There are many teachers out there that want to support the neurodivergent students in their classroom, but are unsure of where to start. It can feel overwhelming to think about the number of students who need the support, but there are a few things you can do to help them be successful in the classroom.
1. Provide Accommodations
Some neurodivergent students have accommodations already in place and some students do not have any because they have slipped through the cracks of the system. There are many other reasons why the student might not have a set list of supports in place, but that doesn't mean you can't offer help. Find the support options that work best for these students. Some students might need an extra day to complete an assignment. Others will struggle to stay organized and need an extra hand at the end of the day. It can be overwhelming, but it is important to follow IEP and 504 documents for students who have set accommodations and to keep an eye out for students who could also benefit from support who are not identified in the system.
2. Structure the Environment
One of the things that I have found that really helped my neurodivergent students was the way that I provided the assignments. I made sure everything was written on the board or on the website, I provided the directions verbally at least twice, and then I checked in with students who might need personal directions to help them get started. I make sure to get out in front of potential communication issues by making sure the assignment can be found anywhere a student might look. Also, I make sure to move about the room and redirect students as needed.
3. Educate Yourself
Sometimes professional development offered by your school does not meet your needs or the needs of your students. It is important to find helpful resources to support your understanding of the changing pedagogical practices to support all students. Diving into Google and searching for specific content resources is one approach. There are many resources out there that provide information on supporting neurodiverse students. Here is one I found with a quick internet search. An article here and there can really help students in your classroom if you are committed to supporting students who do not conform to the typical student learning profile.
4. Support Student Self-Advocacy
This will be one of the toughest things to make happen in the classroom because not all students are in the same place in dealing with their own neurodiversity. Asking a student who deals with generalized anxiety to advocate for themself to the teacher is not going to happen overnight. It is going to take time and many, many, reminders. As the classroom teacher, it is our job, hopefully with the help of support staff and the family, to build up the capacity of the student to self-advocate. There are going to be plenty of instances where the student does not speak up about needing more time or extra help. The struggle will be very real for the student, but patience is key in helping them grow and develop the skills they need to be successful.
Supporting Neurodivergent students in the classroom is no small task. There are going to be days where you are too busy to provide that little extra nudge to get a student moving in the right direction. There will be days where it feels like a student requires all of your attention in class to stay on task. This is all very normal. I like to view the support of all students, but most especially neurodivergent students, as a marathon instead of a sprint. Much like the students, we will stumble in our efforts to support them, but we must get back up and try to make the next day better.