Including Neurodiverse Children in Education

23 July 2018 – Children’s Commissioner Andrew Becroft spoke in April this year to a group of people gathered by the Otago Child Protection Trust. He discusses the need the need for a child-centred focus in providing appropriate educational support for neurodiverse children.

ADDRESSING NEURODIVERSITY in children is one of my priorities.

Part of the action we need to take, as communities, is to ensure we honour the right of all children to education and support children for whom this right is at risk.

What constitutes appropriate support for neurodiverse children becomes clear if we work within a genuinely child-centred frame.

Here are some ways each of us can contribute to a genuinely inclusive education.

  • Develop an accepting culture. Parents of neurodiverse children often struggle to get their kids accepted.  Boards, teachers, staff and parents need to promote a school culture that accepts diversity.  This may mean reassuring some people their children’s education is not at risk when a child with challenges is included in class. Indeed, there may be real benefits in generating sympathy, compassion and understanding.
  • Give teachers the tools they need. Provide professional development to help teachers offer a diverse learning environment meeting the needs of all children. Encourage them to avoid using restraint or ‘time out’ unnecessarily. Resource them to work with students who have specific learning needs. Provide more and better trained teacher aides.
  • Advocate for funding for eligible students.  Make sure children at your school get their full entitlement from the Ministry of Education.  Report to the Ministry if a learning need is not being met due to lack of funding.
  • Be creative about sourcing community support.  Among other avenues, some schools seek sponsorship from local businesses to ensure all children have their education rights met.
  • Make sure board decisions are child-centred. This is particularly important when it comes to inclusion and exclusion. Give thought to including two to three students on your board.

The Office of the Children’s Commissioner plays its part too.

  • We advocate to principals to ensure all children are enrolled in a school. No child can be left behind.
  • We advocate to the Ministry of Education to improve funding for learning support and to set in place a properly resourced education system that genuinely engages all young people.
  • We advocate to boards to ensure their decisions are in their best interests of each and every child.
  • We advocate for schools to listen to children’s voices so these voices play a meaningful part in decision-making about children’s education and therapeutic treatment.

Schools can build resilience in children.  Keeping children in school, engaged in learning, contributes markedly to helping them avoid poor outcomes.

But this is only true if their experience of school is positive. We must reduce bullying, encourage restorative rather than solely punitive approaches to behavioural issues, and provide students more support to ensure they maximise the benefit of their education.

Together, we want New Zealand to be a place where it’s great to be a child, where family, friendships, feeling safe, being able to play and be connected to community are supported at all levels of society, from the Prime Minister to the local school.  We want Aotearoa to be a place where all children can develop and thrive.


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