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Why is it so important to talk about neurodiversity?

The word “neurodiversity” means that all our brains work in different ways. To make things easier, we often group people together based on whether their brains work similarly. We describe the biggest group as “neurotypical”, and other groups as “neurodivergent”. People with autism, ADHD or dyslexia are examples of neurodivergent people. However, neurodivergence looks very different for different people, and many neurodivergent people don't have a diagnosis. Importantly, only a group can be neurodiverse. Your class is an example of a neurodiverse group, made up of neurotypical and neurodivergent pupils – with each individual brain working in its own unique way!


Although all our brains work differently, we don’t all experience these differences in the same way. Similarly to other dimensions of diversity, for example ethnicity, neurodivergent people are affected by the judgement and expectations of others. Schools are mostly set up for neurotypical people, and so a lot of neurodivergent students face more social and academic challenges than their neurotypical peers. Studies show that neurodivergent students are more likely than neurotypical students to experience academic difficulties, behavioural problems, bullying and even exclusion by teachers [1][2]. This can lead to frustration and anxiety. They may also feel the need to hide their true behaviours and conform as much as possible – called “masking” – which can lead to overstimulation and burnout [3].

 

Here at Braintastic! Science, we encourage everyone to get excited about learning. Creating a neuro-inclusive classroom is one way to do this. This might feel daunting, but you can start by simply explaining neurodiversity to your students. Neurodiversity is all about understanding that we all think in different ways, and that no one way is better than another. Understanding this helps create richer and safer learning environments for everyone, no matter where they are on the neurodiversity spectrum. Nobody is too young to learn about how their – and others’ – brains work! March 18th–24th is Neurodiversity celebration week [4] – so what better time to start?


Talking about neurodiversity can sometimes be confusing or lead to mixed feelings. Neurodivergent people with a diagnosis may have a clear idea of what their diagnosis means, and might have positive and negative feelings about it; for example, relief for having an explanation for their behaviours, or anxiety about the prejudices associated with these labels. On other hand, neurodivergent people without a diagnosis may feel frustrated by not understanding exactly what’s going on and how some of their symptoms may affect their lives. Neurotypical people can also start questioning their own behaviours and might be confused to discover what their friends and classmates are experiencing. Learning about neurodiversity can answer many of their questions, and get rid of hurtful stereotypes – which can give back agency to neurodivergent people. Knowledge truly is power! Teaching neurodiversity is crucial to encourage and empower all students to reach their full potential and thrive at school – and in life.


Our latest show, Am I Normal? (for KS4–KS5) explores how there’s no such thing as a “normal” brain, and celebrates the incredible diversity of the human brain. Want to know more? Get in touch!

 





Resources to get you started 

Learning About Neurodiversity at School (LEANS)- a free curriculum created in collaboration with researchers from the University of Edinburgh to introduce neurodiversity to 8-11 years old students

Anna Freud Mentally healthy schools, https://mentallyhealthyschools.org.uk/

National Autistic Society, https://www.autism.org.uk/

 

 

[1] Aitken & Wang, (2019), Learning Difficulties and Exclusion from School, Salvesen Mindroom Research Briefing, number 1

[2] Fink et al., (2015), Assessing the bullying and victimisation experiences of children with special educational needs in mainstream schools: Development and validation of the Bullying Behaviour and Experience Scale

[3] May et al., (2020), Attainment, attendance, and school difficulties in UK primary schoolchildren with probable ADHD

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