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Nurturing Neurodiverse Success in Education

Updated: Mar 18

Written by Gill Featherstone, a past Yes Futures one-to-one Coach

Gill Featherstone is a neurodiversity coach and educational researcher. Finding ways to support neurodiverse individuals and their families has been a central focus of her training and she is a certified Holistic Life Coach and Mind Body Practitioner.

Educators are on a perpetual quest to craft learning environments that captivate and inspire their student body. Furthermore, the home learning environment, and the expectations around completing homework outside of the school day, add another layer of complexity around student motivation and organisation.

Yet, what sparks motivation in one student may not ignite the same enthusiasm in another—especially when it comes to the diverse world of neurodiverse learners.

For example, when it comes to children with ADHD, traditional methods like rewards and consequences can often miss the mark. Unlike their neurotypical counterparts, children with ADHD operate on an "interest-based nervous system" and are much more likely to respond well to their more intrinsic motivations than neurotypical learners  - who are more easily influenced by extrinsic pressures.  Further, Dr. William Dodson identifies four main criteria that trigger dopamine release in the ADHD brain, promoting engagement and motivation – Novelty, Interest, Challenge, and Extreme Urgency (N.I.C.E.). Similarly, the journey of Autistic pupils through the school and learning landscape encounters unique challenges, stemming from variations in social communication, sensory processing, and cognitive functioning.

While strides are being made in elevating awareness around the needs of neurodiverse learners, the spotlight must also shine on fostering self-awareness among neurodiverse learners. This is where coaching programmes such as Yes Futures can really bridge that divide between a learner’s own motivations to learn and the skills and executive function to do so.

Empowering neurodiverse students to recognise their distinctive needs and develop personalised strategies aligned with their unique brain chemistry is key.

As a neurodiversity coach volunteering with Yes Futures, I've had the privilege of supporting learners navigating the realms of ADHD and autism. Together, we've developed and adopted strategies that work with their individual needs. Some examples include:

• Making sure learning resources and apps are easily accessible and can be used in a space without distraction from other family members.

• Introducing the ‘Pomodoro technique’ to conquer overwhelming homework, recognising the power of breaking down tasks into bite-sized tasks.

• Incorporating timers and self-reward systems, to ‘gamify’ the learning journey.

• Using tools such as doodle pads to aid attentiveness in class and encouraging the self-advocacy skills required to approach teachers to address these needs

• Recognising which scenarios make attention and listening difficult

• Navigating conflict and emotional regulation by identifying triggers and understanding which activities and spaces reduce overwhelm

• Identifying strengths they can employ in their learning  - of which they have many!

I believe that strategies such as these, identified in partnership with a coach, can really support a neurodiverse learner to become more self-aware, improve their self-esteem, enhance their coping mechanisms and ultimately improve their learning capacity and self-esteem.  The fact that Yes Futures coaching sessions are delivered across school terms, and incorporate World of Work trips and ‘Into the Wild’ days also provides students with invaluable opportunities to practice and reflect on these new found skills and strategies.

For more information on our programmes and to find out how we could support your students, please visit our Programmes page.

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