Neurodivergence in the school system
So we’re all in agreement that we didn’t all of a sudden become Neurodivergent as adults? Okay, fab!
I came across an article which confirmed what we already knew, you don’t grow out of ADHD. The study found that ‘90% of children with ADHD will continue to experience symptoms in adulthood.
As you all know, I was diagnosed with ADHD Combined Type in January 2020.
I wasn’t a ‘gifted child’ like many people with ADHD seem to have been. But I was the ‘you have so much potential’ child.
Which one were you?
I thought my teacher telling my dad that I had “the attention span of a goldfish” at parent’s evening would have made my ADHD obvious. I guess not!
This made me wonder whether teachers are trained on the topic of Neurodiversity. So I asked Neurodivergent teachers on Twitter about their teacher training.
Q1: Did your teacher training course include information on Neurodiversity?
“For basic teacher training, no materials were included with respect to Neurodiversity. I have attended one introductory SEN module and the perspectives are clearly shaped by those who are not Neurodivergent. Person-first language is strongly advised and the description of ADHD and Autism seem to based entirely on diagnostic criteria rather than actual support needs. There is little understanding of the difficulties students might actual face in the class room and recommendations tend to be fairly superficial, such as using fidget toys or talking about sensory overload.”
An anon teacher from the US said:
“During my teacher training I had minimal readings on Neurodiversity. Anything that is Neurodivergent is under the special education umbrella. At my university, general education teachers only had one inclusion class and that was to “prepare” us for if we were co-taught when you have students that have an a Individualized Educational Plan” (a plan to ensure a child who has a disability recieved specialized instruction).
A few other teachers from the UK responded that the training they received on Neurodiversity was very limited.
Q2: If you suspected a student was Neurodivergent, as a teacher, what can you do about it?’
“Labeling a condition (even, “I suspect Johnny might have ADHD or another similar condition”) starts a whole process that requires a ton of meetings, paperwork, and admin-involvement. Therefore, teacher training discouraged us from doing much if we suspect anything. If there’s academic issues, I’d talk to their principal, but it’d be focused on performance not condition. If behavioral, a counselor but same deal. Essentially, if I suspect a student is neurodivergent, I try and give them the same accommodations I’d do if they were diagnosed. But it’s not really an option to contact parents about possible neurodivergence or suggest testing.”
“I’ve often been the person who has begun investigations into children with suspected neurodiverse brains. I’ve often been met with feelings of “oh it’s too much effort to begin diagnosis” or “well the parents haven’t said anything” but I’ve pushed through and helped quite a few children.”
“There is no systematic way for discussing the developmental differences of a student. Usually these things are settled externally (especially since in Singapore almost all education is state run). I have recommended that a few parents talk to child psychologists but usually they are hesitant to for a few reasons, or the psychologists have dismissed ADHD or autism based on weak understandings of what ADHD/Autism is. E.g. the child can sit still and have a conversation.”
Q3: Do you have any examples of how you tried to make things easier for Neurodivergent students?
All of the teachers provided a few examples of how they accommodate Neurodivergent students:
Providing sensory toys, mats, and stickers
Sticking to a clear routine, making any changes known in advance
Timers - prompts, and check-ins during independent task time
Visuals - BrainPOP, short films when it comes to teaching a reading skill, drawing things out in math, being theatrical when it comes to reading stories while I’m teaching a reading skill, modeling in writing
Colour communication folders, and helping them to stay organized
Does anyone else wish they had these teachers when you were back in school?
Neurodivergent kid to Neurodivergent adult pipeline
Unfortunately, many of us navigated childhood and most of our adulthood undiagnosed. Although this brought about many challenges for me, I was able to graduate from university and enter into the corporate world.
Others have not been so lucky.
Many Neurodivergent kids were left unsupported by their teachers, which affected their career prospects after school.
I read a BBC article by Ashley John-Baptiste on ‘The black children wrongly sent to 'special' schools in the 1970s.’
Maisie Barrett shared her experience of transferring to an ESN school after a teacher told her mother that she couldn’t learn. This resulted in Maise leaving secondary school with no qualifications.
“Rather than help me with my learning difficulties, I was simply dismissed as stupid. Teachers never took the time to find out why I struggled with learning. That messed up my confidence” - Maisie Barrett
Maise was eventually diagnosed with dyslexia in her 30s.
The school-to-prison pipeline in relation to Neurodivergent kids is a big topic to tackle on its own. But I couldn’t write this newsletter without referencing it briefly.
Kids with ADHD are likely to be sent out of class for ‘disruptive’ behavior. The issue with this is that many kids (especially black/brown kids) navigate the school system undiagnosed.
Another issue is that many schools in countries like the US have “outsourced discipline to juvenile courts and officers in schools” - Libby Nelson and Dara Lind
A study by Myles Moody thoroughly examines ADHD under-diagnosis and the over-representation of Black children in the American criminal justice system:
“Existing research supports the notion that Black childern are under-diagnosed for ADHD compared to White children (Healy 2013) and that Black children are punished with suspensions, and other punishments that lead them to the criminal judicial system, more often than White children are in school (Crenshaw et al. 2015; Smith and Harper 2015).”
Some educators are either unaware or unsympathetic of Neurodivergent kids. This is why it’s very important to:
Get rid of the stereotype that ADHD is a “white boy” condition
Improve teacher training on all types of Neurodivergence
Address the systemic issue of harsh punishments for kids who display traits closely linked to a Neurodivergent condition
It has taken me soooo long to write this due to the sensitivities of this topic. As you all know, my primary focus is ‘adulting with ADHD’ but I felt like this was a topic that I needed to bring to the forefront.
Rach, with ADHD.
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Happy to have found this page!