The LEANS resource was created during 2020-2022, by a neurodiverse group of researchers and educators. It was led by researchers at the University of Edinburgh. We used a range of processes to capture lived experiences, and applied practical expertise in education and support for young people. Our goal was to create a resource that would:
- Effectively introduce a whole mainstream primary school class to neurodiversity concepts;
Minimise risks of harm or distress to individual pupils in the class (especially neurodivergent pupils), and to school staff members;
Be practical and straightforward for to deliver, even if teachers were new to teaching or to neurodiversity concepts;
Include respectful representations of diversity in general, including ethnic, gender and disability diversity;
Be feasible within the resources (budget, time, expertise) of the project.
Every decision made during the design process aimed to balance these requirements effectively.
Each separate phase of the project (participatory design, consultations, school evaluation) received ethical approvals from the committee at the Moray House School of Education and Sport, University of Edinburgh.
In this phase we constructed a leadership team, before applying for funding. The team is a neurodiverse group which includes researchers in education, participatory design and psychology, a teacher, a family support practitioner, and a neurodivergent youth representative.
The leadership team helped to write or review the original funding proposal for the project and to make decisions about the early stages of the work, after it was funded. From the proposal stage, LEANS was firmly committed to involving educators and the neurodiversity community in the project. However, unusually for research, our funding did not commit us to the exact content that we would include in the resources, or the type of resource we would make (e.g. videos, a book).
Before launching the design phase, the leadership team set big-picture goals for a LEANS resource—whatever it ended up looking like! We decided early on that LEANS could not target factual knowledge alone, but also needed to concern itself with people’s attitudes and actions in the school context. What do they feel and believe, and what do they do (or not do) as a result? We summarised these as our know-think-do goals. The aim is for participating pupils and staff to...
KNOW: Increase their knowledge of neurodiversity terms and concepts.
THINK: Develop more positive attitudes towards neurodiversity and neurodivergence.
DO: Increase individuals’ positive and inclusive actions within the school community.
The main goal of the design phase was to determine “what to make” for the LEANS resources, and why. Neurodiversity isn’t yet in national curricula, which meant that there was no clear map for what “teaching about neurodiversity” should include, or the learning objectives for pupils. This meant that the design phase of LEANS had to determine…
The concepts/content to cover
Definitions of key terms that we would use
The media or format of the resources that we would create (e.g. videos, a book, a game, arts activities…)
How the resource would be organised
Types of information we would need to provide for teachers.
We recruited a neurodiverse team of educators to work with us in addressing these questions. We circulated an advert for participatory team members and invited applications. Applicants were selected from that pool on the basis of their range of lived experience (i.e. different forms of neurodivergence) and professional expertise in education. We also looked for evidence of capacity to commit to the full design process, and knowledge of neurodiversity and associated concepts. The selected team members came from two UK nations and from Ireland.
The team took part in a series of iterative participatory design sessions from July-October 2020. These were all delivered remotely, due to the coronavirus pandemic, and led by two members of the project leadership – both researchers. The earliest part of the process involved generating the draft Key Points, which summarise the core ideas to be learned in each Unit of LEANS. We revisited and refined these Key Points throughout the rest of the process, making sure they were still fit for purpose.
The participatory design cycles each focused on a broad, school-related topic, such as classroom experiences. They combined structured individual preparation work with decision-focused team meetings. Design team members independently submitted ideas – initially for topic-relevant content, and then for activities which would support teaching of those topics. Then, these ideas were reviewed and filtered by the researchers (e.g. combine similar ideas), and presented back to the group at an online meeting. Team members would help select from the list of candidate activities, identify ethical issues, and refine the initial ideas to help meet the project goals.
The participatory design process also involved a mid-point review to check adherence to our project goals, feasibility for school settings, and coverage of planned topics. At the end of the phase, the project leadership team also reviewed all the materials and evaluated their suitability to meet the project goals. These review phases led to substantial changes in our plans, in terms of what to cover and how to organise it.
Having created a package of outlined resources, the project then moved into a consultation phase, starting late in 2020 and continuing into the Spring of 2021. We consulted with four main groups of people via different means.
Student / newly qualified teachers: The trainee teachers received copies of teacher handbook guidance and 1-2 units of activity instructions, and then discussed these in detail in a “feedback session” with a project researcher. This was to help us ensure that the resources would be accessible to relatively inexperienced teachers, and that activity instructions would provide the right level of detail.
Experienced teachers: As above, teachers received copies of teacher handbook guidance and 1-2 units of activity instructions, and then discussed these in detail in a “feedback session” with a project researcher. This was to gather the opinions of teachers with substantial classroom experience on feasibility of the resources, supporting pupils around this topic, and interacting with parents. We also wanted to check that our instructions, written for those new to neurodiversity, would not be “talking down” to experienced teachers.
Neurodiversity and education communities: We created and circulated an online survey, specifically recruiting neurodivergent people and those with an interest in neurodiversity, including parents of neurodivergent children, and educators. The survey included elements of LEANS including: the project aims; term definitions and key points. It did not incorporate the full LEANS materials (classroom activity instructions, stories, teacher guidebook) themselves as these were already too extensive to be shared in a survey. Read a free, peer-reviewed publication reporting this study.
People from marginalised and under-represented groups: We drafted a diverse cast of characters who would appear in LEANS stories and illustrations. We then reviewed this draft cast with the goal of ensuring respectful representation of different ethnicities, cultures, genders, skin-tones, body-types and disabilities. Through a series of interviews, our ‘representation consultants’ helped us to avoid reinforcing negative stereotypes, and to have the best chance that children across the UK would be able to see themselves in the resource materials.
Following consultation, the resources were further developed, restructured and finalised for evaluation over a series of months, turning reams of notes and examples into fully-written-out content for teachers. Near the start of this phase, we reached our final list of LEANS topics, addressed in our seven units: introducing neurodiversity, classroom experiences, communication, needs and wants, fairness, friendship, and reflecting on our actions.
During this time, the project leadership were in frequent contact with our co-design team members, other teachers, and children in the target age-group. These people reviewed materials on an ad hoc basis as needed, checking for clarity of instructions and ability to meet our project goals – including minimising risk of harm.
In this phase, we also welcomed our talented and committed illustrator Claire Hubbard (@emseeitch) to the project team, creating the images that bring LEANS to life.
The LEANS evaluation was about taking the complete resource pack into real classrooms for the first time to see if it “worked”. The evaluation had two goals:
- To test LEANS as a neurodiversity teaching tool. Would children who participated be able to show knowledge of neurodiversity, or would their attitudes change?
- To test whether LEANS resources would be usable and practical in real classrooms.
The first version of the LEANS resource pack was evaluated across eight classes in four Scottish primary schools, from August-November 2021.
The quantitative components of this study were pre-registered and can be accessed online (free, no login needed)
Following the evaluation, members of the research and participatory design teams worked on revising the resources, based on evaluation study feedback from teachers and pupils. For example, multiple pupils across different schools commented that they enjoyed LEANS—but the stories were very long! A main revision task was to refine and cut the teacher guidance and the story content, while supporting the original programme goals and retaining essential delivery and safety information. Dedicated (and patient!) graphic designer Craig Nicol then helped turn the handbook into its beautiful and colour-coded final form.
The final resource pack was released in 2022. This isn’t the end for LEANS—we have more materials on the way to support this resource pack and maximise its usefulness to educators and families. Join our mailing list so you don’t miss announcements of new content!
Many people were involved in creating the LEANS resource pack.