Why teach about neurodiversity?

Find out about the possible impacts and benefits of teaching about neurodiversity concepts at school, and how neurodiversity connects to existing curricula.

cartoon drawing of different pupils and teachers alongside different symbols of diversity

Neurodiversity is one of the many dimensions of diversity. You may already discuss other dimensions in class, like ethnic, religious or gender diversity. Understanding the different ways in which we experience the world, due to our neurodiverse brains, is part of a bigger conversation about the ways in which we are different, and the same.

By thinking about our differences through the lens of neurodiversity, we can promote acceptance, understanding, and equality of opportunity for all children, but particularly those with documented or undocumented additional support needs (Scotland), special educational needs and disabilities (England, NI), or additional learning needs (Wales). Those children are a sizeable and growing proportion of all school pupils—as you may know perfectly well from your own classroom.  

Lack of acceptance and understanding can cause harm 

Young people with additional support and educational needs too-often experience a range of negative outcomes such as bullying and mental ill health. According to research, harmful stereotypes and poor understanding from others play contributing roles in these disadvantages. What other people think and what they do about it really does matter, and some of those effects last a lifetime. 

On the other hand, there is also a strong evidence base that we can fight stigma and negative attitudes by increasing people’s knowledge. These effects have also been shown specifically in schools, even over a short time period. Broadly, this is the strategy that LEANS takes: informing people about neurodiversity and neurodivergence to fight negative beliefs and actions. 

Neurodiversity helps us explain differences at school 

Many neurodiversity-related differences at school unfold in mundane situations—like one child protesting the unfairness of another “getting” to do something attractive, like taking extra breaks, or not “having” to follow the same rules. Neurodiversity concepts and vocabulary can help us explain why things are the way they are in the school context, in a way that avoids blaming individuals, or labelling them as deficient, incapable, or “not trying”.  What people think and do and say in many of these small, everyday situations really matters for overall school experiences.  

Talking about neurodiversity can also help normalise the idea that everyone has needs in the school context, not only pupils who receive additional support. Many pupils may have their needs met by how school processes, instructions, and physical environments usually work—rendering those needs effectively invisible, and rarely discussed. “Needs” isn’t code for something extra or unusual. 

Neurodiversity connects to the curriculum 

Teaching about information processing differences and their impacts has close connections to existing school priorities and curriculum topics across the UK nations. For example, furthering inclusion and wellbeing agendas by addressing intolerant or stigmatizing attitudes, as discussed in the prior section.   

Neurodiversity also links to curriculum topics like citizenship, health and wellbeing, or human rights. It may also fit well with other diversity topics your class may cover. Learning about neurodiversity can also help with skills development, such as encouraging pupils to think about what makes them effective learners, and to practise self-advocacy skills in asking for help. It is relevant to becoming an ethical citizen and confident learner.  

Learning about neurodiversity with LEANS might also help you meet key quality indicators or achieve core purposes for your school inspection and evaluation processes.  For example, you can link this exercise with your ability to implement reasonable adjustments as a school, to promote personal development and to have a positive impact on behaviours and attitudes.