Differentiation for your neurodivergent learner

Differentiation for your neurodivergent learner tip 1

Adjust the rate of information and allow processing time

During my 23 years of teaching, the one thing that has made the greatest difference to both learning and behaviour in my classroom has been allowing processing time. This can be done by adjusting the rate of information or giving more time and space to process, complete a task or demonstrate knowledge and or simply allowing more time to complete a task.
I really like this tip because a) it’s simple and b) it doesn’t take any forward planning and it benefits everyone in the class. In fact, it could be as simple as you are allowing a few more seconds between giving instructions. Did you know that the average neurotypical person takes 6 second to process an instruction? This means that, even if you only allow 6 seconds more between instructions, you will probably increase your class’s ability to process and therefore respond to your request, significantly.
The focus of this series of blogs, however, is to support your neurodivergent learners. Let’s look at that in more depth.

adjust the rate of information

Why do neurodivergent people process information differently?

Processing information differently is a key feature or all types of neurodivergent condition.  There are several reasons for this difference including variations in brain structure, function, and connectivity. These differences can lead to distinct cognitive styles, sensory perceptions, and ways of interacting with the world.

Some key factors that contribute to these differences in information processing include:

1. Neurological Wiring: The brain of a neurodivergent people may be wired differently from that of a neurotypical person. This can result in variations in how information is processed, transmitted, and integrated within different brain regions.

2. Sensory Processing: Many neurodivergent learners experience sensory processing differences, meaning their sensory systems interpret and respond to stimuli differently. This can impact how they perceive and react to their environment.

3. Attention and Focus: Conditions like ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) can lead to differences in attention regulation and focus. Neurodivergent individuals might exhibit heightened or reduced attention to certain stimuli, affecting their overall information processing.

4. Cognitive Patterns: Neurodivergent children and young people often display unique cognitive patterns. For instance, people with autism might excel in pattern recognition or have an intense focus on specific subjects, while those with dyslexia might process written language differently, leading to challenges in reading and spelling.

5. Information Filtering: Neurodivergent people may process a larger volume of information at once, leading to heightened sensitivity or information overload. Alternatively, some individuals might filter information differently, focusing more on specific details while overlooking others.

6. Executive Functioning: Differences in executive functioning can affect skills like planning, organisation, decision-making, and time management. Neurodivergent individuals might approach these tasks in ways that differ from neurotypical peers.

7. Social and Emotional Processing: Neurodivergent individuals might process social cues and emotions differently, which can impact their social interactions and understanding of interpersonal dynamics.

8. Neural Connectivity: Neuroimaging studies have shown that neurodivergent conditions are often associated with distinct patterns of neural connectivity. This can influence how different brain regions communicate and collaborate.


How can we support processing difference in the classroom?

Adjusting the rate of information breaks down into 3 main stages; firstly make sure that your routines are in place. Predictability and routines lower cognitive load and therefore help support working memory. Practice routines at the beginning of a term or whenever
your class have momentary lapses of concentration. If there are changes, communicate these in advance to neurodivergent learners. The reason this works so well is because predictability lowers stress levels for both the learner and the teacher. Investing time in this will make classroom management much easier and get better results.
Secondly, provide clear, step by step instructions for each task or activity. This is an important second layer in your predictability.
Finally, use visual aids to reinforce written instructions. These could be picture, diagrams, charts or simple lists, but all in all, using fewer spoken words and presenting the information in chunks such as bullet points can help with processing difference.


Below I have provided a worked example. Sophia is a 12-year-old girl in geography lesson. Your question might be.
“Sophia please think of the names of the 3 different types of rock we discussed last lesson. I will get back to you for an answer in 3 minutes”. Here the teacher has used Sophia’s name first to gain joint attention. Now she has the processing time she needs, without the pressure of being on the spot.

There are, however, also an expectation that Sophie will finish the task within the allotted time. This frees the teacher up to discuss other aspects of the topic, members of class whilst all the time Sophia is included, yet has her needs met.

Final thoughts

It’s important to recognise that these differences in information processing aren’t inherently better or worse than neurotypical processing; they’re simply different. By understanding and accommodating these differences, your school can create more inclusive environments that allow neurodivergent pupils, like Sophie to thrive and contribute in their own unique way.

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