Neurodiversity - How parents can support their children

Neurodiversity - How parents can support their children

Having well and truly settled into the Queen’s family, I felt it was time to share a few ‘pearls of wisdom’ as a follow up to the Podcast I featured in recently. As the school’s SENCO, it is my role to ensure any pupil with an identified need is well supported and is able to make good academic progress.  In this blog I will use the terms neuro diverse and special educational needs interchangeably. We will look at two of the most common types of needs here at Queen’s, Dyslexia and Autism, as well as provide some advice to any parent talking to their child about the topic of neurodiversity. 

Every class is every school is likely to have a pupil who is neuro-diverse. For instance, statistics show that 10% of the population are believed to be dyslexic ( and 1 in 57 people are on the autistic spectrum (  These are only two out of a plethora of different needs we may come across in a classroom. Just as it is important for teachers to have the relevant knowledge and understanding of neurodiversity to ensure children in their classes can succeed, parents need this too. Parents may find they need to support their own child, but will also need the confidence to talk to their children about different needs in relation to their classmates. As they grow up children will come across neuro diverse people, it’s important they are equipped for this and are able to ask questions which their parents can answer.

Here I will tackle three key questions:
How do I support my child if they have dyslexic type difficulties?
How do I support a child who may be on the autistic spectrum?
My child is making comments about another child with additional needs in their class, what do I do?

How do I support my child if they have dyslexic type difficulties?

Whilst a formal diagnosis of dyslexia is quite common, it is far more likely that a child will display some difficulties without having a formal diagnosis. It is commonly accepted that someone with dyslexia is usually characterised as having difficulties with reading and/or spelling and is also likely to have some working memory difficulties (holding and processing information in the brain). Here are some tips for parents if your child is experiencing these types of difficulties:

  • Read often: It is important to persevere with this, even if I child is reluctant to do so. Reading materials should be accessible to them. More difficult materials can be used where they are read with, or read to, because an adult or older child can help them if they come across a word they don’t know.
  • Practice spellings and writing in a multi-sensory way: The underpinning principle of the specialist dyslexia teaching I do is that we need to engage more than one sense at a time. The simplest way to do this is for pupils to say each letter as they spell a word. You can also get more creative by getting your child to practice their spellings on chalkboards, whiteboards, tracing in sand etc.
  • Try apps: The modern child is likely to be keen to engage in anything on a tablet!  Little and often tends to be the key so encouraging them to sit down every day for 15 minutes or so can really help reinforce key learning. Check out this resource:
  • Read along websites: It isn’t always possible for parents to spend time sitting with their children and reading with them for extended periods of time. Equally, it is important for children to develop independence and take responsibility for their own learning. Websites such as allow children to read a digital book and listen along at the same time.
  • Play to their strengths: Individuals with dyslexic difficulties are often incredibly creative. Allow them to spend time doing activities where they can use this creativity; for example, through art, music, drama or even telling stories. It should also be remembered that dyslexia has no relation to overall academic ability and so having discussions or watching videos about complex topics could be a really great way of getting them to develop their understanding.

How do I support a child who may be on the autistic spectrum?

Again, this can be experienced by children of all abilities and no child is the same. We therefore have to be careful not to generalise. These tips may help but the most important thing any parent can do is find out what works best for their child and then share the information with others.

  • Structure: Regular routines are likely to help children with these types of difficulties. This could be an early morning routine for example.  It is however important to try and encourage some flexibility, so building this in gradually over time can help.
  • Visuals: Pictures may help a child understand what is happening, or the routine they need to follow. A simple checklist of everything they need to put in the school bag with a picture, for example, could help them organise themselves rather you having to do it all!
  • Prepare for change and new experiences: The uncertainty of something new can, unfortunately, lead to children with autism being unable to cope. Showing them pictures of where they are going, giving them time to ask questions about what it will be like and telling them well in advance can all help with this.
  • Explicit teaching of social skills: A lack of social skills can often be the stand out characteristic people can identify in children and adults with Autism. Most people gradually pick up social skills from others around them but this is not always the case. Just like when you learn to drive, you are told exactly how to do everything and why (along with having plenty of practice!), a child on the autistic spectrum is likely to benefit from this type of approach when in social situations.  This will include making friends, approaching people they don’t know and understanding how someone else is feeling based on their body language.

My child is making comments about another child with additional needs in their class, what do I do?

This is always going to be tricky and there is no one approach that is guaranteed to work however following these principles can help.

  • Don’t ignore it:  The British Culture of politeness can very much get in the way here. A parent may feel awkward about addressing what their child is saying however this could compound the problem. You are not expected to be an expert however acknowledging what they are saying is important. Correct misconceptions if you can, but equally if you don’t know anything about it then be honest with them.  One of the most important things a parent can do is ensure language around different needs is not being used in a derogatory way by their children just as they would around racist, sexist or homophobic language.
  • Be sensitive: Every individual will be on their own journey. Some children will have a diagnosis, others won’t. Some will talk about it, some won’t. Some parents will talk openly about their child’s needs whilst others will still be processing it. It is important to be mindful of this, do not make assumptions and only refer to a specific child and their need if you are certain they have a diagnosis and both the child and parent are comfortable with it being discussed.  
  • Watch TV programmes which feature neurodiversity: This can make it far easier for children to understand different needs as they can see real people and how it affects them. It takes the pressure off you as a parent having all the answers and also may help open up a conversation. Atypical on Netflix is a personal favourite and one I’d recommend for older children.
  • Celebrate difference: There are a huge number of well-known public figures with different needs. Take Steven Spielberg and Richard Branson for example who both have dyslexia. Having an awareness of this and for your children to know this helps to show that such needs do not need to be seen in a negative light.  

Sources of information:

Listen to John's podcast here

John Ross - SENCO
John Ross