10 min read

Educator Stories: Design inclusive classes for neurodivergent learners
Meet Heather Cook and learn how to include neurodiverse learners in your Outschool teaching business.
Neurodiverse learners

When you hear “neurodiverse” what do you think of? For Heather Cook, an Outschool educator who identifies as a neurodivergent adult, the word “neurodiverse” means many things. 

“The weird kids are some of the most interesting kids. The autistic kids are some of the most fascinating people around. The ADHDers are some of the most creative people I’ve ever known. The OCD people just want to have a connection. I’m using those terms very loosely, but all of us who tick and move and stimm and are different than the perceived norm are also some of the most fascinating, interesting, and curious people. 

Because we are outside of the perceived norm we get to look in on it and understand it in a way that people who are immersed in it don’t see it, but that is our whole life and we can see things in different ways and create connections that other people don’t. [We] are sensitive to things that other people aren’t like having a camera on or being told to sit still. None of those are necessarily bad or necessarily good, they’re just who we are but everyone’s different. What’s normal is just a perception. There isn’t really a normal.

According to the NCI, “an estimated 15-20 percent of the world’s population exhibits some form of neurodivergence.” But what does that mean to you? How can you tap into this audience’s needs and deliver the best results while growing your teaching business?

Meet Heather

Heather Cook, the founder of Autism Chrysalis and educator on Outschool, is a certified coach (ACC), licensed teacher, and an autistic adult. Recently, she sat down with us to talk about how she markets to neurodivergent learners and her success since joining the platform in January 2021.

When she started, Heather came to Outschool to supplement her income as a counselor without having to go back to teaching full time in a brick-and-mortar classroom. As a former educator, Heather taught German and psychology, however, her real passion was teaching life skills outside of curriculum. 

This passion helped Heather identify what she really wanted to offer learners. Heather’s philosophy has always been about encouraging life skills. She wants to teach that: “It’s okay to use resources. Looking back at your notes is not cheating. You took them for a reason. Asking a friend a question is not cheating. It’s sharing information. I was trying to break down all the things they’d been taught not to do that are great ways to learn.”

Heather became successful on Outschool after applying these skills and strategies to her classes. As an educator, she focuses on life skills instead of German or psychology.
Heather also told us that she focuses on neurodivergent learners because she is neurodivergent. While you do not need to be neurodivergent to teach classes geared toward these learners, it’s highly recommended that you understand the audience and the needs of neurodiverse learners.

Who is a neurodiverse/neurodivergent learner?

According to the Cleveland Clinic, “The term ‘neurodivergent’ describes people whose brain differences affect how their brain works. That means they have different strengths and challenges from people whose brains don’t have those differences. The possible differences include medical disorders, learning disabilities, and other conditions. The possible strengths include better memory, being able to mentally picture three-dimensional (3D) objects easily, the ability to solve complex mathematical calculations in their head, and many more.” 

In simpler terms, a neurodiverse learner is a child who may have dyslexia, dyscalculia, ADD/ADHD, autism, hyperlexia, Tourette’s Syndrome, or any other condition which affects the brain. Knowing how to teach and communicate with neurodiverse learners is the key to growing this audience for your Outschool business. 

Tip: If you’re teaching to a specific audience, make sure to include this in your class listing. The title and the class experience sections are great places to include keywords to attract attention.

So, where do you start? Let’s look at how Heather found her niche in teaching neurodivergent learners on Outschool.

Formats that work best for neurodiverse learners

For neurodiverse learners, ongoing and multi-day classes often work best. Why? Because these classes allow learners to create relationships with other learners and keep a consistent schedule to meet at the same time each week. 

Heather agrees that these classes are working well for her. 

Heather says families often ask for longer classes or more time, after taking a class that meets for three weeks or less. Once learners get comfortable with you as an educator or the other learners in the class, they are more likely to join another class or continue with additional classes. 

Tip: Create more multi-day and ongoing classes for neurodiverse learners.

