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Neurodivergent Learners: Help Neurodivergent People Succeed

I have always connected with the phrase, “A beautiful mind”. Having worked with children, teens, parents, and coaching teachers for over 25 years, I have witnessed firsthand that no two individuals think, act, comprehend, or compute information provided to them in the exact same way.

This is the number one reason being a teacher or a manager of people in any capacity is so difficult. For example, as a classroom teacher, you are typically given 20-25 students to teach and move forward academically and socially in just 9 short months. You are provided a specific set of outcomes and standards to cover, sometimes you are given a specific curriculum like a textbook series, but often you are left to figure out the “how and what” you will use to cover the standards on your own. Covering all the outcomes is the goal. However, not one of your learners in your classroom will comprehend the material at the exact same pace, level of proficiency, or in the exact same way. Add to the classroom dynamic one or two students who are neurodivergent, and that teacher will easily need to break the information down into at least 3 different unique ways if not more.

Neurodivergent learning refers to the learning styles and challenges faced by individuals who have neurodivergent conditions. Neurodivergent conditions include autism spectrum disorder (ASD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, dyspraxia, and others. Neurodivergent learners have cognitive differences that may affect their information processing, social interactions, sensory experiences, and overall learning ability. Not only does the teacher or manager need to alter their instruction to meet the academic cognitive needs of each individual, they may also need to alter their tone of voice, the pace of their lecture, and their classroom/organizational management style.

One tip for classroom teachers and employers of neurodivergent individuals is to learn how to recognize their unique strengths. Most neurodivergent people have extraordinary capabilities in certain areas like being extremely detail-oriented, having a keen or unique ability for understanding patterns and procedures, they may be highly creative or have amazing problem-solving abilities, they may thrive in systematic and structured environments, or they may excel in specific subjects or skills due to their intense focus and specialized interests. For example, individuals with ASD may have exceptional memory or mathematical abilities; while those with dyslexia may demonstrate heightened visual thinking or artistic talents. Individuals with ADHD are oftentimes easily distracted by little things, but when it comes to items of interest or problem solving their competitive nature and ability to hyperfocus can be extremely useful to a team or group dynamic.

At the same time, neurodivergent individuals may face challenges in traditional learning or office environments that are designed primarily for neurotypical individuals. They may experience difficulties with executive functioning skills like organization and time management. Switching from one task to the next, being flexible, or controlling their emotions may be very difficult if they become stressed or feel uncertain about a given task. Knowing this, and keeping these things in mind can help teachers and employers manage and instruct neurodivergent individuals in a way that is both beneficial for themselves and the entire classroom or company.

To support neurodivergent individuals, educators, and institutions can adopt inclusive teaching and training practices that accommodate diverse learning styles. This may involve:

  1. Providing a variety of alternative learning materials (auditory, visual, kinesthetic)

  2. Using videos and visual aids such as schedules, task lists, and procedures to help individuals access the materials as many times as necessary

  3. Offer clear and consistent instructions and routines

  4. Minimize sensory distractions or provide equipment like headphones, alternate environment, or access to adaptive technology

It is important to recognize and capitalize on the unique strengths of neurodivergent learners while providing necessary support to overcome challenges and create an inclusive working and learning environment for everyone.

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