It’s no surprise that students who have autism, anxiety disorders, and other types of disabilities struggled greatly during the pandemic. Neurodiverse people tend to thrive on structure and routines, and because the pandemic disrupted so much of our day-to-day lives, many of them had a hard time transitioning to remote learning.
And now that we’re back to face-to-face classes, many of them are surely having a hard time transitioning back to traditional education. If you are an educator, caretaker, or just an adult working with neurodiverse students during the pandemic, here are some tips to support and empower them during these uncertain times.
This is a tip that will generally work for all types of students and learners, even neurotypical ones. The last thing you want is to schedule an 8 am class only to begin 15 minutes later. Neurodiverse students need to marshal all their energy and attention into the right place, and when we don’t begin classes or tutoring sessions in the time we said we would, we run the risk of losing their attention and excitement. Set expectations and be clear about the agenda for the day so that there are no surprises, and provide them with a course syllabus if needed, so they know what to expect at any given date.
Here’s an example of a routine checklist for a K-12 class:
- Dedicate a few minutes for a wellness check or to do some stretching or light exercises at the beginning of the class.
- Take the time to answer some questions about the previous homework.
- Provide a tabulated list of things you will learn or go through during the day, so they know what to expect.
- If cameras, audio, or video will be on at any point during the day, let them know in advance.
- Tell them early on if there will be breakout discussions or group activities where they will need to socialize.
- Schedule stretch breaks or 15-minute restroom breaks throughout the day.
- You can establish this at the start of the semester, but carefully lay down your emergency plans in the event of an emergency like storms, tech outages, and others.
Educate them on their rights and privileges
Developmental disabilities like autism can be qualified for social security disability claims and applications. Consider speaking with your student’s guardian to help them know more about their child’s rights and privileges under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a civil rights law that helps protect disabled Americans from being discriminated against. The act also allows for various types of auxiliary aids, and the government also provides some form of financial assistance for them. Consider consulting with a lawyer to know more and to help you educate your neurodiverse students further about how the law can help and protect them.
Enforce accessibility for different kinds of disabilities
Here are some tips for ensuring that the classroom, both physical and virtual, remains accessible to neurodiverse students:
- Encourage more than one way of learning. Since we need to enforce the belief that we are all different and thus we can have various learning styles and thinking patterns, there is more than one effective way to teach certain lessons. To make learning accessible for every student under your tutelage, try various types of learning methods. You can modify your teaching style according to the topic, adapt how you teach different types of students, and spend time with every child to see how they’re improving or getting on. You can get feedback from them or their parents to see if your teaching style is working.
- Recognize your students’ significant strengths. Instead of zeroing in on where they think they may be lacking due to their neurodiversity, praise them for the areas and specific ways in which they thrive. One example of this is those with autism and how they tend to have excellent attention to detail. Unlike neurotypical people, they thrive in finding links and patterns between certain things, resulting in better problem solving and more effective ways to come to a decision or establish a strategy.
- Ask your superior if you can enhance your knowledge and skills through more training so that you as an educator, caretaker, or mentor can empower your neurodiverse students better.
And last but not least, be patient, gentle, persistent, and resilient. It can be challenging interacting with students who may be on the spectrum or other kinds of neuro-diversities but seeing them flourish and become the best students they can be is always worth it.