Beyond Accommodation: Building a Classroom Community that Honors Neurodiversity
As an educator, I have seen firsthand how well-structured and calm classroom communities can benefit all students, including those who are neurodiverse. I’m known for my organization, tidiness, calm demeanor and routines. I’m also known as the one with the really good smelling room (mild essential oils)! Over the years, I had students commenting on how much they appreciated having a place that was welcoming, inviting and would you believe it…organized. I also received feedback from parents about how much they appreciated my approach, as the atmosphere lent itself to focus, calm feelings, security in the school setting, and openness amongst the students. It's important for parents to understand that many classroom procedures designed for neurodiverse students are actually beneficial for all students. By creating an inclusive and supportive classroom environment, all students can thrive and reach their full potential. My goal is to explain to parents of all students what neurodiversity is and why a classroom environment honoring it is just right for any child lucky enough to be in it.
It's important to acknowledge that while neurodiverse students may have different learning needs, we do not want to label them in a way that can be harmful or stigmatizing. Kids see kids for kids! That is, up until a point when they really start listening to how the adults around them are speaking about and treating those around them, and they start forming judgements of their own. It's our job to create a classroom where everyone is valued for who they are, has a voice, and is a part of the community. However, it's also important to recognize that these students do have learning differences that need to be acknowledged and accommodated in order to support their academic and social success.
Building a Supportive Classroom Community
One of the most important things to understand is clear communication. I know this might sound like an obvious one, but it’s surprisingly harder than you might think. Communication isn’t actually all that easy for everyone, including teachers. We can get caught up in the day, rush over things or speak too quickly, but that’s not all. Communication also includes providing notice of any changes to the schedule or routine, this is crucial for so many students! Even adults appreciate this! I always had the daily schedule on the board, as most do, but as soon as there was a change, I made sure to let everyone know as a whole, rather than casually blurting it out to only those who might have been listening.
In addition, all students benefit from having a supportive and inclusive classroom environment. This means fostering a sense of community and belonging, and promoting positive relationships between students and with the teacher. As my most recent experience has been in a PYP school, I draw from that framework the most. I feel the PYP is all about being open-minded, respectful and using skills of empathy and collaboration. We build our classroom environments with intention from day one, making sure to use the Learner Profile and ATLs as a benchmark. By creating a safe and supportive environment, all students feel valued and supported, which leads to better academic and social outcomes. I LOVE sharing stories from my classes over the years, especially when it has to do with the calm and supportive community we formed. There’s something about a truly cohesive classroom that just melts your heart, and you know you’ve done them well for this one year of their lives.
Incorporating these strategies into the classroom can create an environment that supports all students, including those who are neurodiverse. By recognizing and addressing the unique needs of each student, we can create a classroom community that promotes academic and social success for all.
Hearing from Parents
I find it's really important hearing directly from parents when I write about topics such as this. I was fortunate enough to talk to Nicole Joye and Jennifer Mazur, both moms who have a lot of experience and information to share.
Nicole Joye, parent of a teenager with ADHD (inattentive type) has the following to say to other parents, and teachers too:
"ADHD is not caused by bad parenting. Children with ADHD need someone in their corner. As a parent, it is your job to be that someone, always. ADHD is not something you outgrow, as you get older you learn which coping strategies work for you."