Put yourself in the shoes of a neurodivergent learner

The most important thing to remember is that the relationship between yourself and the learners is the key to teaching neurodiverse learners successfully. For Heather, “It’s the topic and the connection. They [the learners] will come originally for the topic and they’ll stay for the connection.”

In an environment where the learners are all neurodivergent, they are typically more comfortable being themselves and connecting with the other learners. Even though the learners are not all the same and may have different learning styles and abilities, there is comfort in knowing they can be themselves in class in a safe, inclusive environment.

“Neurodiverse kids have all of these sensory differences that make other people’s environments difficult places for them to be in. They spend a lot of time simply fighting off the world around them. If my energy is going towards deafening myself from all of the sounds of the other kids, that person who just moved, the fluorescent lighting and the glare that is on the whiteboard, and all of these physical things, I am not able to learn the thing that I am actually there to learn.”

Heather goes on to say that a benefit to teaching online is that the learners are in an environment that already meets their needs so that they can focus on the class itself.

Tip: “Sell” the benefits of online learning (a safe, inclusive environment, learning from the comfort of their own home, etc.) when creating your class listings. Explain why your classes are beneficial and unique compared to a more general class.

Be willing to adjust and adapt to different learning styles

No two learners are the same. As an educator on Outschool, you probably already know that. However, it’s especially important to keep this in mind when teaching neurodivergent learners. There will often be a time when you have a group of learners with different learning styles. Being okay with change and being flexible plays a huge role in your success with this group of learners. 

Tip: Use language in your listings and videos targeted to neurodivergent learners. Include the different styles and methodologies you include in your classes.

Create an inclusive space for neurodivergent learners in class

“A lot of neurodiverse kids had experiences in education where they were not able to work in their best ways or be around other people to be their best selves.”

Keep in mind that while classes specific to neurodivergent learners are important, you can still create a class including all learners that makes everyone feel like they belong no matter what. If you haven’t checked out Outschool’s ACE Teaching Framework, be sure to start there. 

If you’re offering a general class to all learners but want to include neurodivergent learners as part of that group, clearly state how you will encourage them to participate in class discussions and your expectations for the entire class.

Tip: Make sure your class listings and marketing materials are inclusive. While being inclusive is already an important part of Outschool’s mission, calling it out in your description lets families know that it’s important to you as an educator.

Heather’s marketing advice

“A piece of marketing advice that I got several years ago that I’ve really taken to heart and found invaluable is: If you’re trying to make something that works for everyone, you’re not going to please anyone. A lot of people will sign up for a class and they will think that it is one thing because they’ll have it in mind and your description was so general that it could fit what they had in mind, but it’s not actually what they wanted so they’re going to be dissatisfied with the class. 

So, if you are really clear in your description about what it is, who it’s for, what needs it serves, and who it is not for, it weeds a lot of people out. When you’re marketing that feels scary because it feels like you’re not going to get enough people to sign up, but it actually appeals much more to the people who want exactly what you have and people are going to leave being much more happy with the experience which means they will leave better reviews and tell their friends.”

Put your target audience in the class title

Be specific. If your class is for autistic learners who want to focus on mindfulness, add it to your class title. If you created a social club for all neurodiverse learners, spell it out so that families know what to expect.

Use keywords

Many families on Outschool with neurodiverse learners are seeking classes specific to neurodiversity. Attract the right audience by including keywords that describe your learning audience and what you are teaching about throughout your class listings.

Join neurodivergent Facebook groups

If you’re active on social media, consider joining groups specific to families of neurodivergent learners. But don’t just post upcoming classes. Instead, become an active, helpful member of the community.

Share your knowledge on social media

If you’re an educator who focuses on teaching neurodiverse learners, take the time to give tips and educational information to families seeking that information. Link back to your Outschool profile so that families know where to find you. If you’re new to social media marketing or looking for insights, be sure to check out Outschool’s resources on getting started with social media. To see how other educators are finding success with social media marketing, read about how educator Rebecca Delgado uses social media to boost enrollments.

Tip: Niche down and focus your attention on one thing instead of many.

Now that you know how to reach neurodiverse learners, consider reading up on these tips about neurodiversity in the classroom:

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