What is neurodiversity?
Neurodiversity refers to the different ways the brain works to interpret information. It highlights how people naturally think about things differently.
What does it mean to be neurodivergent?
If an individual is neurodivergent, this means their brain functions differently to the perceived considered ‘standard’ or ‘typical’ ways. (VeryWellMind)
There are many ways this can manifest. Here are some of the most common examples:
- Autism (or Autism Spectrum Disorder) – Mencap notes that autism may affect the way a person interacts with others in a social situation, is able to communicate with others and experiences the world around them. There are several different types of autism.
- Asperger’s Syndrome – Mencap notes that people with Asperger’s see, hear and feel the world differently to other people. They may experience challenges such as specific learning difficulties, anxiety or other conditions.
- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) – this is a condition which affects behaviour. According to the NHS, ‘people with ADHD can seem restless, may have trouble concentrating and act on impulse’.
- Tourette’s – this is ‘a condition that causes a person to make involuntary sounds and movements called tics’ (NHS).
- Dyspraxia (Developmental Co-ordination Disorder in Children) – a condition which affects physical co-ordination. It ‘’causes a child to perform less well than expected in daily activities for their age and appear to move clumsily’ (NHS).
Neurodivergence, Young People and the Link to Bullying Behaviour
A 2021 report from the Guardian found that autism is more common among children in England than previously thought, with rates higher among Black pupils than their white peers (The Guardian, 2021).
Tourettes Action notes that Tourettes affects one school child in every hundred, and more than 300,000 children and adults in the UK live with the condition.
According to a recent survey carried out by Ambitious about Autism, 75% of autistic young people have experienced bullying behaviour and only half of young people said they felt safe at school. The charity found that young people with autism can ‘often be vulnerable to bullying because they find it harder to ‘read’ social situations or demonstrate different behaviors.’
What can Anti-Bullying Ambassadors do?
As Anti-Bullying Ambassadors, it is important you champion inclusion to ensure neurodivergent pupils feel valued, understood and heard. There are many different campaigns you can run to educate your peers on neurodivergence:
- Run a whole school survey
As Anti-Bullying Ambassadors, you can run a whole school survey to find out how well your peers understand neurodivergence. From the results of your survey, you can then run campaigns which you know will have a big impact on your school community. This is also a great way to ensure neurodivergent students within your school community feel heard. By making sure your survey is anonymous, this can help neurodivergent pupils feel more comfortable expressing their views. The opinions of the neurodivergent pupils in your school should always be at the heart of any changes or campaigns your team and school undertake.
- Advocate for staff inclusion training
According to a survey completed by The Dyspraxia Foundation in 2017, 69% of teachers had not received any specific training to help them identify and support students with dyspraxia. Furthermore, 71% of teachers said that a lack of awareness and understanding affected children’s opportunities and achievements. These statistics highlight how important it is for staff to undertake training on how to support neurodivergent students, to ensure reasonable adjustments can be put in place to ensure they receive equal opportunities as their peers to thrive within their school community. Talk with staff to see how confident they feel supporting neurodiverse students and advocate for further staff training.
- Run workshops
Invite a speaker from a charity which supports neurodiverse young people to deliver a talk to your school community. Additionally, you could encourage neurodiverse students in your school, if they feel comfortable, to give a presentation on their experiences. Educating yourselves on the lived experiences of neurodivergent young people can help you understand how, as Anti-Bullying Ambassadors, you can help.
- Set up an anonymous reporting system
Recent studies show that neurodiverse young people may find it hard to communicate what is happening to them. Therefore, ensuring you have different reporting tools which are accessible to everyone can help all students feel confident knowing they have a way to report bullying behaviour. This could be an anonymous reporting box, an email address, or having a safe space in the school where students can speak to an ambassador and a safeguarding lead. As a team, you can create a regular schedule for reviewing the reports which come in to ensure you are responding to everyone and making them feel as if their voice is valued.
- Create a safe space
Autism UK notes that it is important teachers ‘provide support during unstructured times, such as break and lunch times.’ To help with this, set up a quiet, safe space in the school, where students can go if they feel overwhelmed by a larger, busier playground setting. You could have different board games and sensory items in the room. Make sure there is a weekly rota, so at least two Anti-Bullying Ambassadors are always present in the room to offer support to their peers.
- Create an inclusive anti-bullying school policy
It is important that your school has an inclusive, anti-bullying school policy, which is read, understood and adhered to by the whole school community. Make it clear that your school community has no space for discriminatory bullying behaviour. Take a look at our resource on how to re-write your Anti-Bullying policy here.
- Offer training for your whole school community
Autism UK notes that some students with autism might not understand that they are experiencing bullying behaviour as ‘they may misunderstand the intentions of their peers.’ To help, you can run sessions for your wider school community on what bullying behaviour is, how to identify it and what it means to be an Upstander and the importance of acting as one. This means students who might witness a neurodiverse young person experiencing bullying behaviour can help, tell a trusted adult and ensure the young person receives the necessary support.
Be an Upstander
- If you witness someone experiencing bullying behaviour and being targeted for their disability or difference, we encourage you to be an Upstander, both online and offline. Being an Upstander means speaking out against harmful behaviour and checking in with the person who is experiencing it.
- If you feel safe in the situation, tell the person demonstrating the bullying behaviour that their actions are wrong and you should treat everyone with respect. Remember to always follow up with a trusted adult.
- If you do not feel comfortable enough to directly address the perpetrator, you can still be an Upstander by reporting what you have seen to a trusted adult like a teacher as soon as possible.
- If you witness the bullying behaviour online, you can screenshot and report the messages or posts, and block the person so that they cannot continue messaging you. At The Diana Award, we have created this guide to help show you how to do this on different social media platforms. Always remember to follow up with a trusted adult or teacher as soon as possible.
Links to other organisations:
The Diana Award Crisis Messenger – provides free, 24/7 crisis support across the UK. If you are a young person who needs support, you can text DA to 85258. Trained volunteers will listen to how you’re feeling and help you think through the next step towards feeling better.
The National Autistic Charity – the UK’s leading charity for people on the autism spectrum and their families. They provide support, guidance and advice, as well as campaigning for improved rights, services and opportunities to help create a society that works for autistic young people.
Tourettes Action – the UK’s leading support and research charity for people with Tourette's Syndrome and their families.
Asperger’s Syndrome Foundation – committed to promoting awareness and understanding of Asperger’s Syndrome.