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How Restorative Practice Helps Schools Promote Neurodiversity

How Restorative Practice Helps Schools Promote Neurodiversity

Date posted : 21 March 2022

Did you know that it’s Neurodiversity Celebration Week? Over the next few days, schools, universities and companies across the world will celebrate the neurological variation within their ranks. The event encourages all its participants to increase their acceptance and understanding of conditions like autism and ADHD and get to grips with the frameworks that will maximise every individual’s success.

Schools are arguably the ground zero for neurodiverse practices. Children will take the norms of behaviour they are taught during childhood with them for the rest of their lives. That’s why educators should strive to normalise a capacious and accepting approach towards others’ differences in every part of school life.

One important practical step for fostering neurodiversity in schools is to encourage an approach to behaviour management called ‘restorative practice’. Let’s go through what this means, why it matters and how to put it in place. 

What is restorative practice? 

Restorative practice is a method of solving conflict that seeks to restore peaceful interactions between people. Restorative practice encourages pupils to understand their role in a situation of conflict and assume responsibility for it, without assigning blame or other negative emotions.

This approach stresses constructive mediation over punishment, which is why it is sometimes also known as ‘positive discipline’. It has its roots in American criminologist Howard Zehr’s concept of restorative justice, which calls for conflict to be resolved through answering some key questions. These include:

  • Who has been harmed?
  • What are their needs?
  • Whose obligations are these?
  • How do we collectively work to put things right?

At the end of the process, all parties should walk away with a sense of empowerment, with perpetrators given the chance to redeem themselves. While this concept was originally devised in a legal context, it has far-reaching implications for classroom behaviour management too.

Why restorative practice matters for neurodiversity

School should be a place where children with Autistic Spectrum Disorder, ADHD, SEMH, Tourette’s syndrome, or any other condition are treated with the respect they need to flourish. Restorative practice can help teachers make good on this in a range of ways:

Constructively resolving challenging behaviour 

In practice, neurodiverse pedagogy means preparing for the inevitability of flashpoints and instances of challenging behaviour through which some conditions manifest themselves.

For instance, children with ASD can find it difficult to interpret social cues and the proprieties and unspoken norms of social situations. This might lead them to make unwanted physical contact with a peer or use language that accidentally upsets or aggravates another child.

A restorative approach would involve both parties in a dialogue, mediated by a member of staff. The staff member would get both children to acknowledge what happened, engender some resolution, and then ask the child responsible to consider why they felt how they did, and why they then acted as they did. This will encourage habits of self-enquiry and hopefully help the child better understand their own emotions and the consequences of their actions. 

Preventing bullying 

Neurodiverse children can be especially susceptible to bullying at school. 75% of children with ASD have experienced bullying, while learning disabilities like dyslexia can make children feel vulnerable in a classroom setting.

Bullying can have a devastating effect on any child’s development and ability to learn. The hugely increased risk of bullying for SEN pupils should make a robust anti-bullying policy a top priority for any school looking to cultivate a more neurodiverse culture.

A major report carried out by Goldsmiths University for the DfE found that a whole-school restorative approach was rated as the most powerful way to prevent bullying, praised by 97% of schools surveyed as an effective anti-bullying tool. 

Preventing exclusion and learning loss

A spectre is haunting UK special needs provision: the spectre of informal exclusions. Schools may sometimes send a pupil home without issuing a formal exclusion in their records, contrary to required protocol. This is often due to challenging behaviours that staff do not feel equipped to handle. Whatever the precise reason, informal exclusions are technically unlawful and can cause vulnerable children to lose out on learning.

Children with Special Educational Needs are at a disproportionate risk here: in 2018, 56% of parents of autistic children reported that their child had been excluded in this way. The consequence is thousands of hours of education written off for the children who can least afford to lose it.

This is not thanks to any conspiracy of intentional discrimination against neurodiverse children. We work with thousands of schools across the country, and we know that schools and teachers care about their SEN pupils and want to do right by them. Instead, informal exclusions are often the result of insufficient awareness of SEN conditions and inadequate training in managing behaviour.  

With the right instruction in methods like restorative practice and other behaviour management techniques, educators will be better able to handle challenging situations without resorting to the blunt instrument of exclusion.

All educators registered with Teaching Personnel have access to discounted Continuing Professional Development training through our CPD Academy. These accredited courses will give educators a thorough grounding in some of most important facets of contemporary pedagogy.  

Any educators who would like to develop a comprehensive understanding of Special Educational Needs can take the Complete SEND Diploma, a 22-module course that will guide you through each and every aspect of teaching pupils with special needs.

Educators with an interest in particular conditions can take specialist diplomas in ADHD, Dyslexia and Autism. For beginners, earning the Learning Disabilities Awareness Certificate will introduce you to the basics of SEN education.

To access all these courses, and many more, all you have to do is login to the CPD Academy or register with Teaching Personnel

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