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How STEM Supports Neurodiversity in Learning

The school system has embraced diversity. They recognize that having faculty and students with different backgrounds, perspectives, and experiences increases creativity, productivity, and innovation. There are plenty of ways STEM supports neurodiversity in our learners, but first, let’s define Neurodiversity.

What is neurodiversity?

Neurodiversity is a concept that describes the variability of human cognition and the uniqueness of the human mind. Put simply, it means that it recognizes the different ways humans learn and that these different approaches to learning are a strength. Neurodiversity believes that there is no singular correct way to learn.
Neurodiversity was coined in the early 90s and this way of looking at learning champions the differences and has gained popularity over the last few years. 
While this originated from the autism community, the neurodiversity paradigm includes other neurological variants such as dyslexia, dyspraxia and ADHD. The movement advocates for the common interests of many neurological minorities. They view neurological conditions simply as having a different way for their brains to function and not as a disease or a disorder. 


Many still do not understand what neurodiversity is and this has caused a lot of doubts and uncertainties for parents and educators. Let’s bust some of these misconceptions with clear, hard facts.

The neurodiversity movement does not recognise disability. 

One of the most common misconceptions people have about neurodiversity is that the movement is against neurodiversity being labelled as disabled. This could be mainly because the social model of disability is if the environment does not accommodate their ability to function successfully within the society. 
It is important to recognise that the challenges many neurodivergent students face are caused by the inaccessibility of their environment and not because of their neurological conditions.

Neurodivergent students are not good at communication.

While some neurodivergent students struggle with social skills that are important for class participation, it does not mean that they are not good at communicating. The truth is, many neurodiverse individuals have a preferred way of communicating that most people struggle to understand or are not used to it.
Some struggle to comprehend social rules, others can just be blunt with what they say.

Neurodiversity simply means autism.

While the term “neurodiversity” was proposed by Australian sociologist, Judy Singer and initially taken up by the autism community, the movement is not all about autism alone. It also includes individuals with other neurological conditions such as Tourette’s Syndrome, OCD, Dyslexia and ADHD.
However, it is still important to note that the neurodiversity movement is led primarily by its strongest supporters, the autistic community and a lot of research done into neurodiversity is focused on autism.

“High functioning “ students are not technically neurodiverse.

A common term that neurodiverse people so often hear is the word “high-functioning”, which is used to describe someone who has a neurological condition and appears normal and not impaired by their condition. They are still able to make friends, be charismatic, communicate verbally, and do well in academics.
However, the label “high-functioning” overlooks the struggles that neurodivergent students face and can lead to them receiving little help or none at all from their teachers. Many psychologists don’t like the term because it redefines these students to be “normal” enough. 
A student performing well academically or communicating well doesn’t mean that they do not need more time to process the information or don’t feel extremely anxious when talking to others. Educators should prioritise understanding the specific challenges and needs of each neurodivergent student no matter how “high-functioning” they may be.

Using the term “neurodiverse” is just to make people comfortable and feel better.

Most people who are unfamiliar with neurodiversity or those who struggle to understand it often perceive it as either a way of thinking or a way for those with neurological conditions to express themselves. It’s neither. 
What it does is it emphasizes the human mind’s diversity and supports the values and rights of neurodivergent individuals as human beings. The term “neurodiversity” is a subset of the term “biodiversity”, which defines the variability and diversity of life here on Earth.

Benefits of neurodiversity

Neurodiverse people are prone to bullying and being discriminated against at school which extends to opportunities and employment in adulthood. Almost 80% of the neurodiverse population are unemployed even though many of them have the skills and qualities that employees are looking for.
Organisations are starting to recognize the major benefits of having neurodivergent employees: 
 (1) they think and solve problems differently;
 (2) they bring a unique perspective ;
(3) are loyal and change jobs less often ;
(4) fit into the company culture; and
(5) they can do any job.
If universities, organisations, and companies are going to benefit from having neurodivergent students and employees, it is important to create summer programs or after-school programs and work placements for neurodivergent students specifically designed to support students with learning differences. 

