The term “neurodiversity” is increasingly becoming established across all sectors of the education system in the UK. There is increasing recognition that learners can no longer be easily categorised into single diagnostic entities, for example, ADHD or ASC, but are a complex mixture of genetic and environmental factors, which includes co-occurrence. Co-occurrence is the rule rather than the exception. Over 60% of learners with ADHD will have comorbid learning differences. Up to 50% of learners with Dyslexia will also have Dyscalculia and/ or Dysgraphia. Although this increased awareness is to be welcomed as an important step towards more closely meeting the needs of a range of learners, it is not without challenges. The training team at the ADHD Foundation has, for many years, visited schools throughout the UK and offered training opportunities in a range of single neurodevelopmental conditions. However, during these sessions, the conversation often turns to how to approach support in classrooms in which there are a plethora of diagnosed conditions. Are there challenges in common across learning differences? Although we believe that it is important for teachers to understand the uniqueness of every diagnosable condition, we recognise that this can be a daunting task and that this will develop over time for every education professional. Therefore, should we also be exploring broader themes, for example, multisensory approaches, addressing attentional dysregulation, supporting executive functioning and reducing learner anxiety? Which long established strategies for one condition could be effective to support learners with other diagnoses? A good example of this would be strategies to support reading difficulties. We know that an over-reliance on written text can automatically disable learners with various diagnosed conditions. Establishing reader friendly classrooms can also be an effective approach to support the needs of learners with, for example, attentional control issues or high anxiety. Similarly, classrooms in which strategies to support impaired working memory are priorities and structured in routinely will offer increased opportunities for success. With an increased understanding of the range of learning differences by children and young people, their parents/carers and other professionals and incidence rates increasing across the UK, the time is right now to really explore and create truly neurodiverse friendly classrooms.
You can hear from Colin Foley at NAHT’s SEND Conference 2021 – New Perspectives on Neurodiversity on 20 October in his workshop, Neurodiversity – ‘A Spectrum of Traits’. Join us in-person in Manchester or virtually.