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Neuro Diversity and the 'Normal Box'

I regularly meet with parents who are concerned about their child’s neurodiversity or special educational need.  We are naturally inclined to provide every possible support for our children and when we sense there might be a challenge in the classroom or our child could be falling behind it is only natural to consider all the possible inhibitors.

On a tour at RH7 recently I was discussing this very thing with a small group of parents and making the point that while a diagnosis might provide some clarity it may not provide the long term solutions parents are often looking for.  I often recant the story of a young boy who joined a previous school, he was dyslexic with some additional auditory and processing needs.  When he joined as an 11-year old his handwriting was poor, spelling and organisation even worse, but he had a drive and determination to succeed which shone through at interview. 

Fast forward seven years and that same pupil had exceeded all expectations and achieved AAB at A-Level and was looking forward to taking up his place at Exeter to study Political Science.  Many parents will want to know how that was possible, they might be faced with the prospect of a similar child in the family themselves and unsure what to do.

While additional attention from the SENDCo provided some immediate benefit, the real progress came through in the classroom.  The boy was in an environment that believed in him and in so doing worked hard to maintain his educational self-esteem.  In reality, Years 7 to 10 were rocky for him, he found learning hard and had to put in double the effort to keep up.  But keep up he did, and despite his GCSE outcomes being relatively modest, once he had matured into a 16-year old and was allowed to focus on courses he loved the Sixth Form was transformative.  He worked like a man possessed, after five years of trial and error he knew how his brain worked and still had the confidence to aim high.  From the little boy who could barely spell his own name to the young man graduating with the world at his feet it still reminds me of the limitless nature of young people.

My point in this story is that there is no ‘normal box’, we all think in different ways, and the very idea of a neuro-diverse child is in someways a misnomer as we are all neuro-diverse.  The real point for parents and teachers is to not be afraid of encouraging children to succeed despite it all, to set lofty goals and to constantly believe that just because someone might have stumbled academically today does not mean they are destined to a life of underachievement.  Hard work trumps intelligence any day of the week, for all of us.

David Paton is Head of Radnor House Sevenoaks.

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