Empowering Neurodiverse Students With Neuroeducation: Paving The Way Toward Neuroinclusion



How To Design Neuroinclusive Learning Spaces That Celebrate Neurodiversity

As a species, humans are inherently neurodiverse. Various factors, including genetics, upbringing, and lived experiences, mold our brains, actively shaping our cognitive characteristics. Beyond the fact that the classification of these characteristics as “neurodiverse” or “neurotypical” is extremely context-reliant and reflective of distinct sociocultural constructs, the only certainty lies in acknowledging that there’s no “right” way of thinking and that every brain is different and its uniqueness should be celebrated.

Broadly speaking, neurodiversity refers to the naturally occurring neurological differences in humans. It encompasses conditions such as ADHD, autism, or dyslexia. The term neurodiversity was initially coined by sociologist Judy Singer in the late 1990s, who demonstrated that neurological differences are part of natural human diversity. For Singer, this term describes the human species as a whole. [1] As follows, the rich variation in human neurocognition, as well as hindrances to the full democratization of education, illustrates a greater need to develop learning spaces that are intentionally designed to cater to and celebrate neurodiversity.

Moving beyond the traditional one-size-fits-all approach and using neuroeducation as a compass, it’s time to demolish barriers to education so that we empower all learners. Let’s review how the establishment of targeted neuroeducation-based practices can transform education into an enriching experience that promotes accessibility and neuroinclusion for neurodiverse students.

The Importance Of Neuroinclusion In Educational Environments

Typical in-person classrooms are not designed to be inclusive or accessible for neurodiverse students. Harsh, bright lighting, noises, mandatory social interactions, and even common educational practices like presentations or group projects are some examples of that, leading many students toward overstimulation, stress, or withdrawal from the learning process. Addressing these hindrances and forming educational environments specifically designed to accommodate and support all students is essential.

Recognizing the natural variations in human cognition through neuroeducation-based insights can pave the way for the creation of learning spaces founded on neuroinclusion. Still, it takes a well-rounded approach to instill neuroinclusive practices in a classroom. So, we must focus on educating ourselves and strive to become better educators and professionals. Avoiding generalized approaches, addressing preconceived notions, receiving appropriate training, and ensuring that our students remain supported throughout their learning journeys are crucial in developing authentically neuroinclusive educational spaces that are established to help learners thrive.

Using The Right Language

Do note that there’s great variability in linguistic preferences among people when it comes to terminology. For example, some are either in favor or against the term “neurodivergent,” some prefer terms like “neurodistinct,” and others completely forgo umbrella terms, opting to identify with their specific condition. [2] Because this article only breaches the surface of how to approach and promote neuroinclusion in educational contexts, we use the term “neurodiverse” for this analysis. We encourage our audience to stay informed and make sure to always refer to everyone in a way that feels right for them.

5 Ways To Promote Neuroinclusion In Your Classroom

1. Cultivate Neuroliteracy

As the gradual decrease in the average attention span takes center stage in popular discourse, neuroliteracy is bound to become a very in-demand skill in the next few years. When it comes to designing learning spaces specifically tailored to neurodiverse students, neuroliteracy is particularly essential, and educators should receive well-rounded training as part of their broader professional development.

Hence, to fully understand the characteristics and strengths associated with various types of neurodiversity, it’s important to leverage neuroscientific knowledge to learn about the brain’s attentional mechanisms, memory systems, and cognitive processes and implement these insights into your curriculum design and instructional practices. In addition, the cultivation of neuroliteracy can help you understand behavioral patterns, body language, executive functions and dysfunctions, fidgeting, and self-stimulating behavior (stimming), which can make a big difference in creating supportive, emotionally safe environments for neurodiverse learners.

2. Embrace Individual Preferences

To ensure that everyone’s needs are met, learn what works for each student. If something works for one student, it doesn’t mean that it will work for all of them. Still, that’s no reason to look for a medium—it’s a reason to design specific practices for specific students based on their individual preferences, characteristics, and strengths. While that approach may require more effort, it will be much more effective in the long run.

In practice, embracing individual preferences requires educators to get to know their students through direct communication, observation, or collaboration with family members or specialists. These interactions will provide the foundations for a tailored, learner-centric approach; from how each learner prefers to engage with the material to how they prefer to exhibit understanding, educators can use this neuroeducation principle to differentiate instruction and material to cater to each individual learner.

Ultimately, this information is a goldmine that will foster neuroinclusion in the classroom and craft a safe, productive, and empowering space for each individual. Just make sure to regularly assess the effectiveness of your neuroinclusive practices by asking for feedback. This will help you understand the experiences of your students and make the necessary adjustments to ensure that their needs are actively being met.

3. Create Predictable Environments

A key aspect of promoting neuroinclusion in the classroom lies in establishing clear-cut, consistent, and structured routines that help diminish negative associations with the learning process. This can be achieved by implementing daily schedules that follow similar structures and outlining each activity that will take place. Make sure to offer sufficient notice if the programming needs to be changed and always provide a copy of the current schedule in advance, ideally presented in a visible, designated place.

To further enhance predictability, set straightforward expectations for classroom conduct along with a clear support system to accommodate potential incidents. On that note, spatial consistency is also important, so maintain a comprehensive classroom layout that remains relatively unchanged and contributes to a sense of stability. Lastly, limit distractions or sources of overstimulation, remain mindful of ambiance by dimming the lights and reducing external noises, and provide sufficient, sensory-friendly spaces that include calming or stimming corners.

4. Utilize Technology

Assistive technologies should be part of every public space, including classrooms and workplaces. Tools such as speech-to-text software, reading guides, and screen readers provide additional support to neurodiverse students, improving their learning experience.

For example, some types of assistive tech, like text-to-speech software or audiobooks, help enhance reading comprehension. Other technologies, like FM listening systems or soundfield systems, reduce background noise and listening fatigue, encouraging better auditory processing and concentration on the task at hand. Moreover, interactive apps like digital planners can help learners understand and establish routines by utilizing graphics to demonstrate organizational practices. Focus-enhancing tools support concentration on certain tasks through simplified, distraction-free user interfaces that make it easier to achieve a flow state.

Of course, not every piece of assistive tech needs to be cutting-edge—learners may also benefit from simple support additions like large-display calculators, weighted pens, pencil grips, or large printed material. It’s our job as educators to find out what works for each learner and ensure that they are equipped with the necessary resources to succeed in their learning efforts.

5. Add Different Modes Of Support

Creating a supportive environment goes beyond academic performance and instead encompasses a variety of practices that foster neuroinclusion and build strong, trusting relationships between educators and learners. It’s essential that all students feel confident that their learning environment will provide accommodations to support them throughout the learning process. Along with ensuring a consistent and predictable environment, educators should also implement different modes of support based on each student’s preferences and behaviors.

For example, fidget toys and sensory tools can significantly improve the learning experience by managing restlessness and improving concentration, while noise-canceling headphones, earplugs, or weighted blankets can reduce sensory overload. Lastly, flexible seating options, like standing desks and bean bags, as well as spaces designated for free movement, may help learners reset their focus and channel their energy without disrupting their learning.

Conclusion

From neuroinclusive classrooms to neuroinclusive workplaces, embracing neurodiversity is our responsibility as educators and professionals. Recognizing the rich variety of human neurocognition can help us create intentional, supporting, and equitable learning environments that are designed to promote neuroinclusion. It’s an effort that can truly democratize educational delivery and ensure that the needs of all learners are met actively and efficiently.

References:

[1] The mother of neurodiversity: how Judy Singer changed the world

[2] Neurodiversity and neuroinclusion: embedding difference as standard



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