My fascination with neurodiversity began with the birth of my son. Born 9 weeks early, my husband and I were “schooled” on all the “what could be’s” by the wonderfully supportive medical staff at the hospital where he was born. We were on the lookout for anything out of the ordinary – language acquisition difficulties, hearing impairments, speech difficulties, difficulties with gross and fine motor skills, learning difficulties, behavioural difficulties, anxiety, and sleep abnormalities. We were already dealing with neurodiversity before our son was discharged from the hospital.
Fast forward two years, and we began to notice our son struggling with many of the above mentioned neurodiverse symptoms. Months of testing revealed that our son was not a “neurotypical” person. In fact, my son is among the 15% of the world’s population that has a neurodiverse condition. Our son was diagnosed with Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder with Sensory Processing Disorder. Our fears were confirmed and our hearts were heavy with the news that our son would have to deal with these conditions for the rest of his life. As a parent, I felt so much guilt.
As a family of five, we had a choice to make. We could hide our son’s diagnosis out of fear and shame or we could use the diagnosis to help our son and educate others around us about neurodiversity. We chose the latter – and it has changed our family and my teaching for the better.
Once your eyes are open to the various neurodiverse conditions that are out there and acknowledge that there are, WITHOUT A DOUBT, neurodiverse students in your class, you will be able to encourage an open dialogue in your classroom about it. By talking about it and taking the negative stigma out of neurodiverse conditions, we set up an environment that fosters acceptance in our classrooms.
How do I do that exactly?
1. Have a professional come in and help discuss neurodiversity in “kid” terms.
One of the best things I did this year was have a consultant from my school board come in to talk about neurodiversity with my students. By talking to my students about autism, dyslexia, speech difficulties, and how everyone’s brains are “wired” differently, the students were introduced to the different neurodiverse conditions that our schoolmates have. She did activities with my students to show them what it is like to struggle with communication (non-verbal students), what it is like to struggle with gross motor skills (walking backwards with unfocussed binoculars), and what it feels like for someone with verbal processing difficulties to be told that they aren’t fast enough when responding to a question. These activities really showed my students what living with certain neurodiverse conditions is like – and gave my students the “experience” necessary to plant the roots of empathy in their hearts.
2. Read children’s books about neurodiversity to your students.
The consultant from my school board brought this book to our classroom to read to my students.
This amazing little photographic book is written by a young girl who’s best friend happens to have autism. This book introduces children to the difficulties some autistic children have when trying to socialize with others – and gives great tips for neurotypical children on how to interact with their autistic friends. There are also some great tips for parents and teachers as well. Look at how engaged my students were when they were reading the book with the school board consultant!
3. Teach your students about their brains and how they work.
It is time to take the negative stigma out of neurodiverse conditions and the best way to do that is to teach your students about their brains and how they work. In our Ethics classes, we have been doing just that. My students are now learning why some people have trouble speaking while others have trouble skipping. We are learning that each brain is unique and special. We are also learning how certain environmental factors can contribute to nuerodiverse conditions (accidents, drugs, bacteria, etc.). The more information we can give our students about brain function and development, the more they can understand, accept, and empathize with others who are dealing with neurodiverse conditions.
Since there is very little kid friendly neurodiversity products out there to use in your classroom, I developed my own that will help students recognize neurodiverse conditions as well as help them zone in on their learning strengths.
It amazes me that my 3rd grade students are so interested in learning about how the wiring of their brains affects their learning – and the dialogue that we have had has completely broken down the stigma of so-called learning disabilities of the students in my class. They are openly talking about their own neurodiversity and how their own brains work. It is done without laughter, negativity, and judgement but with caring, concern, and acceptance. What more could we ask for!
Another great part of my neurodiversity unit is the Learning Styles clip chart. I use this chart to show teachers and students the learning styles of all the children in my class. In one quick look, I can see how I need to incorporate different learning tactics to support the different learning styles in my room. When my students are working in groups, they can look at the chart to see what kind of strategies they need to incorporate into their group work so that all students can actively participate in the assignment.
To get your own copy of Neurodiversity: How I Learn Activities for Primary Students, please click on the image below.
Have a great day!