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Strategies for Neurodiverse Students, Best Practice for All


In the diverse landscape of today’s classrooms, embracing strategies that support neurodiverse students is not just about inclusivity—it’s about enriching the learning environment for everyone. Strategies tailored to the unique needs of neurodiverse students often are beneficial for the entire class. Let’s explore how educators can implement practices that, while essential for some, enhance learning and personal development for all.

Classroom Routines: 

Establishing clear, consistent classroom routines helps all students understand what is expected of them and when. For neurodiverse students, particularly those who may struggle with executive function skills, routines provide a sense of predictability and structure that can significantly reduce anxiety and improve focus. For the class, well-established routines lead to a smoother, more efficient learning experience, minimizing disruptions and maximizing instructional time.

To begin building routines within the classroom, consider which expectation or skill you are trying to address, and think through exactly what you would like students to be doing. Below is an example of how a routine can be built to increase efficiency within an inclusive classroom:

What are the expectations for students? Students are expected to enter the classroom and complete their morning journal independently.

Let’s ask a different question though.

What are the exact steps students would take each day? 

1. Students enter the classroom quietly and sit at their desks.

2. Students pull out their red morning journals from their desks and open them to an empty page.

3. Each day, a new prompt is written on the board. Once students have their materials, they are expected to start journaling a response based on the prompt. 

4. When the bell rings, and all students are in their seats, the teacher begins a timer for 5 minutes. 

5. When the timer goes off, two students will be selected to share their journal entries while the teacher goes around to stamp or sign off that students participated in the activity. 

6. Once all journals are stamped, students put them away, and the direct instruction begins.

How does this routine support students? 

– Students who may feel anxious about what to expect in class feel more at ease knowing exactly how class starts each day.

– Students who struggle with sustaining focused attention benefit greatly from structure and boundaries. Consistent structure allows for patterns of focus to develop. 

– A timer serves as a reminder that they are meant to sustain attention on that task—and that task only—for 5 minutes.

– Building accountability by asking 2 people each day to share aloud or by stamping each journal before it is put away holds students accountable to following through. 

– The more students practice, the smoother the transitions for this routine will become, allowing for efficient, productive writing time for all students.

Accountability and Self-Advocacy: 

One important skill for students with unique accommodations, but one that also benefits all students, is the skill of self-advocacy. Encouraging every student to take ownership of their learning journey fosters a sense of accountability and independence. Teach students to set achievable goals, monitor their progress, and ask for help when needed. Integrating self-advocacy skills, such as understanding one’s needs and effectively communicating them, is vital for neurodiverse students and helpful for all. Students become more engaged, responsible learners when they learn to advocate for themselves.

This may look like building checkpoints for students to ask questions, utilizing self-assessments, or practicing peer “turn and talk” structures. All of these are quick ways throughout the lesson to allow students to reflect on how they are doing and then provide them the opportunity to communicate any confusion they may be facing. 

Promoting Office Hours: A Gateway to Personalized Support

Office hours are not just for post-secondary institutions; they can be valuable in any educational setting. Encouraging students to utilize office hours or designated support times allows for one-on-one interaction, providing an opportunity to address individual challenges, clarify misunderstandings, or extend learning. For neurodiverse students, this personalized attention can be crucial for overcoming barriers, although all students benefit from the additional support and mentorship.

Consider ways of communicating with students about when office hours are and what they can be used for. This can be outlined in a class syllabus, but students will also benefit from frequent reminders of this as a resource. Also, consider ways of motivating students to access this resource. For example, if students can boost participation points by accessing office hours, then students who are struggling may be more enticed to attend.

Teaching Effective Study Strategies: 

Study skills are not inherently known; they are learned. Teaching students various study techniques, such as active reading, note-taking strategies, or mnemonic devices, equips them with a toolkit for academic success. For neurodiverse students who might face unique learning challenges, understanding how to study effectively is particularly empowering. However, all students can improve their retention, understanding, and performance with robust study strategies. Students will benefit from explicit instruction on different studying techniques and distinct class time to practice. 

Encouraging Peer Support and Collaboration: 

Fostering a classroom environment that values peer support and collaboration creates a supportive learning community. Group work and peer tutoring provide social and emotional benefits and offer diverse perspectives and problem-solving approaches. While particularly beneficial for students who thrive on interpersonal interaction, all students can gain deeper understanding and enhanced communication skills through collaborative learning. 

Adopting teaching strategies that support neurodiverse students is not about singling out or providing special treatment; it’s about recognizing that what works for some can enhance learning for all. By implementing clear routines, fostering accountability, encouraging self-advocacy, promoting effective study habits, and building a collaborative classroom culture, educators create a more engaging, inclusive, and effective learning environment. In doing so, they not only support the success of neurodiverse students, but elevate the educational experience for every student they teach.

For More:

Strategies to Help Neurodiverse Students Fully Engage in Class 

Importance of Classroom Routines and Procedures 

Self-determination and Self Advocacy

How Schools Can Support Neurodiverse Students

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