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My Autistic/ADHD child is struggling with school but does well when learning about their interests…

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Neurodivergent kids (e.g. Autistic, ADHD, etc) have different ways of thinking and processing information compared to the ways that are considered “typical.”

Neurodivergent kids often process language very literally or (over)analyse the meaning of ambiguous language (i.e. language that can be interpreted in different ways).

School assignment questions often have implied instructions for how much to write and what kind of answer is required based on the words in the question (e.g. “discuss” vs “explain”).

These extra layers of meaning can make it difficult for Neurodivergent kids to know what is expected of their answers or how in-depth to go often resulting in what looks like underperformance.

There are also some underlying differences in how different kinds of brains are wired that can contribute to challenges with academic performance. Commonly Autistic or ADHD kids have differences in the development of their executive functioning skills.

Executive functions are like the control centre of the brain which includes working memory, mental flexibility, regulation and self control.

Read more about it here https://developingchild.harvard.edu/science/key-concepts/executive-function/

These differences are often linked to challenges with interpreting, planning, and completing school work and assignments at a level that reflects their abilities or within strict timeframes.

Many neurodivergent kids (particularly Autistic and ADHD) have an interest-based attention system. This means they may hyperfocus on interests leading to a high level of knowledge about interests. This difference in focus can look like they are “choosing” not to apply themselves to their school work.

Many neurodivergent kids (particularly Autistic and ADHD) have an interest-based attention system. This means they may hyperfocus on interests leading to a high level of knowledge about interests. This difference in focus can look like they are “choosing” not to apply themselves to their school work.

https://thepsychologist.bps.org.uk/volume-32/august-2019/me-and-monotropism-unified-theory-autism

This is often where the difference between their “potential” and “performance” can be seen as a “behaviour” or “self-discipline” problem.

What can we do?

While there is no “one size fits all” solution to these challenges and some “trial and error” will be needed to help find what works best for each child there are some general strategies that may be useful:

  • Clearly scaffolding the process for pulling apart questions, planning out ideas and prioritising the steps to complete the task
  • Using visual planners and timers to support the planning and completion process
  • Educating families and kids on neurotypes (different kinds of brains) and how they work to help provide and explanation (not an excuse) for challenges and then providing support to overcome
  • Individualised support can be provided by a speech pathologist for the language side of this (interpreting, planning written responses, metalinguistic skills for editing, checking, etc)

We can help

Our speech pathologists can help by working with you and your child to determine the types of supports that work for them and how this can be communicated with their teachers.

Want to learn more?

Therapist Neurodiversity Collective

https://therapistndc.org/education/

Neurodiversity Hub

https://www.neurodiversityhub.org/what-is-neurodiversity

Written by our Speech Pathologist – Georgia Stuart

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