Neurodivergent students bring unique strengths and perspectives to our classrooms. However, they are often left behind because their learning needs often fall outside the norms. Because of this, many students do not reach their true potential. I was forced to learn in a very traditional and rigid system growing up and my neurodiverse needs were never met. I struggled with reading and writing and had to come up with many coping mechanisms to get by. Those teachers that let me showcase what I knew beyond the sit and get format of traditional education really allowed me to shine and I remember them fondly. Those small, but bright, spots in my educational journey gave me hope to keep trying. When I decided to pursue teaching, I made it my mission to make sure that students like me were never going to be left behind.
Below are 5 tips that can help any teacher support neurodiverse students in their classroom. Like all things concerning students, nothing works as is out of the box. Feel free to adapt as needed to ensure that the students' needs are being addressed in a thoughtful and compassionate manner.
Organization: Simplify and Visualize
Neurodivergent students often struggle with organizational skills. To support them, simplify their organizational systems and incorporate visual aids. For instance, provide color-coded folders or binders for different subjects. Use visual schedules or checklists to outline daily tasks and assignments. Additionally, offer a designated space for storing materials and encourage the use of digital tools for note-taking and organizing information.
Example: In a science class, a teacher can provide a color-coded system for different types of handouts, such as blue for lab instructions and green for readings. Using visual cues, the teacher can create a weekly task chart on the classroom wall, outlining the steps and due dates for ongoing assignments.
Homework: Provide Structure and Flexibility
Homework can be challenging for neurodivergent students, so it's crucial to strike a balance between structure and flexibility. Break down assignments into manageable chunks and clearly communicate expectations. Offer options for demonstrating understanding, such as written responses, multimedia presentations, or oral explanations. Allow for extended deadlines or modified assignments when necessary, without compromising learning objectives.
Example: In an English class, instead of assigning a lengthy essay, a teacher can break it down into smaller tasks, such as brainstorming, outlining, and drafting. The teacher can provide a choice of presentation formats, allowing students to showcase their understanding through a written essay, a visual storyboard, or a podcast recording.
Assessment: Offer Multiple Modalities
Neurodivergent students often excel in areas that traditional assessments may not capture. To create inclusive assessments, offer a range of modalities that tap into diverse strengths. This can include open-ended questions, hands-on projects, oral presentations, or collaborative activities. Provide clear rubrics or scoring guides to help students understand expectations and focus on demonstrating their knowledge.
Example: In a history class, rather than relying solely on written exams, a teacher can incorporate alternative assessments, such as creating a timeline, conducting a mock interview, or designing a visual representation of historical events. By offering multiple modalities, students can showcase their understanding through their preferred means of expression.
Redirection: Encourage Self-Advocacy and Self-Regulation
Neurodivergent students may struggle with staying focused or managing their emotions. Teach self-advocacy skills by encouraging them to communicate their needs and seek support when necessary. Foster a classroom culture that promotes self-regulation strategies, such as deep breathing exercises, sensory breaks, or access to fidget tools. Provide visual cues, like a stop sign or a calm-down corner, to help students recognize when they need a break.
Example: During a math lesson, if a neurodivergent student becomes overwhelmed, the teacher can empower them to use a predetermined signal, like raising their hand or placing a colored card on their desk, as a discreet way to request a break or assistance. The teacher can establish a designated area in the classroom with sensory tools and teach students strategies to self-soothe or refocus.
Classroom Management: Foster Inclusivity and Empathy
Creating a supportive classroom environment begins with fostering inclusivity and empathy among all students. Encourage peer collaboration and empathy-building activities that promote understanding and acceptance. Provide opportunities of collaboration, such as group projects or buddy systems, where neurodivergent students can work alongside their peers. Implement classroom routines and visual cues that establish predictability and reduce anxiety. Model and teach social-emotional skills, including active listening, empathy, and conflict resolution.
Example: In a science class, the teacher can facilitate a group project where students work together to design an experiment. By assigning neurodivergent students to diverse groups, they can benefit from peer support and learn from different perspectives. The teacher can incorporate regular class meetings to discuss collaboration, empathy, and problem-solving, ensuring that all students feel valued and included.
Supporting neurodivergent students in the classroom requires intentional strategies that address their unique needs. By implementing the five tips outlined in this blog post, teachers can create inclusive environments where all students can thrive. Remember, small adjustments in organization, homework, assessment, redirection, and classroom management can make a significant difference in the educational experience of neurodivergent students. Let's embrace their strengths, foster their growth, and ensure their success in our classrooms.
Hugs and High Fives,