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Addressing the Needs of Neurodiverse Learners During COVID-19

By Wendy Wegman
March 04, 2021

The 2020-2021 school year has been vastly different from any other on record. Students are not only experiencing different learning models with COVID-19, they are also themselves coping with social isolation and other potential strains at home. Many students are experiencing online learning five days per week, while others use a hybrid model. These approaches offer both synchronous and asynchronous online learning. Many students who are attending school five days per week have had to complete much of their assignments on a learning device.

All students are adjusting to these new ways of learning. Neurodiverse learners, such as those with ADHD, Tourette syndrome, or dyslexia can benefit from certain accommodations and supports to help them be successful.

Tips for Helping Neurodiverse Learners During 2020-2021 School Year

Most students will be working from home at some point. Have a space dedicated to schoolwork where your child or teen can focus and be most productive. Organization is a skill that many neurodiverse learners need to develop with support. The supports will build their skills for later in life. In addition, it can be helpful to:

-Keep all materials organized an in a place of reach.

-Keep folders in a designated basket so loose papers can be filed later.

-Color code folders to match a color-coded schedule. Be sure the schedule is easy for your child or teen to read and follow.

Have a copy of your child’s schedule in your workspace. This will allow you to check in with your child throughout the day.

Dr. Jan Rowe’s  video on executive function deficits for more help with organization and planning specifically for the 2020-2021 school year.

Learn to use your child’s online learning platform. If you do not know where to start, contact your child’s teacher, and administrator, or school counselor and ask for help. You will likely need to help with organization of assignments and work.

Build in Sensory Breaks Throughout the Day

Sensory breaks can help many neurodiverse students get through a day of more sitting than usual. Watch Dr. Heather Simpson’s video on sensory breaks for remote learning here. Keep a basket of sensory tools like squishy balls, fidget spinners, play dough or whatever helps your child with focus.

Suggest that your child or teen schedule exercise breaks at a few points during the day. Ten minutes of jumping jacks, dancing, or any movement works. Help schedule this into their days. Standing and working can also be beneficial.

Have the school keep a small basket of sensory tools just for your child in his or her workspace.

Flexibility Is Key to Making Sure Every Learner Is Accommodated

This is a different and difficult time for everyone. Neurodiverse learners can be prone to anxiety. Your child is listening and can pick up on your anxiety. Be sure to check in with yourself as a caregiver and be mindful when your anxiety is high. Find a time when you can feel calm to help your child manage any challenges with school.

-Practice flexibility and acceptance by letting things go when you can.

-Verbally model how you are managing anxiety. You can say that you are feeling overwhelmed or anxious so therefore you are going for a walk, using breathing techniques, or cooking to help you relax.

Be sure to check in with your child and ask how she is doing. By doing so you can monitor your child’s anxiety and create a plan for helping her manage her anxiety. This could involve creating a plan for completing school assignments.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help

You may need to reach out to your child’s teacher. For older students, help your child self-advocate. Encourage them to reach out themselves.

You may want to help your child create a mindfulness routine. Mindfulness has been proven effective for managing symptoms associated with ADHD, Tourette syndrome and anxiety.

-Take one-minute breaks to focus on breathing in and out for a count of four.

-Close your eyes and spend one minute thinking of someone that you really enjoy being with. Think about how this feels and send them a good wish. Do the same but think about things you appreciate.

-Spend one minute with eyes closed just paying attention to what you can hear.

If anxiety is a problem for your child, a school counselor or social worker may have tips for supporting a student with anxiety and may be able to communicate with classroom teachers about the student.

At the end of the day, trust that you are doing your best to support your child. Take the time that you need as a caregiver to self-regulate. This is a challenging time.

Wendy Wegman headshotWendy Wegman is an Education Specialist for the Tourette Association of America. In this role, Wendy provides knowledge, awareness and understanding of Tourette syndrome by speaking with parents and school personnel around the country to help best meet the needs of students with Tourette syndrome. Additionally, she presents nationally at school districts and education conferences. Prior to joining the Association, Wendy was a classroom teacher for over twenty years. Her passion and love for serving the TS community stem from her son’s personal challenges and successes with Tourette syndrome. Wendy has a BA and an MA in Education from Mills College.

Featured Image: Robo Wunderkind, Unsplash.