Counselling & Neurodiversity in Education, Part 1

There’s been a big invisible elephant in the counselling room that is now throwing off its invisibility cloak and trumpeting loudly. It can’t be ignored, and it needs specialist care and advocacy.  

I’m talking about the number of students coming to counselling who are neurodivergent. 

I didn’t know where to go or what to do with this information, but I knew I desperately wanted to become better informed and able to help my students.  

I started to devour everything I could around this topic and to talk to anyone I thought might be able to help. However, I soon came to realise how little there is out there in terms of robust training, support and understanding. So, you can imagine my delight when I heard that BACP’s CYPF 2024 conference was on this subject.

I’m a member of BACP's School and college counselling expert reference group, and we discuss this topic regularly in the quest to become better informed and promote understanding. 

Please see: School and college counselling expert reference group 

I feel we need to shine a light on this subject and raise a conversation about how our profession is going to move forward with this. 

There is so much to think about, for example: 


Where can we get robust training? There are lots of short courses available, mainly around recognising neurodivergence, but not much in the way of longer certified courses that could give both counsellor and client confidence in the work. I feel we need training that equips counsellors to work therapeutically with neurodivergence using a strengths-based approach.  

There is a big gap in the training market here. 

Consideration also needs to be given to those training to become therapists. Those wanting to work in schools, colleges or universities are going to be seeing a high percentage of neurodivergent clients. How are they being equipped to work with this? They are going to need supervisors who are also aware. The ripples of neurodivergence spread out. 

Supporting students 

Here the ripples become waves: there is much to consider and it’s often not easy. 

Some of the points to think about are: 

1. If a student is showing traits that might indicate they are neurodivergent how should counsellors proceed?
2. Are issues around confidentiality more complex?
3. When might it be appropriate to encourage parental involvement and support?
4. The need to advocate for our young people and encourage education establishments to make reasonable adjustments before diagnosis, including space for young people to go to regulate.
5. The extra time involved in writing reports or referring on.  

Some of these steps are outside traditional counselling roles. My own personal experience has shown me how difficult and time consuming this can be - whilst also trying to work with the mental health issues students bring. Issues, which might not have developed, had students’ neurodiversity been recognised and supported earlier.  

In my next blog, I’ll talk about identifying neurodivergence, advocating for students, and helping school staff understand neurodiversity.