On Neurodiversity - Part Two
Independent Thinking Associate David Hodgson continues his brief exploration of
neurodiversity, identifying four skills that will benefit all students
In part one we were introduced to clinical psychologist, Dr David Keirsey.
He suggested an inclusive model in schools based on the premise that all people are different. These differences are our natural birthright.
They do not need to be changed, but understood.
We can then identify and apply our inbuilt strengths and develop useful skills and behaviours to ensure we all thrive1.
This includes both working memory and long-term memory. We all need to learn how to hold verbal and visual information in our heads. Students can assess the strategies they currently use and try new strategies.
Experts in dyslexia, have developed strategies that can be applied to help all students spell and learn more efficiently. In my own research with top performing GCSE students with Warwick University I could model their working memory strategies and pass these on to all students.
I have also worked with people whose memory is too good. People with phobias or soldiers with PTSD remember single events too well and need to learn how to partially ‘forget’ them.
The overall approach here is consistent with research highlighting the value of metacognitive skill, to think about how we create memories and how we can do this better.
Communication and Social Skills
We all need to communicate in person and in written format, especially online, and we can all learn to do this better. This focus can be especially beneficial when it comes to helping students with the skill of reading faces, gestures, emotions and motives.
What's more, we can all improve our awareness of social cues and how to use them.
For example, Marie Johnston, Emeritus Professor of Health Psychology at the University of Aberdeen has described research showing how GPs can increase the number of useful symptoms presented by patients simply by nodding and smiling more during the consultation.
Task Completion Skills
These are the skills required to get things done. They can be audited and improved. Breaking these down into planning, organising, prioritising, focusing, goal-setting, motivation, resilience. Students are usually better at completing tasks in their hobbies, interests and favourite subjects and struggle with things they consider boring. Therefore, learning strategies to boost motivation and performance will help all students. This can incorporate PSHE content.
An important factor to bear in mind here is that we think at different speeds. Traditional intelligence tests usually assess and reward processing speed. If someone answers 20 questions correctly in ten minutes they are deemed more intelligent (in the subject tested) than someone answering 15 questions. These kinds of tests are not universally popular.
Some questions can be answered quickly, but others can be approached differently. For example, a useful approach is to allow students as much time as they need to reach a satisfactory answer.
We can also introduce two different processing styles from personality psychology.
- Linear, details, step-by-step
- Sequential and global, big picture, creative, innovative.
Both can be taught as strategies and skills available for all students.
Principle 4: Focus classroom activities on developing the behaviours and skills important to everyone rather than on a list of potential problems associated with each neurodivergent condition.
It is important to note that many of the strategies and skills Keirsey identifies will already be found in a good school’s curriculum and policies. So, build on what is already working in your school - whether it’s scaffolding, meta-cognition, peer mentoring or something else. Start with your school’s strengths and best practice.
What’s more, in an approach championed by Victoria Honeybourne in The Neurodiverse Classroom, each child’s learning needs and targets (not disabilities) can be assessed and progress measured. Whole school progress can be measured. A focus on progress over time removes the pressure for perfection.
The OECD Report Equity and Inclusion in Education: Finding Strength through Diversity, released in February 2023, identifies students with SEN, migrant backgrounds and those with socio-economic disadvantages as groups at risk of being excluded.
The key recommendations of the report are: consistent with the principles outlined above.
- Develop and embed policy framework on equity and inclusion that highlights importance of student well-being as well as academic achievement and includes monitoring and evaluation.
- Ensure a flexible system responsive to student needs including flexible curriculum, a variety of educational pathways and support for teachers to adapt pedagogies.
- Involve all stakeholders and co-ordinate efforts to mitigate discriminatory beliefs.
- Prepare and train teachers and embed equity and inclusion within initial training and continuous professional development. Empower school leaders to shape and drive equity and inclusion policies and practices.
- Identify student needs, target and coordinate support, use assessments to show students what they have learnt and understood
These important findings are consistent with the principles I have outlined above and in part one of this blog and will help us all as we move away from a deficit model of supporting neurodivergent young people and towards one that is fully inclusive, embracing approaches through which everyone benefits.
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