Training Neurodiverse People

Is training neurodiverse people different from neurotypical people? 

The short answer is yes. The longer answer starts with recognising that, of course, all people are different. 

One of our key messages for organisations is that neurodiversity isn’t so dissimilar to all the other variations there are between humans. Together we want to make differences less scary and less complicated. Every individual has different needs that may affect their ease and experience of learning and making sustainable changes. In an ideal world we would tune into all of these and make adjustments to make things smoother for each individual. 

With neural differences that come under the umbrella term neurodiversity we can consider how our written materials might be helpful or unhelpful for people with Dyslexia (great guidelines can be found on the British Dyslexia Website). 

What about people who identify as, or have been diagnosed with, Autism and ADHD? Do they learn in a different way? At the neural level, it isn’t so much that anyone with these conditions learns in a different way. They still strengthen particular neural pathways, their hippocampus is still involved in consolidating memories. The same tips that apply to others around how to embed something still apply: 

  • Sleep is important, naps can be helpful
  • Create frequent recall opportunities
  • Invite people to discuss how concepts will work practically in their contexts
  • Link new concepts to previously familiar ones
  • Help piggy back new habits onto old ones. 

However, the process of attending to something, focusing on it, in order for the information to go into the brain and be processed, can be different, it is an executive function which is often affected – and there are a wide range of things that can be done to support at this stage of the learning process. 

MYTH: ‘Top ten things you can do to make your training neurodiversity friendly’. 

Here’s why that’s a myth. We know that Autism is a spectrum. The practical implications of this for learning and development are that each individual needs to be treated as such. Sensory sensitivities are one of the potential differences for people with Autism. However, they can present as hypo or hyper. And can be different for different things, for example you might help an individual by making a learning environment: 

  • Quieter – as they are hypersensitive to noise 
  • Louder – as they are hyposensitive and appreciate the background auditory stimulation
  • Visually sparse – as they get distracted easily
  • Busy visually – as they feel safer in busier environments
  • Filled with fiddlers – as sensory stimulation helps them to focus more easily
  • Devoid of distractions – as they find it overwhelming. 

These examples are only the obvious tips of the iceberg! 

This means that a high priority of any intervention that is seeking to help people learn or change is to create a safe environment where people feel able to be honest about what helps them. Many adults have self awareness around what will be useful to them. We need to create opportunities for them to disclose this and feel heard, and be honest around what can plausibly be done. 

If we understand what is likely to actually be going on for people as they learn and change, we know better what parts of what we’ve designed are essential, and which parts are flexible. This way we can respond most appropriately to the needs of each individual.

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