5 Creative Ways to Best Support Neurodiversity in the Classroom

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Supporting neurodiversity in the classroom is crucial for creating an inclusive learning environment. We’ve curated the top five creative strategies to help teachers support neurodiverse students effectively.

Educating our children is one of the most significant endeavors in the modern world. Today’s students have diverse needs that extend beyond traditional classroom settings. Teachers must take proactive steps to understand neuroscience basics and how they influence education and mental health.

A leader in neurodiversity education is Thomas Armstrong, Ph.D., author of Awakening Genius in the Classroom and Executive Director of the American Institute for Learning and Human Development. Armstrong advocates for helping children find their inner genius and guiding it toward personal fulfillment and societal benefit. This approach fosters creativity, which children possess in abundance due to their unconditioned perspectives.

1. Maintain a Psychologically Safe Classroom

Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), dyslexia, intellectual disabilities, and other special needs process information differently than neurotypical peers. For students to feel psychologically safe, they need to experience:

  • Inclusion in the group
  • Physical and mental safety to learn new information
  • Safety to take risks and share ideas
  • Empowerment to challenge unreasonable norms

Whether or not your students have Individualized Education Programs (IEPs), creating a safe space for their well-being is essential. Here’s how:

  • Provide Multiple Learning Modalities: Some students prefer reading, others benefit from hands-on activities, and some are auditory learners. Tools like Synthy, a text-to-speech program, allow students to listen to texts, reducing the need for accommodation requests.
  • Body Language Matters: Convey active listening and acceptance through your body language. Ensure students know they are in an environment where asking questions and learning are encouraged.
  • Teach Self-Advocacy: Older students should learn strategies to advocate for their learning needs. This empowerment helps them succeed in various educational settings.
  • Consistency and Routine: Neurodivergent children thrive on structure. Maintain a consistent schedule and clearly communicate classroom rules and expectations.
  • Seek Student Input: If a student struggles, ask for their suggestions on accommodations that might work better. Encourage them to propose new tools and resources.

2. Present Lessons in Small Chunks

Neurodivergent children may struggle to focus on a single topic for extended periods. Instead of marginalizing these students, break lessons into smaller, digestible segments. Incorporate dynamic activities like role-playing, classroom debates, gamified exams, and other creative learning methods.

3. Vary Your Teaching Strategies

Keeping neurodivergent students engaged requires diverse teaching strategies. Customize lesson plans to accommodate different learning styles, ensuring all students grasp the material. Resources that can help include:

  • The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD): Provides resources to promote educational excellence.
  • Teachers Pay Teachers (TPT): A digital marketplace for original educational materials.
  • Synthy Text-to-Speech App: Helps dyslexic and neurodivergent students read text quickly and accurately.
  • The Neurodiverse Classroom by Victoria Honeybourne: A comprehensive resource on meeting diverse learning needs.
  • Neurodiversity Celebration Week (NCW): Offers digital resources, including lesson plans and assessments.

4. Know Your Students’ Strengths & Weaknesses

Understanding each student’s strengths, weaknesses, and neurological differences is critical. For example, autistic students may lack social skills but excel in problem-solving. Dyslexic children might struggle with reading but learn quickly in other areas.

Creating an environment where students can excel in their strengths builds confidence to tackle areas where they need improvement.

5. Have High Expectations for All Students

Set high, yet achievable, expectations for all students. Recognize their learning differences but believe in their ability to excel. Setting reasonable goals at the upper range of a student’s abilities helps them strive for success without becoming frustrated.

Final Thoughts on Neurodiversity in the Classroom

Transforming a classroom into a neurodiverse learning haven allows all children to thrive. When students feel safe to explore and develop their unique learning processes, they gain skills for lifelong learning. Teaching neurodivergent students can be rewarding when educators support their individual bests. By embracing neurodiversity, teachers can create environments where all students excel academically, emotionally, and mentally, regardless of their special needs.