Neurodivergents Must Aim High

I had a very interesting conversation with a Y11 pupil yesterday about what they were looking to study at 6th form. They mentioned their choices, one of them being economics but said they, ‘Probably couldn’t do that because of my maths.’ 

I’m very much a parent and teacher who wants all of the young people I work with (and my own children) to aim realistically high with their personal goals. I want all of the young people to not cut off ambition because of difficulties they may have. One of my favourite sayings that I often quote myself is that ‘What is now, may not always be’ meaning that brains live and grow and change and adapt to new challenges, levels of enthusiasm and the methods used to teach information. Simply put, if a pupil (or anyone) has the inclination to do something, this kicks in motivation, concentration and perseverance when things get tough. That may not be in school at this time because it might be in the college they go to next, the job they see and really want to train to do (so they work back to where they are now and what they need to put in place), life experience can alter ambitions and then focus the mind on training needs. I spoke to a parent this week who didn’t get her degree until her 30’s because she went through her school years feeling she was, in her words, ‘Stupid.’ She was very far from stupid; it was just what she was being taught and the way she was being taught didn’t suit her learning difficulties (and probably her interests).

My pupil may not study economics next year and that’s okay. She does need to know though, that she can come back to economics at any time in her life and study it. KS3/4 is not the only time in life where you can study and gain public qualifications – look at the parent I was talking to: she’s a great example of this. 

Another way to look at wanting to study things that might be difficult for you (and this is what I said to my pupil) is to look at the support you would need to have in order for you to do what you want. Support is absolutely fine, and we often do this in real life. I need support with using a computer, so I ask Hubbie who helps me. I cannot do my job as effectively as I need to if I don’t have the computer skills that I should and being out of schooled education for the time that I have means that things have moved on. I needed support, so I asked for it. 

I also knew I didn’t know everything about my job before I applied for it so I asked my boss at the senior school if she could be my mentor. We have a weekly meeting to discuss the transition changes we are making (Y6-Y7, we’re making the process smoother for school and pupils) and I can ask, and I do, any question that I need to ask to clarify something I don’t (or have little knowledge of) know. 

My pupil didn’t know what she might need so I talked through the options. She could need help with the maths part of economics so she could have a maths tutor whom she sees once or twice a week where the focus is specifically her economics maths work. She could continue to have learning support sessions (I see her for 35 mins a week to help her with her maths confidence and to over learn topics from the IGCSE foundation stage maths course that she’s studying. I use a visual approach and lots of colour!) to focus on answering the questions. Yes, this involves money, I do understand that but it’s a good way to show a pupil that we can achieve difficult goals that we set if we identify the support that we need in order to achieve those goals. My support that I have costs nothing. 

I used the example of Richard Branson. Now he’s not someone I hold up as a pillar of society, but he is a famous dyslexic who’s made his brain and the way it works, work for him. He did this after leaving school with no qualifications at all. (It must be put into context that he did this in the 1950’s and 1960’s where society wasn’t quite as ‘qualification mad’ as it seems to be now. You *could* achieve very highly with no qualifications unlike today when yes, qualifications can provide opportunities, but they also create barriers for those who don’t have them. Dyson is a very good example of this; my understanding is that you cannot work in their engineer department unless you have a degree. This is madness! Think of all of those fabulous neurodivergent people who are not traditional academists. They are missing out…). Richard Branson identified what he wanted to do but also what support he would need in order to do what he wanted to do. I remember reading an article where he admitted he’d never read a balance sheet in his life. A man whose net worth is 3.7 billion (USD) who clearly has a good head for business has never read a balance sheet.

What he did was to put around him a team to do the things that he couldn’t and he did this early in his business career. I think one of his greatest strengths as a potential business owner was to identify what he couldn’t do, not try to bluff things and put in place his own support. This is huge. This is what my pupil and all my pupils need to know they can do even if they don’t have the funds to put that support in place, at least they will develop the skills of self-reflection and the beginnings of self-advocacy. 

What I wanted my pupil to know was that they *should* aim high, think of the impossible as, maybe, possible and that just because they have a difficulty now, this might not always be the case. 

Change is possible. Support can be identified and provided. Difficult goals can be achieved. 

Think of the first person to have climbed Everest – they didn’t think, ‘That looks a bit high, I don’t think I’ll bother.’ They had a curiosity that was itched and off they went. We can not only ‘Do hard things’ but do things that have never been done before. That’s an awesome, in all sense of the word, thing to contemplate. 

Neurodivergents should aim high and be actively encouraged to do so. We shouldn’t be saying, ‘Are you sure that’s right for you?’ but, ‘What do you need to achieve what you want to? How can we help you do that?’

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