Book review: The Neurodiverse Classroom

The Neurodiverse Classroom: A teacher’s guide to individual learning needs and how to meet them by Victoria Honeybourne. Reviewed by Dr Sue Fletcher-Watson

Neurodiverse classroom book cover

Date published: 2018

Paperback price: £14.99

Link to Jessica Kingsley Publishers

Reviewer: Sue Fletcher-Watson, Director, Salvesen Mindroom Research Centre

Reviewer expertise: I have a PhD in developmental psychology, and have been specialising in autism research since 2004. 

What is the book about and who is it aimed at?

This book, written by a senior advisory teacher in special education, aims to educate teachers about the concept of neurodiversity, to shape their practice. Having introduced the key concepts, the bulk of the book focuses on very practical tips to adapt the classroom to suit a wider variety of learners.

A brief description of the book.

The book opens with an effective metaphor about how different plants thrive in different conditions (climate, soil, shade etc.) just as different children need different conditions to learn. It’s a great opener and a nice way to set the tone of the book – recognising needs without judging.

In a pair of opening chapters, the concept of neurodiversity – differences in brains are a natural part of human variation - is expanded, and contextualised. Honeybourne discusses disability rights, models of disability, and describes some common diagnostic categories that fall under the ‘neurodiversity’ umbrella. Following this, a series of chapters describe how teachers can make learning more broadly accessible, moving through themes like Communication, Teaching & Learning and Working with Home.

The book is crammed with practical suggestions and is extremely quick and easy to read. There are checklists at the end of each chapter and tools for auditing school policies and self-evaluating your practice.

Is the content in line with best practice or research evidence?

Honeybourne’s thinking on neurodiversity is extremely up to date.  She rarely cites academic sources, but then again there is next to no evidence-based practice for neurodiversity generally (as opposed to practices for specific diagnosed groups, like – for example – learners with dyslexia).

The measures she proposes are low-risk strategies that focus on giving pupils time, space and flexibility to learn in a way that suits them. On the whole, the ideas strike me as potentially useful and unlikely to do any harm – including not taking a lot of time or resource to achieve.

That said, I do query Honeybourne’s total confidence that the ideas presented will benefit everyone and not disadvantage any learner – there are some contradictions here.  For example, she recommends removing distractions from the classroom to support focus, but also acknowledges the value of visual displays, new vocabulary lists and sign-posting. To overcome this issue I would have welcomed more advice on how to sit down with pupils and their families and have a productive discussion about their specific learning profile and support needs. These conversations can be awkward, and I think teachers would value guidance on how to open up the topic without judgement. In other places she makes suggestions that are disappointingly normative, given the radical tone of the book’s opening, such as giving an instruction to sit still as an example, or discussing social interactions in terms of what is “appropriate”.

Who would this book be helpful for?

This book has a lot of practical information with a very nice theme of teaching the skills needed to access learning – e.g. note-taking skills. The strategies are largely straightforward to implement, and the chapter-ending checklists provide an excellent overview of key steps.

Given Honeybourne’s focus on visual supports, I would have loved to have seen some illustrations in this book, showing us how she envisages some of the tools she describes. The templates for evaluating teachers and the whole school at the end of the book are a real highlight.

What is your final, overall opinion on the book?

I found this book highly pragmatic and think it would be useful for teachers in any mainstream UK classroom.  There is a lack of neurodivergent voices in the writing and I would recommend that any teacher reading this book also seeks out some first-person accounts from neurodivergent learners and teachers, to complement and enrich the advice here.