Counselling & Neurodiversity in Education, Part 2

In Part 1 of my blog I talked about the importance of this topic. So, to recap, why is it so important?

Simply, it is because of the high numbers of students coming for counselling who are neurodivergent.

Identifying neurodivergence earlier

My understanding is that early recognition of neurodivergence improves outcomes, so how can we do this?

A thorough student intake process and assessment, including questions around special interests, what helps students to relax, do they have any sensory issues, do they have issues relating to their peers etc.

Neurodivergence in girls can be harder to recognise. This is because they tend to be better at masking their neurodivergence, meaning it doesn’t get picked up earlier in their schooling. Masking is exhausting and can lead to burnout and deregulation at home. Students have talked to me about the social autopsy they conduct on their day, going over every conversation wondering if it was OK, and often focusing on any perceived negativities.

Anxiety, seems to me, to be the first cousin of neurodivergence, this is hardly surprising when you consider the effort it must take, to try and fit in and be seen as ‘normal.’  Strategies that you need to develop at an early age to avoid bullying and other unkindness.

Adolescence and the surge of hormones and change it brings is a big wave for young people to ride, for neurodivergent young people it’s a storm.

Advocating for students and helping school staff understand neurodiversity

If you’ve worked in a school or college, you will understand the pressure staff are under, so asking them to step outside their frame of reference and to try and understand neurodivergent students are a big ask.

Training staff and moving beyond cliched or outdated thinking around neurodivergence will be key to detection and providing meaningful support.

We need to work collaboratively with neurodivergent students, and take time to understand what does and doesn’t work for them. When we have this information, we need to help schools understand why they need to make reasonable adjustments.

This can be tricky, particularly when a student can manage very well in certain situations but struggle in others.  It can be extremely hard for staff to understand neurodivergent behaviour if they haven’t had sufficient training.

Making our schools and colleges more neurodiverse-friendly and aware will help students succeed and have better mental health.

Looking at the figures for autism below it’s easy to see why this need to be a priority.

According to the US CDC’s (Centers for Disease Control) statistics, 10 years ago the prevalence of autism amongst children was believed to be about 1 in 69. In 2023, about 1 in 36 children in the US have been identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). 

One in 36 is a significant number, and I wonder about other forms of neurodivergence and about those who are so good at masking, that they slip through the net. Or those who are diagnosed with other conditions which overshadow neurodivergence.

Referring on

Some of the students I see suffer (and I use the word suffer rather than struggle) with such extreme anxiety, that it has many negative outcomes on all aspects of their lives. 

Their education and therefore their outcomes and future can all be adversely impacted. Not to mention how this ripples out and affects other family members.

When it reaches this point it’s difficult to know where to turn. CAMHs is under such pressure that it’s increasingly difficult to refer onto them, and the wait for assessments can be very long. The consequence being students and families are left struggling in limbo.

I’m hopeful that in starting to discuss and debate this issue we will begin to shine a light on it, and, that as we move forward, there will be a greater awareness, understanding and meaningful change.