Challenges for neurodiverse students

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Zoe O'Donnell, Ranger Review Reporter

Our school system poses many challenges for neurodiverse students that can be easily fixed. Students with Dyslexia, ADHD, Autism, and more are considered to be neurodivergent. Public education was designed for neurotypical students and learners, but there are steps we can take to include more of our students when teaching. It’s time that we address ableism in our education system.

Neurodiversity or neurodivergence refers to a variation in the human brain regarding sociability, learning, attention, mood, and other mental functions. Neurotypical refers to someone who doesn’t face these challenges. Ableism is discrimination against those with disabilities, including neurodivergence.   

Although neurodiverse students face a great number of challenges, I’m going to address issues that can be easily fixed by an individual teacher.

First, stop asking your students to read out loud during classes. Not all students will identify themselves as neurodiverse, and reading in front of the class can be very difficult for students with dyslexia. After struggling to read the passage, they may be made fun of by their peers for something they can’t even control. Please protect your students and ask students to raise their hand first, or, better yet, assign the reading as homework. 

Stop calling on students whose hands are not raised. I know it appears to be a great way to engage students who normally won’t answer, but it’s actually incredibly harmful to neurodiverse students. ADHD, or Attention Hyper Deficit Disorder, gives students challenges with keeping their attention focused on the task at hand. A student may be completely zoned out and not even realize it. Calling on them and then punishing them for not knowing the answer or what question was asked is deeply ableist. 

Another huge challenge for neurodiverse students is timed assignments and tests. ADHD and Autism impacts your executive functioning, like time management, and makes it difficult to complete tasks in a certain amount of time. Students with dyslexia may take longer to read and understand assignments than neurotypical students. Although it’s unrealistic to completely eradicate due dates, giving only thirty minutes or an hour to complete a task is not realistic for neurodiverse students. 

Something that can largely help students with ADHD and/or Autism is keeping a clear schedule and routine for your class. It’s important that they have a familiar schedule they can follow, not having one can affect their performance in class. I recommend posting the schedule for class  and an overview of the work expectations for each day of the week on Canvas during distance learning. It’s also immensely helpful if you write on the board or type in the chat what assignment the class is currently working on so students can know what they are working on. 

These are small and easy steps to take to make learning easier for neurodivergent students and they have no negative impact on the learning of neurotypical students. 

Punishing students for fidgeting/stimming is also extremely harmful. Stimming refers to self-stimulating behaviors, usually involving repetitive movements or sounds. Stimming can help students with Autism calm down. Stimming and fidgeting can help students with Autism or ADHD focus. Allowing students to use fidget toys or objects and fidget or stim in the classroom greatly improves their learning experience.