Topic 2 Children with Neurodevelopmental Disorders

In the wide spectrum of vulnerabilities and children’s needs, neurodevelopmental disorders (NDD’s) should also be taken into account when it comes to inclusion.

  • NDDs are a complex, multifaceted subject area which isn’t, as of yet, sufficiently researched
  • They cross a wide clinical spectrum, and many are suggested to have genetic and hereditary origins
  • Many NDDs such as autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) or attention deficit/ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can only be diagnosed solely based on behavior
  • Many of these NDDs frequently co-exist and share similar traits (i.e higher inattention and overall ADHD scores are associated with self-reported deficits in communication and social skills), but can take years to diagnose as they display similar symptoms in areas such as impaired social communication and interaction skills, similar sensory and motor dysfunctions, sleeping and eating difficulties, attachment issues and attention problems

What difficulties do children with this type of vulnerability experience in school and what are their needs?

  • School is rarely a good environment for children in the autism spectrum, especially for those who are on the more severe end of this spectrum.
  • Children with autism spend a huge amount of time learning how to cope with an environment that is often out of sync with their abilities and challenges
  • After having built those skills, the kids must leave that environment for a completely different situation when they graduate or age out.

Some of the domains that children face difficulties in are the following:

Many facets of everyday school life—hall buzzers, fluorescent lights, yelling children, echoing gyms—are overwhelming enough for children without autism. For children with autism, the sensory stimuli can be overwhelming, triggering extreme anxiety and autistic behavior

Standardized testing requires even young children to comprehend and respond to spoken and written language at an expected speed and level. Children with autism are often at a disadvantage during standardized testing as verbal expression and comprehension are major challenges—particularly when it comes to figurative or expressive language.

the ability to plan and execute multi-step projects while taking into account project parameters, timelines, and other factors. For schoolchildren, this means the ability to manage homework, school projects, exam preparation, and event planning, among a plethora of other things. Executive functioning, most of the times, can be a challenge for children in the autistic spectrum (and by extension adults) who are generally less comfortable in switching between activities.

critical for writing, drawing, cutting, pasting, and manipulating small objects such as microscope slides and tweezers. Gross motor skills are used for jumping, kicking, throwing, running, and skipping. Skills like these are central to meeting the social demands of elementary school and high school. Mild to moderate impairment of these skills are common with most children with autism. Any limitations may not only affect the child’s academic achievements but also their daily school life.

Children in the autistic spectrum share difficulty with social communication. Sometimes the difficulties are obvious and severe. Even if they are not and the child is high-functioning, the understanding of social interactions can still be challenging. The social cues that tell a child when to change social behaviors are often difficult for a child with autism to pick up. The difficulty in decoding these social cues is what often prevents children from discern a playful teasing from bullying or a hint of sarcasm from a statement of fact. Because of the ever-evolving nature of social interactions (which change with every school year), a child with autism may be socially isolated or be seen as introverted if they don’t participate.

changes in the class context can be confusing to a child with autism. The changes extend not only to the classroom but to peers as well. Children with autism often have tremendous difficulty with recognizing and adapting to these changes. This leaves them vulnerable to ridicule and censure from those who fail to recognize the child’s limitations.

Children with autism thrive on routine and structure. Rapid change and adjustments are challenging for many children but these changes can be even more disruptive to children with autism, making it difficult for them to cope or adjust “on demand.”

  • Children with NDD’s and other disabilities, have the added burden of needing to leave classes—often in the middle of a lesson—to attend therapy sessions, social skills groups, and other programs intended to help them handle the very experiences they are missing.
  • Student-teacher relationships are of outmost importance. Emerging research show that especially in early school years, the transition to early schooling is a crucial milestone for all children, one that can be particularly challenging for young children with ASD. The quality of the student-teacher relationship (STR) is seen as crucial to successful academic outcomes and a strong predictor of long-term behaviors (Bolourian et al., 2019). The goal for a child with NDD’s / autistic spectrum disorder is to enhance the attitude of reciprocity and cooperation while egocentrism gets diminished.

Activity 2: “A Day at School”