Spotting Neurodivergence In The Classroom
Typical Classroom Settings Are Not For Everyone
If we are being honest, traditional classroom settings are not friendly to everyone. Unexpected noises, frequent interactions, and confusing situations can pop up at any moment, leaving some students in the classroom to figure out how to navigate the distractions and learning environment all on their own. This becomes even more difficult when a neurodivergent child is forced to rely on their coping and emotional regulation skills in the classroom. It can be easy to assume all children struggle with the same challenges, but how do we know which children are struggling? What can teachers look for?
Neurodivergence In The Classroom
First of all, what is neurodivergence? Someone who is neurodivergent thinks, behaves, and learns differently when compared to those who are neurotypical. In other words, neurodivergence is a term that can be used to describe an individual whose brain functions differently to what we consider “normal”. This includes people with autism spectrum disorders, ADHD, Tourette’s, dyslexia, and other neurodiverse conditions.
Neurodivergence looks different in every child. While one child may have problems with focusing on their school work, another may be rushing through their assignments or cannot control their high levels of energy. Being aware of the various ways that neurodivergent children can function and thrive in a classroom is crucial to providing an enriching learning environment for all students.
Behaviors, Patterns, and Actions
There is a multitude of ways that you can identify neurodivergent children in a classroom. The first step is to take the time to understand how their mind works and why they may engage in the behaviors that they do. When you engage meaningfully with a neurodivergent child, you are demonstrating that they are loved and accepted just the way they are. They want to feel just as supported as every other child in the classroom, which means understanding them at the level that they are at and not at the level you think they are “meant to be”.
There isn’t a “one size fits all” method of identifying and guiding neurodivergent children in the classroom, which is why it is crucial to remember that they are independent beings that require care and attention in their unique ways. Below are some examples of neurodivergent behaviors that may be observed in your classroom setting:
● Extremely sensitive to loud noises or classroom chatter
● Prefers playing, learning, or engaging in activities by themselves
● Difficulty communicating their learning needs
● Falling into repetitive patterns, actions, or activities
● Trouble sitting still or keeping quiet when they have finished their work
● Needing to be challenged or engaged in proactive ways
● Struggling with understanding other children's emotions or behaviors
● Problems with active listening skills
I am a Teacher. How Can I Help My Student?
As a teacher, it can be difficult to know what every child in your classroom needs. It can be further amplified when you have one or more neurodivergent children who require additional support or an unique approach. This is why identifying and understanding neurodiversity can be a great tool to improving the overall health of the classroom. Every child learns and advances at their own pace, but what happens when it feels like one child is falling further behind? You can demonstrate patience by engaging with what makes them unique. Find their strengths and challenges. Allow them to move around more within the classroom to release built up energy. Lower the lights or have "quiet time" moments to reduce sensory overload. Create task lists to help them track what assignments they still need to complete. Show compassion towards your students, and you are setting the precedent for an inclusive and empathetic classroom environment.
Building Better Classroom Habits
Educators have the difficult task of finding meaningful, impactful, and long-lasting ways to help their students. This means being cognizant of those who are struggling and finding ways to help them feel more comfortable. You can do this in ways that makes the classroom environment more welcoming and inclusive.
If you are a teacher who is struggling to find resources or understand how to properly accommodate neurodiversity within your classroom, please reach out! Dr. Arduengo can provide you with the guidance you need. Every student deserves the ability to thrive and succeed in a classroom setting, and Dr. Arduengo is determined to help you learn what makes them unique and what makes them thrive.