15% of all people in the UK are Neurodiverse, according to NHS England. Each UK classroom is estimated to have at least one neurodiverse pupil in the class. The age, behaviour and gender of an undiagnosed neurodiverse child can lead to their neurodiversity being overlooked, which prevents them from getting the support they need.

Donna Lee, Head Teacher and Inclusion Co-ordinator at Nettlesworth Primary School, shares some tips on identifying and better supporting neurodivergent pupils so their talents are not overlooked. This post is part of a series of contributions from Donna, following on from earlier pieces discussing using Pupil Premium to support disadvantaged pupils and Developing Modern Foreign Languages as part of the curriculum.

Key tips for identifying and responding to signs of neurodivergence in pupils

Key tips for identifying and responding to signs of neurodivergence in pupils

Often the talents of children with Neurodiversity (variation in the human brain regarding sociability, learning, attention, mood and other mental functions in a non-pathological sense) can be overlooked by teachers and parents to focus solely on what can be interpreted as their weaknesses. Several recognised types of neurodivergence include autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, dyslexia, dyscalculia, epilepsy, ADHD, Tourette syndrome (TS) and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Too often, these children get lost in an endless cycle of chasing diagnostic labels and are never given the tools to fully realise their own potential.

Due to our inclusive ethos and belief that every child leaves us having identified a talent, a skill, an intelligence through which they can become whatever they want to be, we have an increasing number of neurodiverse pupils.

Despite all of the developmental issues and behaviour associated with neurodiverse pupils, we have found some forms of Autistic Spectrum Disorder, particularly high-functioning disorders such as Asperger’s Syndrome, regularly confuse professionals. There are a lot of shared symptoms between gifted and neurodiverse children, making it really important to assess each child as soon as possible to determine a course of action and intervention.

Both gifted and neurodiverse children can display an unusual intelligence compared to other children within their own age group. Additionally, some of the unique symptoms seen in children diagnosed with Autistic Spectrum Disorder are also seen in gifted children, most often in the form of social behaviour, unusually focused interests on a particular subject and inattentiveness.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)  also share similar symptoms and behaviour so we feel it is important to note that some gifted children may have attention problems unrelated to ADHD or ASD. These behaviours may hold them back in the classroom and keep them from more able, gifted and talented intervention.

Provision of intensive intervention, with active engagement must be systematically planned. Developmentally appropriate educational activities should be designed to address identified objectives in place; and intervention is given as soon as a diagnosis is seriously considered rather than deferring until a definitive diagnosis is made. Ongoing measurement and documentation of the individual child’s progress toward educational objectives, resulting in adjustments in programming when indicated is maintained.

Using Pedagogical Techniques when supporting neurodiverse pupils and creating inclusive classroom environments

  • Low pupil-to-teacher ratio to allow sufficient amounts of 1-on-1 time and small-group instruction to meet specific individualised goals.
  • Promotion of opportunities for interaction with typically developing peers to the extent that these opportunities are helpful in addressing specific educational goals.
  • Incorporation of a high degree of structure through elements such as predictable routine, visual activity schedules, and clear physical boundaries to minimize distractions.
  • Implementation of strategies to apply learned skills to new environments and situations (generalisation) and to maintain functional use of these skills
  • Use of formative and summative assessment
  • The use of social narratives/stories to for social skills training
  • The use of peer-mediated interventions to build social skills.
  • Specific aspects of social interaction (e.g., eye contact, joint attention, verbal greetings, etc.)
  • Modelling, especially using video technology to record actions for later review, provide a visual model to assist in building skills in communication, play, or social interaction.
  • Visual Supports, including the use of schedules and structured work tasks presented visually, are used for individuals with ASD.
  • Computer-Aided Instruction to assist individuals with ASD in learning communication and academic skills.
  • Play Therapy
  • Sensory Therapy – a child’s individual sensory needs are evaluated, and a program of sensory therapies (e.g., riding scooter boards, swinging, wearing weighted vests, wrapping in fabric) is developed and prescribed as a “sensory diet.”
  • Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) devices and tools to help compensate for expressive communication deficits.

Alternative and Augmentative Communications

AAC interventions range from the use of sign language to picture systems and more complex electronic communication devices. Many children with autism will not develop functional speech, and the use of AAC is indicated in this population to enhance communication abilities. This type of intervention can be used with individuals with communication deficits at any age.

Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) is an augmentative communication strategy designed for individuals with expressive language deficits. Staff are trained to exchange picture cards for desired items, which the therapist pairs with a verbal label for the item. In addition to targeting communication skills, PECS also reinforces attempts to initiate social contact in children with ASD.

Collaborating with parents and carers and other professionals to deliver teaching that meets the needs and learning styles of pupils

Ongoing communication with both parents and professionals is critical to maintain consistency between program and home environments. When all the caregivers and professionals in a child’s life are consistently using effective strategies to promote development and outcomes children are more likely to benefit and learn new skills.

Schools need to:

  • Listen and respond to the concerns of children/young people and their parents, and use person-centred approaches
  • Ensure that children/young people and their parents are actively involved in decisions from the start
  • Provide children/young people and their parents with the information and advice necessary so that they can participate in decision-making
  • Cooperate with the local authority in the development of the Local Offer, and must publish on their website a SEN Information Report, with links to the Local Offer(s), which describes how the needs of children/young people with SEND are met in the school. This Information Report must be reviewed at least annually.
  • Provide high quality learning to enable children to acquire the skills, knowledge and concepts relevant to their future
  • To convene and hold the review, unless there are exceptional circumstances, and usually do so. The review meeting should be person-centred and focused on outcomes.
  • Cooperate with their local authority to review the provision available locally
  • Collaborate with other local education providers to explore how different SEND can be most effectively met
  • Clearly articulate the strategy and approach to provision for SEND learners and the rationale behind these
  • Promote an ethos of care, mutual respect and support, where effort is valued and success celebrated
  • Provide their local authority with information about all of their pupils who have SEND – This is part of the evidence a local authority will consider when deciding whether to proceed to a statutory assessment of SEND. Schools must provide this advice and information within six weeks of the request

The role teachers and senior leaders need to play

  • School leaders have successfully created an inclusive ethos, where high achievement for all is expected, valued and celebrated.
  • All stakeholders show commitment to inclusive practice
  • To develop inclusive quality first teaching throughout the school and ensure all teaching is consistently good/outstanding in order to improve outcomes for children and further raise attainment
  • Training programmes including CPD for all staff in SEN to ensure that all staff members are able to teach and manage the range of learning needs of pupils included in mainstream settings
  • Demonstrate commitment to support SEND learners in home-school agreements and partnerships


One of the greatest challenges facing early and intensive intervention is finding accurate and useful methods for assessing child response and overall outcome during and after a course of early intervention. Ongoing documentation and continuous assessment is vital to monitor impact. There is also a large amount of money spent on early intervention and this spending is likely to increase over time. Effective application for top up funding and costed provision is extremely important to sustain support and enable progression.

Without the correct intervention and support, these children are often misunderstood and isolated. They have special gifts and special needs. With careful coaching and support, they can learn the skills to become connected to others and most important, they can be happy with who they are.

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15% of all people in the UK are neurodiverse, true figures are estimated to be higher though not everyone has a diagnosis. Donna Lee, Head Teacher at Nettlesworth Primary School shares some tips on better identifying and supporting neurodiverse pupils.

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