by our Guest Blogger Nabila Ilyas ( Social Sciences Teacher, Aspiring Speech and Language Therapist)
“Before we talk about the autism, we think you may have ADHD.” Well that’s what they told me only soon after I had qualified as a teacher.
Nonetheless, the above diagnosis often results in grief-stricken parents, carers and individuals upon finding out that their young child has been diagnosed with a spectrum disorder. For some, it’s seen as a downward spiral and pity for a life that has yet to unfold and take its path.
For me however, as a 29-year old woman who received a late diagnosis a couple of years ago, I want to tell you why having Autism, ADHD and any other neurodivergent condition for that matter, make for an exceptional teacher. But more importantly, I also want to reassure you that the teaching profession has never needed people like us more than ever before.
So, here is why you can and should embrace your multifaceted self as a neurodivergent teacher in a neurotypical classroom..
For the sake of differentiation and accessibility, I am going to summarise in easy-to-digest bullet points the benefits of being a teacher who also presents spectrum disorders, beginning with Autism:
· Autistic individuals notice patterns that others don’t (“why is this student always absent on Wednesday morning through to 2pm?”). This is known as pattern recognition.
· We also thrive well in the structure of the school day. Routine keeps us going and makes us perform to our best ability!
· Thus our need to work well under strict routine has a largely positive impact on our pupils. When they see teachers being punctual, delivering lessons in good time and promptly meeting deadlines for marking, then they are inspired to be on time for lessons and to give it their best – because students always love teachers who care about their educational provision!
· If you’ve ever set foot in my classroom, then you will know that I have mastered the mysterious art of ensuring that students are quiet and seldom exhibit low-level disruption. Why? Because my students always know about my sensory predispositions and know better than to trigger my sensory overload with the unnecessary babbling and cacophony that is unique to teenagers! A key part of teaching is being your authentic self and building rapport by allowing students to get to know you. So being honest and transparent about your needs is humbling but also engages the students, because they love to see that “human” side to their educator.
· Autistic individuals can have exceptionally good memory and strong subject knowledge due to our special interests. I can read a book once without trying and its contents are permanently cemented in my mind. These traits make curriculum planning and teaching a doddle! And students will be amazed by your plethora of knowledge.
· We are also highly organised, making us extremely reliable in relation to the wider school community.
· For colleagues who have ADHD, we often have lots of energy and bring a spontaneous edge to lessons. This can be very exciting for pupils and albeit this might conflict with the more autistic tendencies for rigid structure, spontaneity often breaks up an otherwise relatively monotonous and dull day at school.
· If you’ve had good teacher training, then you will know how important it is to have range and depth in your teaching voice, from tone and pitch to projection (try teaching pupils after a carb-ridden lunch on a Friday afternoon – those lessons are a drag for a reason!). But you
see, teachers with ADHD rarely have to try to nail this quality of vocal training – it just comes to us effortlessly! Our lessons are thus well-paced, fun, interactive and unpredictable.
· Individuals with ADHD are often easily excited and that can be a good thing in the classroom. For instance, your students will appreciate your pride in their good work, small leaps in learning and summative assessment. Teachers are often coached into having that “stiff upper lip” – well I say you let your feelings be known: students and parents alike will always respect teachers who are less robotic in their attitude towards their students’ teaching and learning. This trait in ADHDers is otherwise referred to as “oversharing”, but I personally believe that it can be harnessed as a professional tool for issuing praise in the classroom in a sincere and effective manner.
Remember, there will always be at least one pupil who looks back in years to come to recall one of your lessons. So embrace your neurodiversity and students will embrace your lessons, for life