Ms Prandolini began this week’s GJS 3-6 Assembly by introducing one of the most important ‘focus weeks’ of the year: Neurodiversity Week. Fittingly, the week is a four-day week – a little different, better in some ways and a challenge in others… did anyone think Tuesday was Monday and forget something?
With a growing percentage of the population having their neurodiversity recognised, it is important for today’s children to develop an understanding of what it means. Unfortunately stereotypes and misinformation are prevalent and the stigma associated with some conditions and disorders persists. While a diagnosis is a private matter for each family, many are opting to share in the interests of increasing the community’s understanding of why a child’s behaviours, reactions, emotions or abilities fall outside the expected range. Public figures such as authors and comedians are also sharing their stories of neurodiversity, especially through social media.
From a parental perspective, when your child is a little different it can be confronting. Already battling a scenario where the normal advice and strategies don’t work as expected, you begin battling the judgement of others as your parenting is challenged and questioned. Without understanding and support this can be isolating and deflating, especially if your child’s neurodiversity means that they struggle to make friends, can’t or won’t take part in typical activities or make simple things too complicated.
From a teacher perspective, it is rare to find a whole class of students who are all in the middle of the bell curve. Most classes will have examples of neurodiversity, whether diagnosed formally or not. Some examples of neurodivergence only become apparent after several years of school or at certain stages of development. As with parenting, sometimes the classroom routines need to be a little different, but the good strategies for the neurodivergent students are good for everyone.
From a student perspective, school is hard enough for neurotypicals: subjects, teachers, relationships, sport and fitness, social media, puberty and adolescence, body image, picking subjects, extra-curricular interests, music practise, getting to school and getting around the campus. Neurotypicals find it tough when it all gets unbalanced, and neurodiversity can amplify this. Anxiety frequently accompanies social or learning difficulties. Isolation is not uncommon as peers can find it difficult to maintain friendships with those who appear different at a time when ‘fitting in’ is paramount.
Understanding a peer’s neurodiversity might give me a better idea of why they didn’t learn to read as quickly as I did or why they always wear a jumper even if I’m too warm. It might explain why they sometimes blank me in the playground, don’t want to play certain games or avoid some places. It might explain why their bedroom is arranged how it is or why they never have sleepovers or play team sport. It might explain why they are unwaveringly loyal or remember the words to a song they heard once. It might shed light on why they get upset about ‘little’ things. I might discover how much effort they are putting into something I take for granted.
Understanding a peer’s neurodiversity can help me know that they can still be my friend and that I might need to shift my expectations on some things. It can help me to not take their decisions personally or insist that they do something which makes them uncomfortable. It can also help explain why teachers appear to favour them or why they get their way a lot, both of which can seem unfair at the time. I can learn not to rush to a quick and harsh judgement of others, because not all challenges are visible.
Our Tintern Compass points include Compassion and Respect. Our motto is ‘Through Deeds not words’. Taking the time and effort to learn about others and understand neurodiversity is a great way to honour both the Compass and motto.
The Year 3 Girls explored neurodiversity by completing a simple task as a group activity, but each group were given an impediment. One group had to balance five hats on their head, another were blindfolded by jumpers, another had tape on their hands which restricted finger movement and another had to sing ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ while completing the task. One group were given no impediment. This task led to discussions about empathy for others, and how we felt towards others who had more difficulty with the task.
Some thoughts from our Year 3 Girls:
‘This week I learned that neurodiverse people can learn hard things’. – Selina
‘Brains are different. Take ADHD for instance, some people with ADHD think of things that others couldn’t think of’. – Ruby
‘Autism is where different people find things easier than other things and find emotions harder to understand.’ – Holly
‘Brains are different, even twins.” Olivia Z
‘Autistic people see the world differently. We all find some things harder than other things’. – Kara
‘I have learned that brains are different, they think differently and learn differently’. – Sienna
Nick Adeney | Teacher Girls’ Junior School