There are links between Reducing Inequalities and physical well-being that are worth investigating if we want to reduce learning inequalities and acknowledge the benefits of exercise as a key element of learning ability. For example, getting to know your learners’ needs and differences, means we embrace diversity amongst our learners, evaluate their different learning styles and embrace and include these differences in our classes. 

As mentioned by Mirfin-Veitch et al. (2020), neurodiversity is not a diagnosis, rather, it is a term that encompasses a range of specific, non-specific, hidden and/or undetermined diagnoses. These diagnoses may include Dyslexia, Autism, Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD); and Specific Learning Disorders (SLD).  

In my role as an Academic Lecturer in the Business School at Otago Polytechnic, and working towards a Master of Professional Practice (MPP), as well as identifying as Neurodiverse, a qualified Personal Trainer and Massage Therapist, Taha tinana (physical health) has a considerable part to play in my world and those in it.  

Physical health is an essential component of developmental and educational success. It need not cost a lot of money, just a little time and effort, and commitment. From my point of view, the better my physical health, the better my ability to teach and learn is. My brain stays composed. Sensory overload is reduced which helps me stay grounded, keeping my mind free for the things I need to focus on. I live by the motto, “You have to move to improve.” 

In order to keep my sensory overload under control and my routine flexible, and not compromised by my other commitments in life, I need a daily routine which serves as a guide/diary/calendar that I can follow. There are a lot of things we can do to ensure that we are in the best physical shape so that our wellbeing is in the best condition. Our physical health has a very real influence on our overall wellbeing. 

Here are some ideas that you might want to implement. During the week I run most days. I also walk with colleagues at lunchtime and with my two dogs in the evening. I also have workout sessions with friends a couple of times a week (most weeks!). My neurodiverse brain benefits from these physical activities by maintaining all aspects of sociability, learning, attention, and consistency of mood in a healthy and appropriate way for us all. 

In particular, the research for my MPP explores how educators can create learning experiences that include activities that implement more than just mental activities, and as the term neurodiversity suggests, we are all different. Making the physical space (classroom) calm and noise free, the use of a variety of teaching resources, for example PowerPoints, handout, interact activities, games, all contribute to this success. 

Let’s consider many of the challenges faced by our neurodiverse learners and utilise and enhance the capabilities that they bring to the classroom. The learner’s physical wellbeing and energy level go a long way to enhancing their learning capabilities. For example, a learner who has ADHD will find it very hard to concentrate for two hours in a seated class. However, if the class has a break or participates in some group work where they get to move around, this movement will help them from being distracted. 

Clouder et al. (2020) notes, that even though there are numerous support services, many Higher Education institutions are neurodiversity “cold spots” due to low levels of staff awareness and/or ambivalence, as well as employing inflexible teaching and assessment approaches. The use of universal design strategies that offer adaptive support, flexibility, and neurodiverse-friendly learning environments can help meet each learner’s unique needs, but currently they are being implemented gradually. An important catalyst appears to be the creation of a welcoming, trusting environment tolerant of differences, free from labels, adjustments, or special measures that will allow all learners to thrive. Awareness of and strategies that address neurodiversity in learning environments goes a long way towards reducing, even eliminating inequalities for learners. 

Figure 1: When I have sensory overload, my head is in the clouds; I’m dreamy, overwhelmed, and overloaded with information. Image credit: Anna McCormack. All rights reserved

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