According to the Department of Education, 15% of students in the United Kingdom have a learning difference. I am one of these students. Many students with special educational needs (SEN) have negative school experiences. I know what it feels like to be frustrated, embarrassed and humiliated at school. I also know what it feels like to have some teachers and classmates assume you are not smart. At school, we are constantly reminded of what we can’t do. This can be very discouraging and demoralising.
Many neurodivergent adults look back on their school experience in a negative light. Many of these adults spent much of their time at school feeling bad about themselves. They were often made to feel like failures. No one should ever be made to feel this way. By acknowledging and celebrating the strengths of SEN students, we can begin the seismic shift of changing the way students with special needs are perceived and treated at school and also the change the way neurodivergent students feel about themselves. My hope is that all students have happy, positive and fulfilling school experiences.
In order to empower SEN students to flourish, schools need to stop focusing only on what we cannot do and should begin to recognise, nurture and celebrate the many strengths and talents of being neurodiverse. It is important for schools to recognise our creativity, innovation, ability to think outside-the-box, problem-solving skills, unique insights and perspectives, as well as our perseverance and resilience.
We are the dreamers.
The future business leaders.
We are the trailblazers.
We are the Einsteins and Bransons of tomorrow.
Yet, our ability to fulfil our potential is being threatened by the stigma associated with having a special educational need and the misconceptions many people still have about autistic people and people with learning differences. We are also more vulnerable to being mistreated. In a 2017 bullying report by Ditch the Label, 75% of autistic students and 70% of students with learning differences reported being bullied at school.
It is time to create a more inclusive educational landscape so that SEN students have equal access to education. But in order to bring about this change, we need your help. Please support SEN students by registering to take part in Neurodiversity Celebration Week this March 15 - 21, 2021.