What is neurodiversity and what should schools be doing?

The term neurodiversity is used with increased regularity in academic circles, but what does it mean? And what influence should it have over what is happening in the classroom? Tes explains.

What is neurodiversity?

Neurodiversity is considered to be a relatively new term, yet it was thought to have been coined by autism activist Judy Singer back in the 1990s. It encompasses a wide range of neurological differences, such as: autism, ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia and specific language impairment.

The term ‘neurodiversity’ was initially coined in a bid to move away from the medical view of autism and the idea that it is something that should be ‘cured’. But is it helpful to refer to these challenges as disabilities?

On one hand: yes. There has been increased recognition that not all disabilities are visible. This has been reflected in increased public awareness of conditions such as autism, with shops providing ‘autism-friendly’ times (whereby the music may be switched off and lights dimmed) and signs on public toilets stating that not all disabilities are visible.

But are neurological differences only disabilities if viewed through the lens of modern society? Harvey Blume, writing in 1998 for The Atlantic commented: “Neurodiversity may be every bit as crucial for the human race as biodiversity is for life in general. Who can say what form of wiring will prove best at any given moment?”.

Neurodiversity in the classroom

Bearing this in mind, what should schools do to support young people with neurological differences?

1.       Celebrate neurological differences

Make neurodiversity awareness a whole-school focus by teaching all young people about it. Celebrate successful individuals with a neurological difference (while also being mindful not to give the impression that all people with a neurological difference will automatically be geniuses or super successful in the world of business).

3.       Recognise mental-health issues

Work closely with parents and be vigilant of any signs of emotional or mental distress. It may be that the young person requires specialist mental health intervention accessed via CAMHS or their GP. Or it could be that they just need a friendly face or safe space at school.

Read the full article and how schools can support students What is neurodiversity and what should schools be doing?

Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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