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Empowering Your Neurodivergent Learner: 5 Steps to Success

Updated: Oct 20, 2023

neurodivergent learner

Recently, I was approached by a distraught family who hired me to advocate for their son at his elementary school. Their son had been coming home in tears for the past two weeks, and it was evident that something needed to change. During a brief 30-minute classroom observation, I witnessed the teacher repeatedly halting the class to criticize, scold, and offer unsolicited advice to the student on various behaviors, both big and small. While I couldn't discern the teacher's intentions behind these impromptu lectures, it became evident that the student, an individual with neurodivergent traits, was left feeling frustrated, saddened, and even resigned. Not only did this lack of understanding negatively affect the student, but it also impacted the teacher's state of mind and encroached upon valuable educational time for the rest of the students.

Upon convening with the principal and resource team for a follow-up meeting, it became abundantly clear that the teacher had no grasp of the needs, challenges, and potential of neurodivergent learners. Understanding and embracing neurodiversity entails recognizing that there is a natural variation in the human brain, and we should celebrate and accept these differences. This realization emphasizes the importance of establishing an inclusive learning environment that caters to the needs of all students, including those who are neurodiverse. To that end, here are five steps that can be taken to effectively support a neurodiverse learner in an elementary school setting:

1. Understand the learner's needs: The first step is to gain a thorough understanding of the specific needs of the neurodivergent learner. This can be achieved by engaging in conversations with the student, their parents, and any specialists they work with, such as speech therapists or occupational therapists. By identifying their strengths and challenges, educators can create an individualized education plan (IEP) to cater to their unique requirements. Additionally, learning more about conditions like autism, ADHD, Dyslexia, and other neurodivergent challenges can enhance both capacity and empathy.

2. Create a safe and supportive learning environment: It is crucial to establish a safe and supportive environment for all students, with particular emphasis on neurodiverse learners. This entails designing sensory-friendly classrooms that include measures like low lighting or noise levels to reduce sensory overload. Implementing structured and predictable daily routines is also beneficial for providing a sense of security. Remember, for neurodivergent learners, consistency is key to feeling safe.

3. Utilize visual supports: The usage of visual supports, such as visual schedules, cues, or organizers, can greatly benefit students with autism or other neurodivergent traits. Clear visual representations of desired behaviors help guide these learners in understanding implicit expectations surrounding student conduct. For example, defining what sitting "nicely" looks like through visual depictions. First-Then charts can aid in addressing challenges related to executive functioning and what professionals refer to as "Time Blindness." Visual aids enhance comprehension, organization skills, and help students grasp expectations and the sequence of activities.

4. Provide necessary accommodations: Accommodations refer to modifications made to the learning environment to facilitate the success of neurodiverse learners. These may include granting additional time for tests, providing recorded lectures or notes, or allowing the use of assistive technologies like text-to-speech or graphic organizers. Customizing the learning experience ensures that each student can reach their full potential and participate fully in the educational process. It's essential to collaborate with the student, their parents, and the school's resource team to identify and implement appropriate accommodations.

5. Foster inclusion and social-emotional support: Creating an inclusive environment is essential for the well-being and growth of neurodiverse learners. Promoting positive social interactions, peer acceptance, and understanding among classmates helps foster a sense of belonging. Educators and staff can organize activities that encourage teamwork, empathy, and appreciation for diversity. Supporting the social-emotional development of neurodivergent learners is equally important as addressing their academic needs.

By following these five steps, educators can significantly contribute to the success and overall well-being of neurodiverse learners in the elementary school setting.

At TEACHTHESPECTRUM, we understand the challenges of supporting neurodivergent learners. That's why we're here to offer our expertise and support. Whether you're a teacher, parent, or school administrator, we're here to help you unlock the full potential of your neurodivergent learning community. Contact us today for individualized support or professional development opportunities. Let's work together to create a brighter future for all learners.

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