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How to plan a neuro-diverse lesson

Posted by Caroline Smith on 15 January 2021 12:35 PM CAT
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Neurodiversity is a term that refers to the vast range of ways one's brain can work. It is a phenomenon that is being recognised more and more, as we recognise now more than ever multiple forms of intelligence exist! 

When teachers hear the term special needs, the most common type of educational disability probably comes to mind: a learning disability. This term, however, includes a host of diagnoses that can affect students in very specific, albeit different, ways.

A learning disability affects how students process and comprehend information, and it can be expressed in a number of different ways. Students may demonstrate difficulty with spelling, writing, speaking, thinking, listening, or performing mathematical calculations.

As a teacher, it is impossible to be an expert about every single possible educational obstacle your students might encounter. Therefore, it is crucial that you take the necessary steps to help your students reach their fullest potential. Take a look at some of the strategies we propose you use in your classroom to help students with special needs achieve success.

Each educational diagnosis comes with its own set of difficulties that your student may struggle with. It is vital to know what those difficulties are, but also become well versed in the best practices to tackle those obstacles with your student.


Students with dyslexia struggle with reading and understanding what they’ve read. This may be related to phonemic awareness (how sounds work in words), phonological processing (processing spoken and written language), or a number of other issues, such as fluency or spelling. Students with dyslexia often fall far behind in developing reading skills.

Dyscalculia describes students who have complications with mathematical calculations. These complications can range from ordering numbers and simple addition to transposing and omitting numbers from equations. This can lead students to make very slow or very small gains in mathematical reasoning and understanding.

Students with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, have trouble with focusing their attention, staying on task, and becoming distracted. Students with ADHD find many things in their environment interesting, so their attention is constantly being pulled away from what they are supposed to be focusing on.

Dysgraphia is also a common disability. Students with dysgraphia may have trouble with physically writing, such as not being able to hold a pencil properly. Dysgraphia is also diagnosed when students have difficulties with written expression, like an inability to organize thoughts, use grammatical structures properly, or understand basic sentence structure. This can cause difficulty in English language arts assignments, but also in many other core subjects as an increasing focus is being put on writing.

Many other educational diagnoses exist, and the above outlined just a few. If your particular student’s special need is not on this list, do a bit of research to find out all you can, so you can work to help your student learn and grow.

It is therefore important that we prepare for different ways of thinking in the classroom. This can be a creative way to change up your style of teaching, so don’t be scared and let’s have fun with it!


Consider adding the following elements into any lesson you are about to commence:

  1. Make use of visual aids when expanding on topics or introducing ideas in the classroom. 
  2. Use multiple methods of teaching, such as acting, music and games.  
  3. Provide consistent feedback to your students.
  4. Create a classroom environment that is as free of distractions as possible.
  5. Operate a very structured classroom, with some times reserved for unstructured activity.
  6. Show an example of appropriate classroom behaviours, as many students with special needs will not necessarily “just know” how to do things.
  7. Allow students to use an alternative seating arrangement, even if it’s simply letting students complete their work on the floor.
  8. Use music or timers to help with transitions throughout the classroom. 
  9. Provide directions to assignments, activities, or assessments in a variety of ways, such as verbal and written.
  10. Break information up into smaller, more manageable tasks.
  11. Highlight, or give students permission to highlight, important information on assignments or in textbooks.
  12. Use alarms or apps to help students manage their time appropriately.
  13. Help students keep track of assignments by teaching them how to use a planner, organizer, or folders.
  14. Check often for understanding throughout the lesson or throughout the day and provide immediate redirection when needed.
  15. Differentiate your learning to include learners that excel in a variety of ways.

As an educator, you know how different each child can be. Get to know any students you have with special needs. Understand their abilities and their limits. Our goal is to help each student reach his or her full potential, no matter what. It may be hard, it may take time, but in the end, isn’t it all worth it?

Do you have tips for working with special needs students? Share with us in the comments below. 

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