STEM and Neurodiversity in education

There’s a shortage of skilled STEM workers and fewer students are showing interest in STEM at school level and college. There’s a great interest in looking for talented youth in areas where it was previously unexplored. Neurodivergent students is one potential for STEM that has been overlooked for some time. 

How does STEM support neurodiversity in education? 

● Focus on the learners’ interests and strengths.

This is Neurodiversity’s biggest pillar- features a learner’s interests and strengths. Everyone is passionate about something. Neurodivergent learners often show a deep passion for a specific topic. How can educators best incorporate this passion into something valuable and measurable learning experience? The answer is – project-based learning. Project-based learning and STEM go hand in hand. STEM actively engages learners through immersive, skill-driven projects which focus on real-world problems. 

● Provides hands-on learning tools

STEM instruction is not traditional classroom teaching. It involves a lot of movements. Neurodiverse individuals benefit from the frequent changes from sitting to standing, individual work to group activity or hands-on learning. These give the learners the chance to move around and explore their learning space.

● Facilitates Neuroplasticity

What is neuroplasticity? It is the brain cell’s capability to change connections and behaviour given new information or stimuli. This means that our learners can do much more with effort than just having innate talent. This is connected to the popular demand for helping learners develop a growth mindset. Having a growth mindset is believing that anyone can learn new skills through their participation in new and challenging experiences. 
STEM’s problem-solving approach to learning provides the most conducive learning environment for nurturing a growth mindset, like coding for kids.

● Provides different strategies for communicating with group members

STEM learners are given many different opportunities for peer interaction. But for some neurodivergent students, the action of speaking to others can already be challenging. So then how can educators ensure that they actively engage in conversations? 
Learners can communicate their ideas through drawings. Students are encouraged to sketch their models before building them. Some neurodiverse learners choose to take that sketch further adding more detail and colours to their drawings to best express their design plan. This is a great way to make building challenges more inclusive. 
Learners communicate thoughts and feelings through movement and music. By exposing learners to different ways of expressing their emotions, we give them skills that last a lifetime.

● Gives clear instructions for tasks

Part of classroom management is making sure that the students understand the directions provided to them, like coding for kids. For neurodivergent students, giving them a clear breakdown of steps is essential for completing the task successfully. An example is students with ADHD – they perform and use their strengths better when we give them short and dynamic segments. 

● Creates consistent routines

Consistency is comforting and important to both students and educators. Neurodiverse students benefit a lot when they engage in activities that follow a set of routines and expectations. They are more likely to succeed when they are prepared for whatever they are going to engage in. 
It is helpful to allow neurodiverse students to preview materials or design components before starting the lesson. This helps alleviate the stress or overeagerness and it’s important that they feel comfortable participating in as many parts of the lesson as possible.

● Establishes a kind and respectful learning environment. 

As always, learning environments should be safe and inclusive. Since STEM instruction is collaborative, it is important to ensure that all students are respectful and kind to each other. STEM’s hands-on approach to learning comes with a balance of successes and failures. Model positive language when something goes wrong. Positive self-talk can help students persevere through tough situations and provide support to others who may see themselves struggling. Everybody thrives in a kind, encouraging, and safe environment.
STEM highlights the students’ many strengths making it the ideal choice for supporting neurodiversity in learning environments. Whether it's helping students develop a growth mindset, helping their ability to communicate, or fostering a respectful and safe learning environment, STEM provides students with what they need to become their best selves.

Why Choose Skill Samurai

Skill Samurai is a kids coding school that offers STEM, kids coding, and computer classes for kids. Boys, coding for girls, and every learner ages 7 to 18 are open to experiencing kids' coding classes. With Skill Samurai, your child would master programming skills and familiarise themselves with basic concepts of coding. 
At Skill Samurai, students are provided with a clear breakdown of directions for each task. Neurodiverse kids deserve to get the best coding and STEM education, so they are very welcome to join an after-school care program with Skill Samurai. 
If your child is neurodiverse and you wish to prepare them for a bright career in computer sciences, Skill Samurai can help you. Book a trial class now.