Digest #153: Neurodiversity in Education

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Digest #153: Neurodiversity in Education

By Carolina Kuepper-Tetzel and Chiara Horlin

For today’s digest I teamed up with Dr Chiara Horlin who is a Lecturer (Assistant Professor) in Psychology at the University of Glasgow and an expert in neurodiversity and what role it plays in education. She has co-founded The Neurodiversity Network (see below) as a resource to support and represent neurodivergent students and staff. Before diving into the resources, it is important to know what neurodiversity is. So, I asked Chiara for a definition of neurodiversity and why it matters for education:

Neurodiversity is an understanding and a recognition that not all brains are the same or work the same way. Much of this world is built for a typical type of brain, for people that think in a typical type of way. But in reality we all think differently, we learn differently, we feel and we experience moods differently as well and these differences are completely normal. Sometimes these differences are given specific labels like ADHD or Autism, but understanding neurodiversity means recognizing and respecting these differences. It also means understanding that neurodiversity can bring huge benefits to those with learning and thinking differences. An acknowledgement and a respect for these differences can not only reduce stigma around differences, but can also support people to build unique strengths and capabilities.

All ability and disability must be considered in a social context and education systems are one of those social systems that can cause a difference to become a disability or disadvantage where one need not necessarily exist. Much of our education systems are not designed to support cognitive or learning differences, but due to necessity are targeted at a ‘prototypical’ student. Neurodivergent students will always fall outside this prototype and an inclusive approach to what learning looks like, and what achievement looks like is essential in supporting them. Neurodiversity must be considered in the context of strengths, differences and challenges, and the metrics of success adjust accordingly. Neurodivergent people may have skills particularly suited to further education beyond school, such as proficient memory skills, a focus on detail, creativity, as well as passionate interests. and a strong desire to acquire accurate knowledge. Neurodivergent conditions nearly always present heterogeneously and so there are vast differences in coping mechanisms and skills. However, even when able to flex these unique skills, students have been reported to have a heightened risk for academic and personal challenges, do not have their social or academic needs met, and thus might not reach their full potential.

From this it becomes clear that obtaining a full understanding of neurodiversity is important to support neurodivergent students in your classroom. Here are five resources to get you started.