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Being Different is a Wonderful Thing: Neurodiversity – the New Superpower

Educational Psychologist, Amanda Benbow, writes about the need to embrace all the positives that come with neurodiverse children. Amanda is married to Ed Benbow, Head of Hazlegrove Prep School.

 

'Current statistics estimate that around 1 in 10 children are likely to be dyslexic, 1 in 20 are likely to have significant difficulties with attention (ADHD) and around 1 in 60 are likely to be autistic. Since ‘lockdown’ the numbers of people seeking diagnosis for these three areas has rocketed. There are high numbers of these children in our education system, and there are many more who share some of the same challenges that come with being neurodiverse.

As a society, we are gradually waking up to the fact that we are all different and one size does not fit all, none more so than in the world of education. We no longer force a left-handed person to become right-handed, and instead make accommodations to reduce the barriers they may experience from living in a world designed for right-handers, (left-handed scissors being an example). We understand why some people may find it harder to learn to read and write or grasp numbers, and create dyslexia and dyscalculia friendly learning environments, recognising the many strengths and skills that they have and enable them to use the tools they need to succeed.

As a neurotypical person (I think!), I have had a relatively easy educational journey. I attended mainstream schools where the curriculum and learning environment were set up for a neurotypical child and appropriate for the way I processed information. However, for a neurodiverse child, it is not so simple. As an education system, over the last forty years we have made great strides in recognising learning differences such as dyslexia and dyscalculia, and we have adapted teaching and learning, developing programmes of intervention to ensure they are able to achieve their potential. But we have been a little slower to do the same for children who present with challenges that are not so easy to quantify or identify.

Our world would be a very boring and ‘beige’ place without neurodiverse brains that see the world in a different way. We would not have most of the technology we use on a daily basis, or many of the extraordinary, creative geniuses that have existed within our musical and artistic worlds. It is easy to say neurodiversity is a wonderful thing, because I have not had the experience of being neurodiverse in a neurotypical world. However, despite the brilliance that comes from being neurodiverse, these children and young people can find school extremely challenging and can grow up to believe they are wrong in some way.

The analogy ‘square peg, round hole’ comes to mind, and it is this acceptance that ‘one size does not fit all’ in an educational environment, that is needed. We have to open our eyes to difference and see it as simply that – difference. We must celebrate this rather than try to change it and make sure the ‘hole’ is flexible so that it really does fit all. We need to step back and reflect on our environment and see it through the eyes of a neurodiverse child, and throw out our traditional beliefs about key aspects of school life such as breaktimes, sport, assemblies, homework, parents’ evenings, and so on, and make these work for all children not just those that fit the mould.

This is not easy, particularly as those making the changes are predominantly neurotypical brain types, so we must listen to our neurodiverse communities and try to find out how to alter things within our schools to accommodate every child’s needs. If we can do this, it will benefit all children and we will create learning environments where children feel accepted and thrive and where being different is a wonderful thing.'




09.05.23