Spotlight on Neurodiversity

Abby Dale-Bates, Registered Psychologist


Spotlight on Neurodivergence  



What is Neurodivergence?

The human mind is like a supercomputer that controls everything within our bodies. It takes care of our physical processes, keeps us alive, and helps with our cognitive functions. It is no wonder that with so many responsibilities, every mind works in its own distinct way. Each individual’s brain functions differently with diverse strengths and challenges. Neurodivergence is the concept that describes the natural variations in human cognitive functioning. Where each brain operates uniquely, resulting in people thinking, processing, and understanding information in different ways. 

Neurodivergence includes many different conditions and traits, some examples are Autism, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), dyslexia, dyspraxia, Tourette Syndrome, brain injuries and other conditions that affect how our brains develop. Neurodivergent individuals may have needs that can vary depending on the diagnosis and personal experiences. For example, someone with Autism may benefit from structured communication or visual or sensory supports, to help them comfortably manage in their environment. Individuals with ADHD may find it beneficial to learn organizational strategies, and task prioritization tools, to navigate responsibilities throughout their day. For someone with dyslexia, alternative reading methods, such as audiobooks, can be helpful. 



Neurodivergence in the Classroom 

In today's diverse classrooms, it is important to create an inclusive environment that celebrates the strengths and supports the challenges in all students. By understanding and aiding the needs of every learner, teachers can encourage positive learning experiences, foster student relationships, and improve student self-esteem and confidence. 

So how can changes be implemented in the classroom to support all students?

Support and inclusion

  • Every student deserves to feel safe and included in their classroom, this starts with the education of the student body. It is important to teach students about neurodiversity, and how differences in thinking, learning, and self-expression are natural. 
  • Build empathy and kindness skills through group activities and discussions where students are encouraged to get to know one another and gain an understanding of different experiences. 
  • Provide opportunities to celebrate the unique strengths students bring to the classroom. This may be by providing them with jobs or roles that allow their abilities to shine. 
  • Foster an environment where students can feel psychologically safe amongst their peers. Encourage opportunities for collaboration, where they can learn from each other and gain alternative perspectives. This may be done through cooperative learning activities, group/pair projects, teamwork games/activities, and games that promote empathy. 

Individualise learning 

  • Work alongside parents/caregivers and other relevant staff to create individualised learning plans to support student learning needs. 
  • Consider appropriate strategies which will enable students to reach their potential; this may include, specific seating to reduce visual/auditory difficulties, modified assignments or timeframes, additional classroom support, and tools for different learning styles.

Dynamic teaching aids

  • There are multiple ways to learn, students may have strengths in visual processing, and auditory processing, or may benefit from hands-on learning. Alongside this, there are a plethora of learning tools that coincide with different learning styles. 
  • Look for ways to incorporate various techniques/resources to engage students’ different ways of learning. This may include images/visual aids, visual schedules, interactive activities, tasks for practising fine motor skills or learning through auditory cues, songs, or recordings.

Communication and instruction giving   

  • Look for ways to make instructions and tasks more manageable for students. Break down instructions into smaller steps; it may also be helpful to provide these both verbally and in written/visual form. 
  • Support students to feel comfortable asking questions or clarification around instructions, and provide reminders of steps as each stage is completed.

Sensory input considerations

  • Some neurodivergent students may experience sensitivities to, or seek out certain sensory inputs. For example, students may struggle with loud or busy environments, bright lights, strong smells, or distinct textures. Other students may seek out sensory input from movement, visual input, sound or textures. It is important to understand how the environment may impact a student’s learning. 
  • Provide opportunities for sensory breaks in designated quiet areas.
  • Ensure access to sensory items/toys to support regulation.
  • Be aware of smells from diffusers/air fresheners as these may cause discomfort to students.
  • Allow spaces for students to move their bodies for sensory input; build in movement breaks to allow more active students the opportunity for physical activity. 

Emotional awareness

  • Teach students emotional language, and provide understanding of different emotion labels and how these may feel; this will allow students to gain an awareness of their own emotions.
  • Be aware of factors that may result in emotional distress, such as transitions, unpredictability, or change.
  • Work with the student to identify and practice skills to effectively regulate; this can be done as a whole class exercise for further modelling and learning opportunities. 
  • Provide alternative communication strategies for moments of distress, this could include clear visuals of the emotional experience and strategies to support regulation.
  • Utilize additional visual resources to teach and reinforce emotion awareness skills, such as emotion wheels, emotion charts, visual lists of calm strategies, and the “hand-brain” model.

Embracing neurodiversity within the classroom is a crucial step towards creating an inclusive and supportive learning environment for every student. When time is taken to understand each student’s unique needs and learning preferences, teachers can increase opportunities for success and self-efficacy, allowing students to thrive both academically and socially. By utilizing individualized approaches, teaching tools, consistent communication, emotional awareness, and fostering strengths, teachers can create an educational environment of value, acceptance, and empowerment for students to reach their full potential. 



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Siegel, D. (2021). Dr Dan Siegel’s hand model of the brain. Mind your brain.
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