Neuroaffirming Learning Environments

How can we set up learning environments, so all people succeed?   

Up to 20% of students in Canada have learning differences. This number includes those with autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and other brain-based learning differences. Neuroaffirming environments help students with learning differences grow in confidence.  

Neurodiversity is a spectrum of differences in each one of our brains. A neuroaffirming environment recognizes that brain differences are normal. It celebrates these differences and each person’s strengths.   

Our education system works best for students with “neurotypical” brains. It caters to those who fit a specific “norm.” These students can sit and listen to a teacher in an elementary classroom. They can follow social cues and process information quickly in a complex environment. In high school, these students can speak up for themselves. They can handle growing social complexity. They think fast and manage many demands on their time. These students often excel in our schools.   

A neuroaffirming environment recognizes that not all students learn like this. Differences are normal. We can better set up a broader range of students for success.  

Here are some of the ways we can create inclusive learning environments:   

  1. Sensory-Friendly Environments: Be mindful of sensory sensitivities. Create spaces with less overwhelming stimuli – soft lighting, quiet spaces, headphones, or sensory tools like fidget toys.   
  1. Movement: Build in breaks for activity. Moving helps regulate sensory needs. It also improves focus and engagement.   
  1. Inclusive Teaching Strategies: Use multiple modes of instruction for diverse learners – visual aids, hands-on activities, storytelling, games, technology, and more.   
  1. Strength-Based: Focus on the strengths and interests of each student. Leverage what each student does well and boost their confidence and motivation.   
  1. Individualized Learning: Each student has unique needs and learning styles. Design learning that students find interesting and plays to their strengths.   
  1. Routines: Provide a set schedule for the day and allow for flexibility. Clear routines can reduce anxiety.  
  1. Expect Variations: Things will not always go as planned. Showing up in these spaces can be challenging. A student’s ability to engage may vary daily, and that’s okay. Expect variability. 
  1. Support social-emotional learning (SEL). Help all students learn to understand and manage emotions.       
  1. Technology Embracing: Use assistive technology to meet each student’s learning needs. Offer alternative ways to engage with content and show understanding.   
  1. Accepting Environment: Create an environment that celebrates differences. It should also encourage empathy and acceptance.    

Let’s work together to continue to build inclusive learning environments. Let’s set all students up to succeed. 

Learn more about neuroaffirming one-to-one learning support for students available across BC.

Sara Jane R. Walker, Senior Manager, Communications

LDS is a community of dedicated professionals who write collaboratively. We recognize the contribution of unnamed team members for their wisdom and input.