Catering for children with undiagnosed AuDHD

From the perspective of a late diagnosed female


In our current school system, it is often not possible for individuality to be encouraged. This can be difficult for any student but is especially so for those who are neurodivergent. There are many ways in which the ability to conform can be problematic.

 

For example, for some children, learning to self-regulate and organise themselves will be easily achieved but, for others it will be a lifelong struggle. At 21 years old I am still prone to being incredibly forgetful, as one of my most prominent ADHD traits is an ‘out of sight, out of mind mentality’ wherein if something isn’t right in my line of sight or in my immediate future, all memory of it leaves my mind.

 

These days, I have methods in place to help myself avoid this forgetfulness, but back when I was an undiagnosed teenager, things felt pretty hopeless at times. 

 

In the past, the only reference I had for what neurodivergence looked like was in my male peers, who presented completely differently to me. I remember two boys in my secondary school who were widely understood to be Autistic and ADHD, respectively. The Autistic boy never seemed to realise when he was being made fun of and I even saw him dancing eccentrically on top of tables a handful of times. The ADHD boy frequently interrupted teachers and was known to be the class clown, easily making little jokes and comments in the spur of the moment.

When I saw these boys and others like them in my school, the idea that this is what being neurodivergent looks like cemented in my mind. Back then, there was very little information available about how these behaviours could manifest in different genders; so, although I knew the way my brain worked was different, that I was different from most of my friends, I did not know why.


The effect of non-diagnosis


As there was no recognition of my neurodivergence, the adults in my life were generally unable to accommodate my shortcomings and I was therefore often chastised or punished (in the case of school) for reasons out of my control.I was poorly organised - forgetting my PE bag, ingredients for Food Tech and leaving homework to the last minute or forgetting about it altogether - and was not given the correct tools to help myself correct the behaviour.


I was socially anxious and unable to participate in class in the way that my teachers wanted me to. I zoned out easily when required to sit and listen for long periods of time and was subsequently embarrassed by my teachers in front of my peers when they called on me with questions that I didn’t have the answer to. It felt as though there was no room for error without a punishment following it in the form of humiliation, being made to stay late after class or being given detentions.


Change one thing

I’m sure that all teachers hope to make their classrooms a place where those who are struggling can feel as heard and understood as possible.

So, with that in mind, here are a few thoughts about ways teachers could improve their classroom’s accessibility. Just one of these might make a real difference to both diagnosed and undiagnosed neurodivergent children.

1.    Allow quiet fidget toys to be used in class.

The repetitive motion of some fidget toys can really improve concentration when having to sit still for long periods of time.


2.   Allow movement in class.

Whether that’s in the form of a quick walk in the hallways or simply making time for your students to stand up and stretch, allowing movement in class reduces restlessness.


3.    Talk to the students who seem to be struggling without appearing angry or annoyed.

Taking the time to speak with children (especially as they get older) more as equals, rather than disobedient children will help you to understand them better and hopefully help them to communicate what help they might need.


4.    Consider the language you use to set tasks.

For example, try not to say something like “This should only take you X amount of time”. I often struggled to complete a task within a given time and a time limit made me very anxious.


5.    One-on-one support 

One-on-one support is important for those who are neurodivergent, but it can be difficult for them to understand where they might need it. Giving the chance for this - wherever possible - will greatly improve your student’s understanding of their work.


6.    Give multiple examples of what a completed task might look like.

There is no such thing as the idea of a neurotypical’s ‘common sense’ when autistic people are presented with a new concept or new information. Therefore, making it abundantly clear about what you expect the outcome of their workings to be is a great idea and incredibly helpful.


7.    Visible reminders of tasks that need to be completed.

For example, offering some ribbon to be tied around a student’s wrist as a reminder to get their planner signed by their parent/guardian and prompting them not to take it off until the task is complete.


8.      Only call on those with their hand up to answer questions.

It can take neurodivergent students more time to fully process information given to them, even if they truly do understand the subject. But more than this, I’ve never met a student who doesn’t have some kind of anxiety about being called on randomly, neurodivergent or otherwise.

With thanks to Dylan Ewens (they/them) for writing this article. Dylan is 21 years old and lives in West Sussex. They enjoy music, song writing, reading, and writing fiction. They are passionate about gaining more understanding of neurodivergence (with a special interest in ADHD and Autism) and communicating this knowledge with others.

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