Instructional Practices

These are not hard and fast rules to follow. All the items listed below are aspects of instruction that people should consider using. Each person is different and the best course of action is to ask them what works best for them. When that isn’t possible, or the person does not self disclose their neurodivergence, considering these practices will help make your instruction more accessible to some, but not all people.

Incorporating Practices from Other Sections

There are many valuable recommendations from the other sections of the project. For example, the use of plain language from the Online Environments section applies to all parts of instructional practices. Another section to draw excellent input from is Interactions and Collaborations. All the sections from Interactions and Collaborations are part of instruction and should not be ignored.

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Creating Neurodiversity-Friendly Environments

Webpage from University College London (UCL): Supporting neurodiversity in education
Part of a set of Teaching Toolkits from the UCL, this is a concise introduction to supporting neurodiversity in education. A combination of definitions, common mistakes and keypoints make for a good introduction for someone who is starting their journey learning about neurodivergent people and neurodiversity in higher education. There is a list of further sources and resources at the end. Keep in mind this is from the UK higher education system and not all the links are available on the open web and are intended for UCL students, staff and faculty.  

Main ideas 

  • Making space for different sensory needs – quiet rooms, noise canceling headphones, warn in advance of fire drills
  • Make allowances for tactile sensitivities
  • Provide opportunities for fidget toys and breaks to move. 
  • Provide flexible seating
  • Make learning materials available in advance
  • Ensure online content is web accessible
  • Provide content through multiple methods
  • Ensure reading lists are focused
  • Make information easy to find
  • Clearly stating expectations around assignments, performance, or contributions in plain language, preferably in writing, before research or teaching begins
    • Offer multiple ways of communicating with the students – written comms, in person comms, video comms
  • Allowing or facilitating the recording of teaching or meetings
  • Using a range of testing or assessment methods
  • Stating clearly and regularly that alternative methods and processes can be available and have those alternatives ready to go in advance.

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Universal Online Design and Neurodiversity

Below are a couple articles that discuss universal design and neurodiversity.

Article: Universal design online and students on the autism spectrum: Is it a match? by Anderson, A.

Article’s Abstract: Online education provides a way for young adults to attend postsecondary courses when they might not otherwise have those opportunities due to location, timing, or other circumstances. For individuals on the autism spectrum, or those with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), the online environment in general allows for unique opportunities for engagement while removing some of the distractions associated with face-to-face interactions. However, little has been done to explore the online learning environment, in particular, as it pertains to college students with ASD. Additionally, while online coursework moves to incorporate principles of inclusivity for students with disabilities using Universal Design frameworks, little has been done to see how or if these adjustments apply in particular to college students with ASD. This study seeks to explore these issues through a qualitative research synthesis, analyzing themes from strategically selected descriptive studies deductively by UDL principle. Conclusions are drawn based on what is currently known about online learning for college students with ASD, and how, or if, principles of UDL are currently being incorporated to facilitate their educational experiences.

Here is an abbreviated list of some recommendations from the article:  

  • Multiple Means of Representation
    • Providing options for perception, language and symbols, and comprehension
  • Multiple means of Action and Expression
    • Offer the students more than one way to communicate and and express themselves
    • Caution! Do not offer too many options, as this could be overwhelming
  • Multiple means of Engagement
    • Offer more scaffolding and be prepared to engage more with your students
    • Allow for more customization for the tools you use
  • Communication
    • Do not believe the myth that people with neurodiversity do not want to communicate
    • Neurodiverse people might communicate differently than neurotypical people
    • Provide options for communicating so the student can get guidance, feedback and scaffold instruction
  • Structured versus Unstructured Options
    • Too many options without proper scaffolding and guidance might be confusing/overwhelming
    • This is where communication is key, to ensure the students are not overwhelmed.
  • Individualized Approaches
    • Many neurodiverse people prefer an individualized approach, which includes instructional support.
    • As above, this is where communication is key.

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Article: Autism friendly lesson planning: A universal design for learning training for college level instructors by Stark, J. 

Stark’s master’s thesis, (a literature review), to complete their degree of Master of Science in Counseling.

Abstract from the thesis: The literature on adults on the autism spectrum is a vastly growing one, but there is still a great need for more in-depth research. There are common misunderstandings about individuals on the autism spectrum that leads to stigma from the overall population in the United States (John et al. 2018). As more individuals on the spectrum enroll in higher education, their needs in the classroom are becoming more apparent to instructors at this level. This literature review explores research on the community of people on the spectrum, their needs in the college setting, what can be done to accommodate these students, and the outcome of these accommodations. The research has shown that utilizing a method of teaching that considers the needs of very mentally and intellectually diverse populations such as Universal Design for Learning can assist in creating a successful work environment for students on the spectrum (Waisman et al. 2022). The present training is created using UDL principles to teach college level instructors how to teach students on the Autism Spectrum and advocate for their students.

Challenges in Higher Ed – Five items to consider

  • Some people might struggle with new situations and unexpected changes.
    • Based on lack of structure in many parts of higher education
    • Lots of information given to students all at once
  • Exhausting social contracts
    • Navigating the new social interactions with students and instructors in higher education can be challenging
    • Some neurodiverse students might not ask for help and clarification because they don’t want to seem any different from neurotypical students
  • Processing information and time management
    • Some students can be overwhelmed by what is happening in the classroom
    • Some students might experience sensory overload which could negatively impact time management
  • Doubts about disclosing neurodiversity
    • Concerns about inadequate support
    • Concerns about how students and faculty will react
  • The general feelings of feeling anxious, depressed and isolated that many people experience when transitioning to college

How to deal with these challenges?

  • Make sure the student is consulted when possible
  • Make sure instructors and support people are properly education about neurodiversity
  • Provide sensory safe spaces and make them available to everyone
  • Allow anyone to make requests so people don’t feel pressured to disclose why they are making their request or to get a diagnosis. (This is related to sensory safe spaces and seems it could be applied to many different aspects of instruction.)
  • Train and educate instructors at college and university level to consider invisible disabilities and universal design principles to enhance education.
  • Lesson plans should keep multiple communication styles in mind.
    • Assignments need to be clear and concise
    • Provide clear expectations of what is expected from the students
  • Allow students many opportunities via smaller assignments and in multiple ways to demonstrate their learning

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