text they read. The weak reader who hates reading aloud will learn nothing when forced to do so: their panic and embarrassment will be all consuming.
Approaches that make a difference for the neurodivergent pupil, make a difference for all pupils.