What is neurodevelopment?

This page explains about neurodevelopment.

Neurodevelopment – What is it?

To begin to explain this term we first must start with the brain and the nervous system. The brain is like our central computer that controls all our body functions. The rest of the nervous system is like a system or network of cables that relays messages back and forth from our brain to different parts of the body.

Neurodevelopment is a term that refers to the brain's development of these systems or networks. It influences an individual’s performance or functioning. Our performance or functioning may include our ability to learn something new, our reading skills, our social skills, our memory skills or our attention or focussing skills. When you learn to do just about anything, you are improving neurodevelopment.

What does Neurodiversity mean?

Neurodiversity is the idea that we all experience and interact with the world around us in different ways. There is no right way of thinking, learning and behaving. Differences are viewed as a part of us all being unique individuals.

What does Neurodivergent mean?

Neurodivergent describes differences in learning from what is considered typical patterns of development. It is often used when describing a child, young person or adult who may have a particular way or learning. Often people with a diagnosis such as Autism, Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder or Developmental Language Disorder may describes themselves as neurodivergent.

What is a Neurodevelopmental Disorder?

A neurodevelopmental disorder is a way of describing some of the difficulties or differences a child or young person’s brain may show when processing information. This may affect their behaviour, learning, memory or social skills.

Common Neurodevelopmental Disorders include:

  • Autism
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder
  • Developmental Co-ordination Disorder
  • Developmental Language Disorder
  • Learning Difficulties
  • Motor or vocal tics

Sometimes these terms can help us to understand a child’s strengths and needs. They however do not tell us exactly how a child or young person may need help and support. Remember each person is unique with their own strengths and needs. It is therefore more useful to think about the skills a child or young person has as well as what areas they may need help and support with.

For example, it is more useful to use terms such as:

  • Learning skills
  • Social and interaction skills
  • Memory skills
  • Language and communication skills
  • Activity levels or concentration skills
  • Sensory skills

Using these terms helps to really understand what a child or young person needs and what may be the best strategies as well as services we can use to support them.

Which terms are the right ones to use?

People are not the same. What may suit one individual may not be suitable for another. The best option when talking to adults is to ask the person if they have a preference and what term they would like you to use where this is appropriate. When we are thinking about children it is best to describe the areas they need help and support with as described above.  

When might a child or young person need a neurodevelopmental assessment?

Neurodevelopmental needs are common. Figures can vary but it is estimated that around 10% of the population have a neurodevelopmental need. Not all children and young people will however need an assessment. This page is aimed at providing you with guidance on when a request for an assessment may be required.

What differences might first be noticed?

Neurodevelopmental differences or difficulties can affect children and young people in a range of ways as they grow. This might include a need for support with:

  • learning when they are in their setting
  • using their hands for activities like handwriting 
  • paying attention to other people’s focus or not being distracted easily
  • remembering things and being organised
  • understanding other people
  • talking and communicating with family and friends in their day to day lives 
  • how they feel and expressing their emotions
  • controlling impulses and reactions
  • forming friendships and relationships with others
  • finding shared interests with other people
  • managing unpredictability and unexpected things happening
  • completing daily tasks and routines, for example sleeping, eating, washing and dressing, organising your things, travelling to and from school, social activities
  • going to busy places where there may be loud noises

How do neurodevelopmental differences affect people?

Differences are a part of us all, they are what make us our unique and individual selves. We all have our own strengths and areas we may need help with. For some children and young people they may need help and support each day with some of these skills. This can be a typical part of children growing and developing. They do not always have to be a problem.

For other children and young people some of these areas may become more noticeable and have an impact on their day to day lives. The people around us all, as well as the places we go to, can all help us to thrive. We all thrive in different ways depending on who we are with and where we are. Some things that seem small to others can be hard for another person. Simple adaptations can make things easier sometimes.

For some children and young people however, even with these adaptations, they may continue to show they need our help to support their learning, their social skills and their emotions. They need something more and they need people to understand what this may be. 

These children and young people may benefit from a neurodevelopmental assessment which would consider how a child processes, interacts and responds to the world around them. An assessment can also help the adults around a child to understand what things can be put in place to support them now and in the future.

In Salford support for neurodevelopmental differences is not dependent on a child or a young person receiving a diagnosis. Salford’s Neurodevelopmental Offer has support available with or without a specific diagnosis.

