Reasonable adjustments are changes that your school or family makes to remove or reduce a disadvantage because of your neurodivergent needs around routine and change. You can ask for reasonable adjustments to be made.
Remember that children need to feel safe and regulated before they can learn. Safety and regulation strategies / reasonable adjustments will be needed before learning strategies. This can be supported through an authentic, trusting relationship with a key adult, e.g. regular check-ins / mentoring sessions. This adult should be willing and able to advocate for the child if they share problems or difficulties relating to school.
Remember that Autism and other Neurodivergent needs are dynamic and change day to day, which means that a child’s ability to demonstrate skills/meet expectations fluctuates dramatically (depending on environment, sensory input, emotional state, state of regulation, mental energy, health, stress levels, comfort, motivation, instructions). Recognise that a child does well when they can, but often is operating within a body/brain that is finding everything difficult.
- Avoid relying on verbal input (don’t just talk). Visual and practical instructions, demonstrations and activities will be helpful. Language should be simplified, and instructions given one step at a time, ideally supported by visuals.
- Give children additional processing time before expecting them to respond to questions and instructions. Avoid putting children under pressure to respond verbally. Comments and a narrative approach are often more successful than direct questions.
- New concepts and vocabulary should be taught visually, practically and experientially wherever possible.
- Provide additional support to understand non-literal language, for example idioms, metaphors and sarcasm. All non-literal language used in the classroom should be explicitly explained, ideally with pre-teaching so the child can understand it in context when it is used in the classroom.
- Wherever possible, use practical, hands-on, experiential activities, motivating learning-based games and concrete resources across the curriculum to enhance children’s understanding and allow them to make the link between discrete skills and their real-life applications.
- Make explicit links between new learning and a child’s direct experiences and current interests.
- Use non-verbal strategies and approaches to support understanding of basic concepts across the curriculum. These could include:
– Top-down learning – provide the ‘whole’ before the ‘parts’. Explain the context and the bigger picture of what you are teaching and why before moving on to the finer details.
– Teach and practice using resources such as number lines, 100-squares and multiplication grids to reduce the need to memorise lots of maths facts.
– Allow the child to illustrate their understanding, for example drawing pictures to illustrate new vocabulary and concepts.
– Use spatial resources for teaching maths, such as arrays, the soroban or the Slavonic abacus, to help children understand underlying concepts of number without the need for text or language.
- Provide frequent short sessions of pre-teaching, overlearning and repetition of key skills.
- Use planning and sequencing visuals and other visual prompts to help children retell events and stories in a logical order, for example using photos of a trip and story boards to help them describe it to someone else.
- Understand that a child may need movement to focus and learn (accommodations include: wobble cushion, chair elastic, fidget tools, fit ball seat, allowing child to stand/move around the classroom while listening, allowing child to rock from side to side, movement breaks for the whole class, breaks when needed, allowing child to jump/spin while waiting for something, allowing child to move body while listening to a story or watching a video). When the child accesses focus tools/strategies, teachers/staff should verbally reinforce how well the child has listened to their body and addressed their needs.
- Children with attention difficulties are likely to need prompting and refocusing during tasks. This should not be presented as criticism or punishment. Agree with the child in advance how they would like you to help them refocus – it could be a subtle gesture, a hand on the shoulder, a key word, etc.
- Provide countdowns and warnings when activities are coming to an end. Children may be hyper focused on an activity and/or find it hard to move on until they feel they have finished. If a child feels unhappy about not having finished something, agree a specific time when they can come back to it.
- Visual timers can be helpful when a child is expected to work for a certain amount of time, e.g. ‘time timers’ or egg timers. Apps such as Choiceworks may be helpful as visual timers can be incorporated into highly personalised visual timetables and task planners. Start with easily achievable times and tasks.
- Differentiate tasks for the child to enable him/her to complete them in the same amount of time as other pupils, taking into account the fact that he/she will not be able to sustain constant focus on the task. This should include homework tasks.
- Outline the topic to the child before class teaching sessions and tell him/her that you will be asking him/her questions. You may wish to give the child questions on prompt cards and allow him/her to make notes. This is likely to require practice.
- Give the child something specific to focus on during a listening task such as listening out for key words or generating his/her own related quiz questions.
- Make increasing attention a gradual process; start with a target just above what they are currently achieving and build up slowly with plenty of positive feedback.
- Break tasks down into smaller chunks and give the child breaks; allow him/her to tick tasks off a list when he/she has completed them.
- Consider the child’s placement in class carefully. Talk to them about the things that interfere with their attention and how you can minimise their impact, e.g. they may dislike bright lights so prefer to sit facing away from any windows, they may want to sit at a table on their own to avoid others brushing against them, etc.
- Specific targets alongside a visual timer could help the child to focus on and monitor his/her individual work, e.g. ‘I would like you to complete these five cloze sentences in ten minutes’ with a clearly visible clock or other visual timer. Make sure the targets are easily achievable initially to build confidence and motivation, building them up over time.
- Allow the child to quietly move, doodle, draw or fiddle during listening sessions as this is likely to help him/her to focus on the speaker.
