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In education, we need all kinds of minds

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It’s Neurodiversity Celebration Week. Here’s senior teacher, case manager and maths teacher at Marsden State High, Trudy Bartlett, to tell us a little more about her experience.

Trudy Bartlett, teacher at Marsden State High School.

I was diagnosed as autistic and ADHD late in life, long after completing school and university studies. At first, I was reluctant to reveal my diagnosis because everything I had experienced about disability was that it was a bad thing and not something to be proud of.

Then, one day, I had a special education student come to me in tears because an interaction they had at school made them feel like they would not be a success because of their disability. I decided right then that I would come out and tell students about my diagnosis. I wanted students to know a person with a disability being successful in life.

I am open about my autism and ADHD diagnosis with staff and students that I work with and this openness helps staff to understand how I work, how they engage with me and what strategies help me regulate my sensory needs at school.

I often have teaching and non-teaching staff approach me to get advice on strategies to best support our neurodiverse students. This enables them to have successful relationships with the students leading to an increase in engagement in class and improved academic grades.

On how neurodiversity informs her work as a teacher

My lived experience as a neurodiverse student in school has shaped my teaching pedagogy.

I am more aware of the many sensory triggering elements of the school day and that increased awareness allows me to better support neurodiverse students and staff who engage with them daily.

In my classes, I use a number of strategies with all students, neurodiverse or not. I reduce the artificial lighting and play music in the background to help create an environment conducive to learning.

My attention to detail and hyper-focus helps me plan major school events like Wear It Purple Day celebrations, District Special Education sporting days and multiple sporting excursions.

By being open about my diagnosis and the different strategies I use, I can model self-advocacy and let students know that it’s okay to ask for support when they need it.

Trudy’s advice for neurodiverse students

Be proud of who you are. Different neurology is not a bad thing; it is an awesome gift that can help us to achieve great things.

It is okay to ask for help and to use strategies to make the school environment a better and more inclusive place.

Her advice for neurodiverse allies

Be patient with us. Sometimes it takes us a little longer to process and respond when the environment we are in is overwhelming our sensory needs or we are put on the spot.

We can be successful when we are given the right supports and tools to complete the required task.

We are all different and whilst some strategies work with some people, they don’t always work for everyone. You may need to do some trial and error until you find what works for the individual.

And don’t forget: “Nothing about us without us”. If you want to know what you can do for neurodiverse people, ask them. They are the experts on what works for them.

For more information, see the Department of Education’s inclusion and diversity page and watch the All Kinds of Minds video.

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Last updated 16 March 2021