I recently attended a brilliant webinar on how to have effective communication in the context of neurodiversity/Autism Spectrum Condition. It was hosted by Linda Philips of Autism Routemap. Her guest speakers Dr. Andrea Taylor-Cummings and Jonathan Taylor-Cummings discussed communication and neurodiversity; and their book: ‘The 4 Habits of All Successful Relationships’. It was a reminder that in any situation it is so important to have ‘courageous conversations’, (love that phrase), when there is miscommunication and misunderstanding.
Social chit-chat can be very difficult for neurodiverse students. It can take much more of a conscious effort for them and they can often miss the underlying motive of ‘connection’. Social chit-chat communication requires flexible thinking, which may not be a strength. They may prefer focussed, purposeful, and unambiguous questions as part of a discussion.
To avoid misunderstanding, ask questions; don’t assume! If students with learning difficulties seem unfriendly or uncommunicative, it is highly likely they are feeling uncomfortable and unsure of what you are asking of them. Ask about their interests as well as how they like to communicate. For example, if they’re having online tuition – do they prefer to have the camera off and communicate via the chat box?
“One of their key phrases is, ‘connect before you correct!’ Take the time to find out what makes your student tick.”
Be self-reflective. How are we responding in a situation? Also what is our tone of voice like? Is our voice too loud? Many of our Austistic Spectrum Condition students have sensory processing issues. So loud noises, bright lights and background distractions can be overwhelming and sometimes even painful. So, how are we projecting our own thoughts and ideas to them? We are all wired differently, so remember to listen well to their needs and adapt to their suggestions when possible.
Giving feedback is not effective unless you have connected with your student. One of their key phrases is, ‘connect before you correct!’ Take the time to find out what makes your student tick. Depending on the age of the student, do they prefer verbal feedback, written notes, motivational stickers, rewards for good work, games, prizes and so on? Ask the questions and find what works for them.
Neurodiverse vs. Neurodivergent: Let’s also reflect on the terminology we use and the implications of that. We, as human beings, are ‘neurodiverse’. We all have different ways of thinking, presenting information and learning; and so, our tutoring should reflect that. Being ‘neurodivergent’ means we ‘diverge from the majority way’ in the way we learn and process information and are likely to have specific learning differences such as Autism Spectrum Condition, AD(H)D and dyslexia.
“Working with neurodivergent students requires a great ability to communicate clearly, and to ask questions courageously as well as compassionately to avoid misunderstandings.”
Remembering to listen well and be self-aware in how we project our own thoughts and ideas is a useful thing to be reminded of in any social situation really, isn’t it? It is easy to forget that communication is a two-way thing!
Sarah Cox is a specialist SEND Educational Consultant. She bridges the gap between the guidance a student receives from an educational psychologist or SENDCo in school, and the work a tutor does with a student at home. Sarah ensures tutors feel confident working with students with learning differences.