Supporting School Engagement for Neurodivergent Children: A Guide for Parents and Educators

May 14, 2024

By Mimi Forrest – Provisional Psychologist

Educational settings present a wide range of opportunities and challenges for children and adolescents. School engagement is critical for children and adolescents to foster positive attitudes toward learning, intellectual curiosity and the development of unique individual strengths and interests. Beyond just academic achievement, active participation in school encourages social skills, enhances emotional wellbeing, and contributes to a young person’s sense of belonging and identity development.

Many children and adolescents experience challenges within their educational environments from time to time. For neurodivergent children, these challenges can be complex and multifaceted, often leaving parents and teaching staff alike struggling to know how to best support them.

The Unique Challenges for Neurodivergent Learners

Neurodivergent children and adolescents often face distinctive challenges at school. Specific learning difficulties, sensory sensitivities, social interaction differences, attention difficulties, unstructured time and unpredictable changes to routines, perfectionism, processing difficulties, and perceived isolation from peers can contribute to heightened stress and anxiety in many school environments. These experiences can have far-reaching ripple effects on self-efficacy, learning achievement, self-esteem, social engagement, community engagement and overall wellbeing.

Often, the impacts of negative school experiences may be observed through changes in behaviour that occur inside or outside the educational context. Some neurodivergent students may struggle to regulate their emotions and behaviour at school when overwhelmed, which can have negative social consequences. Others can present as though they are coping well at school, internalising and “bottling up” their emotions until the end of the school day to then release them at home where they feel safe to do so. This can be confusing for parents when children display very different behaviours at home compared to at school.

In some circumstances, barriers to school engagement for neurodivergent students can trigger school avoidance (sometimes known as school refusal) causing high stress for both the child and their family members. Helping neurodiverse children who display school avoidance requires a tailored, considered, and supportive approach.

Embracing Neurodivergence in Learning

Neurodivergent individuals can contribute unique perspectives, skills, experiences, and capabilities within education settings. Creating inclusive environments that encourage and value these contributions can benefit everyone and are important step toward fostering engagement for neurodivergent learners.

School Support

Schools play a pivotal role in fostering inclusive learning environments. Structurally, this can involve the availability of sensory-friendly spaces and tools, structured routines, programs to support wellbeing, counselling services, and flexible and collaborative staff. Ideally, teachers should be trained to support individualised student needs and implement strategies to accommodate a wide range of learning styles in the classroom. School communities that focus on encouraging peer education and fostering empathy among students can help to promote social inclusion and understanding within the school culture.


Clear, open, and honest communication connects families, educators, and students, allowing for a collaborative understanding of the unique needs of each student. Regular student-staff check-ins, collaborative problem-solving, and consistent parent involvement can strengthen a school network that encourages all students to engage comfortably.

School engagement is essential to child and adolescent development; however, can be difficult to achieve for many students. By embracing neurodiversity and promoting inclusive, empathetic, and collaborative educational environments, whole-school communities nurture the growth and wellbeing of every child and adolescent, supporting a sense of belonging for all. Top of Form

If you would like to talk more about school avoidance and how to support your child or adolescent, please reach out to