Debbi Long, Naomi Amber, Toad Dell and Guy Ritani

Written by Naomi Amber

The following article is an excerpt taken from panel presentation Australian Permaculture Convergence, April 2023

Permaculture and its teachings have always been set in non-formal, alternative and community level environments. This is critical to ensuring permaculture knowledge is available to all. The practice of understanding diversity and inclusion must be continuously revisited as society evolves around us. Promoting inclusivity and diversity in education for the neurodivergent learner presented, by Naomi Amber

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Everyone is different, there are no two people who are exactly the same in absolutely every way. Even identical twins have differences. Just as everyone has unique fingerprints, no one has exactly the same brain. There is diversity at every level in every aspect of human life. Understanding the diversity within students and knowing how they learn is essential for a teacher to create learning environments that promote success.
So, what is neurodiversity?

  • Neurodiversity refers to the variation of brain, or cognitive, functioning in people. Everyone has a unique brain and therefore different skills, abilities and needs.
  • Within this scope of difference, or spectrum, lies people who are considered neurotypical, or having brain functioning that is considered as typical or common within the population.
  • Neurodivergence refers to people who have a brain that diverges, or is significantly different to, that which is considered typical or common. These differences can present in social preferences, ways of learning, ways of communicating and ways of perceiving the environment. 

Let’s look at everyone here in this room. We are a group of people who are neurologically diverse. Within our group there are people who are considered neurotypical and others who are neurodivergent. Examples of neurodivergent people include people who have Austism, Epilepsy, or ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). However, it is important to note that we need to be careful when using these ‘labels’, as not all people who are neurodivergent have been formally diagnosed and each person can present or not present with a wide range of characteristics within each neurodivergent classification.
As a teacher, I believe it is more important to focus on what students need to be successful in learning, rather than focusing on labels and then making assumptions on what their challenges may or may not be. For example, instead of saying that Johnny has ADHD and lacks focus in class, we can say Johnny requires a stand-up desk to help focus on tasks in class. However, in a school setting, diagnosis and labels are required for access to funding from the government.

Ways we can support neurodiversity in learning include:

  1. Maintain a holistically safe classroom by addressing psychological, physical, emotional, social, ethical, and academic needs
  2. Present lessons in small chunks, also known as task analysis
  3. Vary your teaching strategies
  4. Know your student’s strengths and challenges
  5. Set goals for success for ALL students

These teaching practices are effective for both neurotypical and neurodivergent learners and should be incorporated in every lesson of every unit of every course.
An issue we face as educators is that not all people know whether they are neurotypical, neurodivergent or have any challenges for learning. Unless diagnosed, people can be unaware of where they lie on the ‘spectrum’. However, if you ask people how they feel they best learn, most would be able to tell you. This is why I believe it is best practice not to focus on a ‘label’, but rather on identifying the needs of a person.
For example, it was only last year that I was formally diagnosed with ADHD. Prior to the diagnosis, I knew that I had certain challenges when learning or working and had figured out strategies I needed to implement to improve my success within a learning or workspace. The formal diagnosis just gave me access to other tools that I had previously not been able to. An inclusive classroom should include lessons that inherently cater for neurodiversity and neurodivergence. This can be done by using a wide range of varied strategies and techniques embedded in every unit program of the course being delivered.
As a teacher it is necessary to research and stay up to date with strategies that cater for diversity in the classroom. These strategies can address features such as the physical layout of the classroom, the furniture available, timing of lesson and activities, types of activities, resource development and presentation, and modes of delivery of content. For example, where possible it can be helpful to make course delivery available online, as well as in person. It enables students to access your course who have challenges such as social anxiety, living remote, lack of transport, family or work commitments. It also creates the opportunity to include other features that can be added to improve accessibility using varied technologies.

“Social inclusion is the process of improving the terms on which individuals and groups take part in society—improving the ability, opportunity, and dignity of those disadvantaged on the basis of their identity.” (World Bank, 2017)

Even the World Bank recognises Inclusivity as important!
Permaculture’s ethics of People Care and Fair Share align with social inclusion. We suggest that it’s the responsibility of those of us who teach in this space to proactively ensure that we are being as inclusive as possible.

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