By Nina Hood
The Education Hub is currently undertaking a research project to explore how well New Zealand’s education system is set up to support our neurodivergent students. This reflects the interest The Hub has had over the past few year in helping teachers and schools to better support their neurodivergent students; but, for me, it is also deeply personal.
My elder son is neurodivergent, with multiple co-occurring conditions. He soon will transition from early childhood education (where he has had a supportive and enriching experience) to school, and part of me is terrified about what this will mean for him. He will likely struggle with a number of the skills that form the bedrock of our education system – namely reading and writing. I’m worried that for the first time, he will realise that his brain works diferently to those of his peers. I’m also worried that because he will struggle with certain aspects of school, he will internalise a message that he’s not capable, that he is a failure, and that this will dampen the joy and zest he has for life, his curiosity, and his delight in learning.
In saying this, I also realise that I come from enormous privilege. As a family, we have been able to access weekly private therapy for him, something that is out of reach, both financially and because we do not have enough therapists, for most New Zealanders. I have the time and knowledge (and mostly the patience!) to do a short daily therapy session with him. And we have been able to select a school (and have already started engaging with them) that we hope will be able to provide the support and environment that he needs to thrive.
I am all too aware that for most neurodivergent children starting school this year, this is not their reality. Too many of them will not have received a diagnosis – either because their condition has not been identified or they have not been able to get an assessment (either because of the cost or the wait time) with the necessary provider. For too many who do have a diagnosis, it will be difficult to access the support that they need. And many neurodivergent young people will be in schools, which, despite their best intentions, do not have the knowledge, expertise, or resourcing to provide the types of support that are required.
As a country we can and we must do better. Action needs to be informed by a greater understanding of the current reality and should draw on the experiences and perspectives of those who are engaged in the system, capturing their voices on what improvements are needed. We have put together surveys for four different groups – teachers, students, parents, and people working in support services.
We are hoping to capture the voices of as many people as possible. Please consider completing our anonymous survey (you may complete multiple surveys if say, for example, you are both a teacher and the parent of a neurodivergent child). Your contribution will play a vital role in fighting for better support for our neurodivergent young people.