October was Neurodiversity Month at Verdala International School (VIS), and this year we have taken a deeper dive into what Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) really is, the strategies that help students with the disorder, and how, when challenged correctly, it can be an asset that fosters high creativity or productivity.

In Elementary, they are raising awareness through our Friday Focus session, where the student choice session gives options to explore how celebrities have shared their ADHD story, design sensory bins, or research and create a class book.

Many schools run very successful inclusion programmes that look after young people with ADHD. There are strategies that can be put into place in the lesson that help their learning environment, such as giving a child a stress ball to play with or allowing them to doodle to aid concentration.

Our school’s director of wellbeing, staff and the parents are part of the discussion that identifies what aspect needs support. Younger children who find it hard to sit still can be helped with a special heavy wraparound that gives them a ‘stay put’ reminder, or maybe it is just having a person sit with them. We are fortunate to have learning support educators who have designated students whom they mentor, keep organised, or in some cases, modify their work to improve their access to the learning. This is adapted according to their age and social-emotional needs.

As an inclusive school, our successful graduates include a proud range of neurodiversity – from gifted and talented, to those with dyspraxic, dyslexic and other disorders such as Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

As children develop and grow up, their fight-or-flight coping strategies can often outweigh the required behaviour norm, meaning they implement certain emotional or physical responses instead of applying helpful strategies that will improve their skill-set and situational response.

People often say “we are all English acquisition learning (EAL) teachers, but we are also all special needs educators. We do our best to foster this tool-kit so our neurodiverse students are able to learn, manage their relationships and handle varied environments. Part of this process is teacher training, peer understanding and positive self-awareness education.

However, unlike Peter Pan, all ADHD children grow up and eventually leave school. The adult with ADHD doesn’t miraculously lose these challenges. Some flounder because the next pathway, whether further education or a job, may not have the resources to be sympathetic towards people who fall outside the norm. Many universities do have some systems in place if this is accompanied by rigorous paperwork.

As time goes on, the neurodiverse adult may have managed through maturity to implement coping mechanisms, but these can lead to misunderstandings in both work and social relationships, whether it is because of impulsivity, too much energy, not reading the room, getting a bee in their bonnet or simply coming across as a bit odd.

On the flip side, when channelled, that creativity and focused productivity can be a huge asset to an employer, and an ADHD adult can thrive with an understanding, tolerant manager. Indeed, VIS has partnered with VASTE, an organisation that helps employees take on staff with personal challenges; we work together to find a suitable position within our structure.

Some employers are even actively advertising for neurodiverse people on the spectrum. Sadly, not all see the potential, as they may feel scared of employing someone with a disorder as it could be accompanied with challenging behaviour; consequently the employees themselves may be afraid to declare it.

If, as an organisation, we are more open to inclusion, accompanied by tolerance and support, then we can make this less of a taboo topic. Education is key here, as we say to our Middle School students: “If you notice your ADHD friend struggling, you can help them.”

Verdala International School recently made it to the finalist category for Inclusivity in the Malta Business Awards

VIS recently made it to the finalist category for Inclusivity in the Malta Business Awards. We are delighted by this honour, as our anti-discrimination policy covers all kinds of diversity among our students and staff. We recognise that the world of adults offers a wondrous variety of human beings, and hope to offer opportunities for everyone in our community to flourish in our inclusive environment.

Totty Aris is head, Verdala International School.


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