Post-COVID planning is an opportunity for neurodiverse inclusivity

David O’Coimin, CEO and founder of Nook Pod, on why we should make neurodiversity a central part of education planning

Educational establishments are working hard to transform sites for post-pandemic reopening. While the immediate challenge is to get things ready for the near future, some decision-makers are using this time to take a longer-term view – particularly around provision for neurodiverse individuals.

According to the Department for Education, 14.9% of all pupils in UK schools have special needs, equating to 1,318,300 pupils. Most of these children are in mainstream schools, with 120,000 in special schools. For many sites, finding the physical space or the finance to dedicate resources to neurodiverse pupils has been difficult. But smart furniture solutions are changing the picture.

If they didn’t know it already, educational decision-makers are quickly realising that physical space is at a premium as they juggle desks and equipment to meet social-distancing guidelines. Every square-foot of space is being adapted and used, making the very idea of rooms dedicated to just one function – such as a sensory room – suddenly seem very outdated. So, how do we ensure provision for neurodiverse individuals within this new normal?

Flexing for the future

The answer lies in modularity and flexibility – furniture, spaces and tech that can adapt by task, by time, by venue, by user. Enter mobile sensory pods.

These sensory pods build on the concept of huddle-pods, more typically found in business workspaces. These are enclosed or part-enclosed seating spaces designed to provide a calming breakout environment from the everyday hubbub of office life. Switching this concept to the educational environment makes perfect sense, both in terms of post-COVID planning and neurodiverse provision.

Mobile sensory tech

The fact that these pods can be built on heavy-duty wheels means that schools can position them wherever they’re required – an essential consideration in these times. But these are not simply seating spaces. It’s the tech that makes them truly supportive for neurodiverse individuals.

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Controlled via a simple Android tablet and app, these spaces are totally adaptable to meet specific personal requirements for the most effective sensory support. Lighting is proven to have a powerful influence on mood, energy levels and the ability to process information, so the ability to control light effects is key. Interactive light tubes, colour select lighting, UV twinkle effect strands, fibre-optic twinkling wall carpet – all can be used to engage and calm individuals. Other innovations include vibrating seat pads which help to comfort and relax tense muscles, and even a nebulising scent system to help with tasks involving memory retention.

Adapting for a better future

The Children’s Commissioner recently reported that a survey amongst children with a history of mental health needs showed that 83% say the pandemic has made their mental health ‘a bit or much worse’. These children will need extra support facilities when they return to school.

Education establishments of every size are working hard to create spaces that are safe, workable and welcoming. It’s not practical to completely strip-out and re-design school layouts to meet post-COVID guidelines, so flexible thinking is required. Happily, clever design is combining with everyday affordable tech to create solutions which not only work for post-COVID planning, but also dramatically improve environments for neurodiverse individuals.

The pandemic has made everyone question normal routines and legacy practices. Change is necessary, and those applying longer-term thinking to this immediate challenge stand to create environments that enable every individual to be the best they can be.


You might also like: Taking the UV light fight to COVID-19: helping the education sector stay safe


 

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