- Avoid approaches such as ‘whole body listening’ as neurodivergent children are likely to end up using all their focus and attention to achieve this rather than to take in what is being presented.
- Remember that eye contact is not the same as attention. Many neurodivergent people are better able to focus and concentrate when looking away.
- Do not keep the child in at break times to complete unfinished work. All children need breaks. Breaks are likely to help them refocus and be better able to engage with work afterwards. If the child has difficulty completing tasks during the allotted time, you could try providing additional support and scaffolding, changing the instructions, using sentence prompts, giving examples, removing the timeframe, giving additional time on other days, and/or modifying the task/quantity so that the child is able to meet the expectation.
- Support verbal instructions and information with visuals, for example a written copy of the information, pictures, graphs and/or diagrams.
- Support children to use key visuals to support their working memory and help them to remember and structure their ideas. Ideas include story boards, writing frames, and task planners. These resources will need to be modelled and scaffolded by adults.
- Talking Tins or similar can be used to provide reminders of instructions on demand, or for children to record their ideas so they can remember what they wanted to write.
- Reduce working memory loads – how much you ask the chid or young person to ‘hold in their mind’ at one time – e.g.:
– Modify the learning activity to reduce memory demands.
– Repeat the task.
– Give instructions clearly and succinctly limiting the number of steps or requests made. Give multi-step directions in the sequence in which they are to be completed.
– Increase the meaningfulness and familiarity of material. Review information from previous lessons.
– Simplify mental processing e.g. simplify the grammatical structure of sentences.
– Restructure complex tasks e.g. break tasks down into small steps.
– Encourage the child to use classroom displays such as working walls.
– Consider providing the child with a copy of lesson notes rather than expecting them to listen and make notes at the same time.
– Avoid the need for the child to copy information where possible.
- Classroom Modifications e.g.:
– Praise the child if he/she asks you to repeat something.
– Pair the child with a pupil with good memory abilities.
– Use an agreed way to check you have the child’s attention before telling him/her something you want him/her to remember (don’t rely on eye contact as many neurodivergent people find this uncomfortable)
– Ask the child to repeat back instructions to ensure he/she has understood.
– Keep external distractions to a minimum.
– When giving verbal instructions, write important information on the board.
- Encourage the use of memory aids e.g.:
– Use concrete apparatus where possible.
– Provide opportunities to handle three dimensional objects that can readily be counted such as cubes, beads and counters, and devices such as abaci and Unifix blocks.
– Number lines and fingers are valuable in supporting the working memory demands of simple mathematical operations such as addition and subtraction.
– For older children multiplication grids, look up devices and calculators are useful.
– Teach the child to use visual aids such as mind maps and word maps.
– Encourage the use of storage devices such as home-school books, notebooks, calendars.
– Encourage the use of cueing devices such as alarms on watches, visual cues displayed in a prominent place.
– Encourage the child to use songs and rhymes to remember sequential information.
– The specific memory needs of the child can be addressed using memory cards to supply information the child is likely to need.
- Support the child to develop and use his/her own strategies for supporting memory as these are likely to be some of the strategies that will work best for him/her. Help the child to put systems into place to use his/her own strategies/cues.
This includes planning ahead, choosing options to solve a problem, decision making, sequencing information, moving or sharing attention from one activity to another.
- All learning tasks should be broken into single steps with clear, concrete instructions provided in writing as well as verbally.
- Visual task planners or apps that can break longer instructions down into single steps are likely to be helpful.
- Provide specific teaching and support, including ongoing modelling and scaffolding, to use resources and other supportive strategies with increasing confidence and independence.
- Explicitly teach children the executive function skills needed to plan, monitor and evaluate their learning. One source of resources is the Education Endowment Foundation’s Metacognition and self-regulation series, which is freely available online. Another helpful resource is the book ‘Smart but Scattered’ by Peg Dawson and Richard Guare.
- Bear in mind that children may need additional support and differentiation linked to executive function difficulties even if they are capable of completing the task set in itself. For example, they may need support to get started with a task, to move from one task to another and/or to remember all the different steps involved.
- Children with executive skills difficulties will need additional support to manage transitions to new schools, especially the transition to secondary school. They will need significantly more support to follow a timetable, find their way around, and organise and keep track of their resources and belongings than other children their age. Colour-coding the planner, equipment and resources can be very helpful, for example colouring all English lessons red and then using red book covers, folders or stickers to mark all resources needed for English, doing the same for maths in blue, science in yellow etc. This is even more useful if the school itself uses the same colour coding around the site.
More info. On executive skills and support strategies can be found here:
Executive Functional Guide (thepathway2success.com)
Activities Guide: Enhancing & Practicing Executive Function Skills (harvard.edu)
Specific learning differences (reading, writing, maths)
- Wherever possible, allow children access to alternative recording methods across the curriculum. These could include annotated photographs of practical work, a scribe and/or word processing software / Clicker – anything that lets the child demonstrate their knowledge and understanding.
- Give children opportunities to develop and practice their computer skills as they apply to academic work, for example using word processing software.
- Support children to develop touch-typing skills, preferably following a structured, motiving programme such as BBC Dance Mat Typing.