Supporting Neurodiversity in the Classroom

Supporting Neurodiversity in the Classroom

More than anything, it’s important to nurture the interests of your students and support them in all that they do.

Just over one in five children in American Elementary Schools learns with a condition that affects their attention or concentration and might be classified as neurodivergent¹. Neurodiversity is a handy umbrella term that helps us describe the inherent ways in which different people’s brains function and process information. Typically, those on the autistic spectrum and those with ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, or dyscalculia might be described or identify as neurodivergent²—but this is by no means an exhaustive list. Data shows us that students with additional neurodivergent needs are less likely to complete their education and often less likely to perform well in school², even when appropriate support is in place.

Academic success can look different for every student, and this is particularly true for neurodivergent students—just as their needs differ, so do their strengths. The “label” can help us reframe the way we, both society collectively and neurodiverse individuals, think about different kinds of brains—not as something to be cured or as superior, just different. Summer school can be the ideal time to help neurodivergent students find the best modes of learning for their brains, without the pressure or deadlines of a regular semester. After the recent need for an uptake in hybrid learning, the exploration of technological methods of study has been a huge asset for many with additional learning needs, as new programs and tools become available.

The reality is that all of us need different types of support sometimes, and the extra adjustments you could make in your classroom specifically for neurodivergent students will often benefit everyone! Here are three top tips to help you get started.

Help your students recognize their own strengths

Praise is important in any context. It helps your students build their confidence and sense of self-esteem, particularly in the context of recognizing their achievements and learning how to think positively about themselves³. 

Sometimes when a student is struggling with one subject and experiencing low morale and self-esteem, it can be helpful for them to shift focus to their strengths and acknowledge what they’re doing well. In doing so, it’s often possible for them to gain a new outlook on the challenge they’re facing, or simply just allow them to properly recharge and gain mental and emotional balance before returning to their work⁴.

We can’t all be good at everything all the time. More than anything, it’s important to nurture the interests of your students and support them in all that they do.

Support learning style choice

You might already think that your students have the chance to learn across a range of mediums, alongside your varied teaching approaches—which is great! But some students may be entirely unable to synthesize their learning when presented with activities that make them uncomfortable⁵. Visual, auditory, and kinesthetic styles of learning have the potential to be stressful for some students, and providing the opportunity for choice can improve academic outcomes, interpersonal relationships, and overall happiness levels. 

For example, while one group of students engages in a kinesthetic activity, another group might learn the same concept through digital means—effectively stratifying students based on their sensory needs and ensuring they are able to get the most out of the lesson⁶. In situations like this, programs like Twig Create really shine—it’s a digital video creation platform that allows students to edit multimedia content for a range of subjects, including English Language Arts, History, Social Science, and Science. The immersive nature of this kind of open-ended creative project allows students to really get lost in their learning, giving them the tools they need to create work they’ll be proud and excited to share with their peers—whatever that may look like for them and their ability level.

Empower communication

Similar to giving your students agency over their learning, providing multiple opportunities and modes of communication can be beneficial for your students. You may already be familiar with formative assessment activities and retrieval practices that help to support your students’ learning and self-esteem, but some neurodivergent students may need a little extra support here⁷.

Activities that require class-wide participation, such as presentations or group projects, can be triggering for students with certain conditions, such as ASD or anxiety disorders, presenting a risk of “othering” them—making them feel aberrant and left out as they are unable to fully engage as their peers do. A resource like Twig Create, which provides space for students to explore and develop their ideas at their own pace and on their own terms, can empower them to share their knowledge and opinions like never before. Given the opportunity, they can build upon these skills over time, and using a vehicle like summer school to practice creating presentations and become familiar with communicating more frequently could be just the support they need.

Sometimes the pressure of immediate communication when a student is struggling can make being honest tricky for some students—especially in front of their peers. One method of boosting communication can be a “support box” in the style of an anonymous suggestion box, wherein students could ask to spend extra time on a topic or request more individualized support. 

Similarly, setting aside specific times—say, a Wednesday recess—for students to seek out help or simply to have the opportunity to voice their worries and concerns, can be an invaluable tool. The perceived risk of embarrassment and need for privacy doesn’t disappear even in the most supportive of classrooms, and normalizing the need or desire for that private chat can be the helping hand your students need to start communicating openly with you.

Learn more about Twig Create.


  1. 1. National Center for Learning Disabilities: https://www.ncld.org/news/newsroom/the-state-of-ld-understanding-the-1-in-5/#:~:text=One%20in%20five%20children%20in,difficulties%2C%20and%2033%20percent%20of
  2. 2. UNESCO: https://en.unesco.org/gem-report/sites/default/files/GAW2014-Facts-Figures-gmr_0.pdf.pdf
  3. 3. APA: https://www.apa.org/education-career/k12/using-praise#:~:text=Why%20is%20praise%20for%20effort,increased%20learning%20and%20higher%20achievement.
  4. 4. Hands-On Scotland: https://www.handsonscotland.co.uk/emotional-balance/
  5. 5. ATD: https://www.td.org/magazines/td-magazine/design-for-neurodiverse-learners
  6. 6. Autism Speaks: https://www.autismspeaks.org/tool-kit-excerpt/supporting-sensory-needs-school
  7. 7. PN: https://www.planetneurodivergent.com/communication-is-a-two-way-street-reframing-autism-amp-neurodivergence-as-a-difference-rather-than-a-disorder/

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