This piece is part three of WestfordCAT’s three-part series on Neurodiversity Celebration Week.
WESTFORD — Supporting neurodiverse students is what some Westford educators strive to do best within Westford’s public schools.
WestfordCAT spoke with two Student Support professionals on their work with neurodiverse students in Westford Public Schools.
Ashley Creighton, Day School
Ashley Creighton has served as a Student Support Teacher at Day Elementary School for 13 years, supporting neurodiverse students who pass through her classroom.
“I always knew I wanted to teach, I really wanted a smaller group and to see the needs of the students being met,” Creighton told WestfordCAT.
She notes her students have an array of needs for academic success within Westford Public Schools.
“The needs are vast. I have anywhere from learning-disabled students, to medical needs, and academic needs. Our greatest need is the social and emotional needs of our students. Many are struggling with it,” she said.
She continued, “especially these guys, their first year in school was second grade. They’re learning to be a student [for the first time]. They’re getting there, but there’s a struggle.”
Creighton urges compassion and understanding for community members to better support neurodiverse students, their parents and academic professionals.
“We have to be compassionate about how people show their emotions and different things. Support for parents as well, even parents now in terms of students’ needs. Let them know there is guidance, there are social groups for kids,” she said.
She continued, “We’re so set in these norms and think what you should be like. But these students are not what’s expected and we need to support the unexpected.”
Jenn Schelin, Westford Academy
Jenn Schelin, a former human resources specialist turned teacher works with a number of neurodiverse students at Westford Academy.
“Now I do HR for smaller humans,” Schelin told WestfordCAT.
She continued, “I love my job, I love working with these kids. I’m glad I’ve made the change because it made me learn so much and I’ve been able to spread that within my own family and my own friends.
Schelin has two neurodiverse children, one with Tourette syndrome and both with ADHD. She changed careers in an effort to better “understand how to help” her children.
“I’ve learned a lot, I have a much deeper understanding. You learn a lot about yourself as well,” she said.
She continued, “[They were] things that I thought were quirky, like, maybe I have ADHD too. Some things that you kind of pick up. One of the coolest things I’ve learned is that we think very differently.”
One of Schelin’s priorities, she says, is to meet the needs of each individual student passing through her classroom.
“For me, everything is individualized. I look at the needs of all of the students,” she said.
She continued, “some kids need space. Other kids need you to be on top of them. Some like to take walks and some like to sit somewhere different.”
Schelin hopes her work can inspire a greater understanding of neurodiverse students.
“One of the simplest things is just being aware that people are different. One of the hardest things for me is when, especially with little kids, they don’t have the vocabulary to express their emotions,” she said.
She continued, “sometimes we as humans quickly judge. If we take a step back and say ‘we don’t know’ that child might not have the vocabulary to express their feelings.”
She hopes people can begin to celebrate “a different way of thinking.”
“One of the things I say all the time is that neurodiversity isn’t a disability but it’s a superpower — we wouldn’t have Apple without Steve Jobs. Neurodiverse people can bring a whole new perspective to any situation,” she said.