Myth busters

A child needs a diagnosis so that they can access support in school

Children and young people do not need a diagnosis to access support. Settings must do all they can to meet the special educational needs of the children and young people who attend the setting.

Most of the support available on areas such as sleep, behaviour, sensory needs, anxiety, emotional regulation, eating and language and communication skills can be accessed by the Local Offer, Neurodevelopmental and Thrive webpages. There is also information on local support groups, trusted websites, support services and charities you can access.

More support will be available once a child receives a diagnosis

A diagnosis does not equal lots of extra support. Support should be accessed and tailored towards the needs of the child / young person. This can be accessed and implemented with or without a diagnosis.

Most children benefit most when people around them understand their needs and make the necessary adjustments to their environment. How we as adults approach interactions and understand behaviours is key to supporting children and young people to thrive. These strategies and approaches can be applied as soon as a need is identified.

Children and young people who are doing academically well don’t need extra support

Academic achievement is only part of a child’s life. Other areas include their social skills and how they interaction with others as well as their ability to make and maintain friends. Difficulties in these areas can have an impact on a child / young person’s emotional wellbeing and whether they join in social opportunities.

When a child is working hard to do well at school and maintain their academic performance, they may be doing this at the expense of things. For example, spending time with their family, accessing extra curriculum activities such as clubs and sports. This can be an indicator that they are not fine even though they are doing well academically. Some autistic children will be so focussed on doing the right thing in school, following the rules and getting everything perfect, that they can’t function at all out of school or have huge meltdowns once they get home. If you observe these signs of distress in a child, it is important that they are discussed further with the relevant people such as your child’s setting.

A child needs a diagnosis to get an Education, Health and Care Plan

This is absolutely not true. The majority of children and young people with Special Educational Needs (SEN) or disabilities will have their needs met within their setting. Some children and young people may require an EHC needs assessment in order for the local authority to decide whether it is necessary for it to make provision in accordance with an EHC plan.

In considering whether an EHC needs assessment is necessary, the local authority considers whether there is evidence that despite the setting having taken steps to identify, assess and meet the special educational needs of the child or young person, the child or young person has not made expected progress.

To inform their decision the local authority will consider the following information and evidence;

  • evidence of the child or young person’s academic attainment (or developmental milestones in younger children) and their rate of progress
  • information about the nature, extent and context of the child or young person’s SEN
  • evidence of the action already being taken by the setting to meet the child or young person’s SEN
  • evidence that where progress has been made, it has only been as the result of much additional intervention and support over and above that which is usually provided
  • evidence of the child or young person’s physical, emotional and social development and health needs, drawing on relevant evidence from clinicians and other health professionals and what has been done to meet these needs

A diagnosis can support people to understand and describe what a child or young person’s needs may be, but it is not a requirement in being able to apply for an EHC assessment. 

Parenting courses are for bad parents

This is absolutely not true. Parenting courses can be helpful for any family. There is no one way to parent. All parents or carers will seek advice and guidance from other people at some point in a child’s life.

Having a child with additional needs or a neurodevelopmental need poses questions that a parent or carer may not have expected or that other parents or carers may not be able to answer. Salford has some specialist parenting courses that can give parents ideas and strategies that will help them support their child. Some of these are the same strategies all parents might find helpful, others may be geared more towards certain difficulties like autism or ADHD.

We know as well as learning about a range of different strategies an added benefit of these courses is that parents or carers get to meet others who are in the same position. Parents or carers are an invaluable source of advice and support providing practical tips and strategies to help others.

If a child uses eye contact and can look at people then they can’t be autistic

Eye contact is complex. How we use eye contact can vary depending on the situation, how we are feeling as well as social norms and expectations.

Some autistic children are able to make appropriate eye contact. For others this may be more difficult. Every individual is different and use of eye contact should not be used as an indicator to exclude difficulties with social interactions and communication.

When a child has good social skills they are not autistic

Every child is a unique individual with strengths and needs. In order for a child to be given a diagnosis of autism, they need to have difficulties in the areas of social skills, social communication and social interaction.

As autism is a spectrum condition children may show difficulties in completely different ways and in different areas. Some autistic children may not be interested in interacting with others whereas other children may become focused on playing with one other person. 

Autism should be considered even if children and young people appear to have good social skills, as there may be subtle social communication difficulties. Children need to have evidence of impairment in their ability to have two-way social interactions for them to be given a diagnosis of autism and this may look different for each individual.

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