Neurodiversity Celebration Week
In the United States, 1 in 5 children has a learning difference. According to the UK Department of Education, 15% of students in the United Kingdom have a learning difference (a statistic that is likely to be overly conservative). Yet, most classroom teachers and school staff have no training on how to identify, understand and support students with learning and thinking differences. Instead of investing in providing early intervention and support services for students with special educational needs (SEN), years of severe funding cuts to education have decimated support services for neurodivergent students. For example, in parts of the UK, there are waiting times of up to 14 months for an initial autism assessment appointment. Furthermore, there is still a significant societal stigma and many misconceptions about learning and thinking differences that also create barriers for SEN students to have equal access to education.
How do societal stigma and general misconceptions about neurological differences make it harder for students to get the support they need?
33% of classroom teachers and other educators believe learning and thinking challenges are sometimes an excuse for laziness.
43% of parents say they wouldn’t want others to know if their child has a neurological difference.
48% of parents believe incorrectly that kids grow out of learning differences.
76% of neurodivergent university students say they didn’t disclose their disability to their university.
The lack of teacher training and SEN support services, as well as the stigma and entrenched misconceptions about learning differences, have culminated in a perfect storm that has left neurodivergent students adrift. It will not come as a surprise that most neuordivergent students have negative school experiences. Like millions of neurodivergent students, I know what it feels like to be frustrated, embarrassed, and humiliated at school. I also know what it feels like to have some teachers and classmates assume you are not intelligent and to have them underestimate and write you off. At school, we are constantly reminded of our difficulties and challenges. In the classroom, our learning differences are exposed for everyone to see and the greatest importance is given to the skills we struggle with the most or can’t do. This can be very discouraging and demoralizing.
At school, we are often made to feel like failures. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Together, we can change the narrative. Instead of focusing only on the drawbacks of being neurodivergent, it’s time to also acknowledge and recognize the many strengths and talents that come from thinking and perceiving the world differently. By celebrating the strengths of neurodivergent students, we can begin the seismic shift of changing the way SEN students are perceived and treated, including how neurodivergent students feel about themselves.
To empower neurodivergent students to achieve their potential, schools need to recognize and celebrate our many strengths and talents that may not be showcased in the traditional classroom environment, such as our creativity, innovation, ability to think outside-the-box, problem-solving skills, unique insights, and perspectives, as well as our perseverance and resilience.
We are the dreamers.
The future business leaders.
We are the trailblazers.
We are the Einsteins and Bransons of tomorrow.
The struggling SEN students of today will become the entrepreneurs and revolutionaries of tomorrow. We will join the visionaries who have transformed the world we live in. We will be the next Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, John F Kennedy, John Lennon, Pablo Picasso, Steven Speilberg, Tommy Hilfiger, Satoshi Tajiri, Agatha Christie, Henry Ford, Billie Eilish, Temple Grandin, and Andy Warhol of tomorrow. Yet, our ability to fulfil our potential is being threatened by the stigma associated with having a special educational need and the misconceptions many people still have about autistic people and people with learning differences. We are also more vulnerable to being mistreated. In a 2017 bullying report by Ditch the Label, 75% of autistic students and 70% of students with learning differences reported being bullied at school.
It is time to create a more inclusive educational landscape so that SEN students have equal access to education. But in order to bring about this change, we need your help. Please support your neurodivergent students by registering to take part in Neurodiversity Celebration Week. Join the other 1,600 schools and over 1 million students from around the world that are taking part in ensuring that the strengths and talents of neurodivergent students are seen and celebrated.