Adaptive Teaching within the Neurodiverse Primary Classroom.
by Qasim Hussain Ali
PGCE Primary Trainee UEL
As a child, I do not remember seeing other children as different, in my eyes we were all the same and I am sure that many people who read this would be feeling the same. Now, however, I sometimes wonder whether the teachers I had saw anything that concerned them, either with me or with my peers. The answer to this question is a strange one indeed, and reflection is a powerful tool. Looking back on my own life I am sure I have met many neurodivergent people, both adult and children alike – and I am sure the teachers who taught me have met neurodivergent pupils.
Over the years neurodivergence is finding its way into the spotlight, and rightly so. It cannot be emphasised enough how important it is to be able to recognise neurodivergence within the classroom and how to become a flexible and adaptable practitioner to include every child – neurodivergent or not – as every child has a right to education.
When thinking of a classroom, what do you see? Think about this for a moment before continuing reading.
Displays? Equipment? Computer and interactive white board? Colour? Tables and chairs? A home corner? Book corner?
How about: Workstations? Visual timetables? A safe/thinking corner? Space? Images to represent ideas (Rules, routines, expectations)? Large, clear text?
There is a lot that goes into an inclusive classroom and with the rise of neurodivergence within East London, it is important that we, as practitioners, consider what we can do to make classrooms a safe, healthy learning environment for all children we teach. Now, this will be different for all of us as not every class will have the same pupils, and this is where the challenges lie.
So, what can we do?
Research would be a great place to start, but there are other things that can be done to help us. Knowing and understanding our pupils is one of the best starting points, and this can be done through several ways: Observe, speak, and listen to your pupils, raise concerns to the correct people, speak with parents of pupils you believe may be neurodivergent. The more you know as a teacher, the more you can ensure inclusive practices.
We do not want to single out our pupils, and sometimes it is easy to separate them in our minds depending on their needs. Instead, try to think about their strengths and what they bring to the classroom, and how they can help us not only develop our own professional skills as a teacher, but how they can help other pupils.
From there, think about changes you can make, from your own approaches to teaching, to the way you set up your classroom. If you have a child with ASD, they may have difficulties regulating their emotions due to sensory stimuli; do you get a pair of ear defenders and set up a workstation that the child can go to when they need some time to regulate themselves? How about a child with Dyspraxia? Do you ensure there is a little more space between your tables so they can move around the classroom easier? What about a child with OCD? If they are comfortable with things being a certain way, would you allow for that child to feel comfortable providing it is safe and possible to do so? A child who has a visual impairment may need larger, clearer fonts, which may not be bad practice anyway as this may benefit all pupils.
The last point I made is quite an important one, because a lot of the changes you could make would benefit all your pupils. Which is never a bad thing if it means better understanding and attainment.
Another thing to consider (out of many) is mental health. There has been some debate as to whether mental health falls under neurodiversity, but as an adaptive, inclusive teacher, it is important to recognise mental health within your classroom and the changes you could make, especially after the pandemic. What could you do as a teacher to help children who may be suffering with depression or anxiety? A thinking corner, or quiet corner
might be a good place to start. A place for pupils to go to when they just want time to themselves. This also gives you the chance to recognise which pupils may be struggling and allow you to intervene so you can help support the pupils the best you can. Sometimes, just talking is enough. Within a primary school, talking to your pupils is a fantastic window of opportunity to not only help you understand how they feel, but also help them understand how they feel, as a lot of these emotions may be new to them, too.
There is a lot to consider, and this article cannot do it justice, but the next time you have a new class, or even in your current class, think to yourself: What can I do and what changes can I make to support every child? Even small changes could make a big difference.