Supporting Tamariki with Diagnoses

These are suggestions from local professionals. Their first point was that any diagnoses is a diagnostic ‘label’ and simply a term used to describe a cluster of symptoms. They emphasise that sometimes this is helpful but sometimes it isn’t. What’s most important however is to celebrate a child’s strengths and contributions to the class, irrespective of their diagnosis and nurture their unique identity. Teachers are fantastic at ‘up skilling’ and bringing out the best in tamariki.

One thing that experience suggests is that the supports and strategies provided here can help ALL tamariki have better school experiences, whether they have a diagnosis or not. They also help teachers feel more connected with students and more effective in their work. Win, win, win!

It’s helpful to attempt viewing the world through the child’s eyes and consider what we can do differently to accommodate and support their perspective.

Reflect on:

  • The beliefs we have and assumptions we make
  • The way we talk (providing time and space for children to respond, perhaps asking fewer questions)
  • The environment (the acoustics and lighting)
  • Creating and using more visual supports - these can help all tamariki

We love Attitude TV’s “The Mums” series. Here’s the Education episode - . These series of videos provide wonderful insights into parental love, the tricky bits, how schools can support tamariki and whānau learning and doing this altogether.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Diagnosis (aka “ADHD”)

Kids with ADHD can be lots of fun. They have strengths such as being energetic, enthusiastic, creative, intuitive, sensitive and highly intelligent,” (ADHD Association, 2018). It’s challenging for them to sit still, stay attentive and think through their actions. Tuning out multiple stimuli in their environments is also difficult.

Teachers can accommodate tamariki by reflecting on the need for movement, and supporting their remembering information and organisational skills.

Tips for the classroom:

  1. Have fidget tools available (memory foam, quiet hand-held tools)
  2. Establish routines quickly (and try to stick to these as much as possible)
  3. Build movement into the daily routine (fitness breaks) and support tamariki to move around during lessons.
  4. Use clear and concise instructions (break information down into steps)
  5. Communicate regularly with whānau
  6. Use computer-based academic activities for maths and literacy, as well as assistive technology
  7. Support tamariki to develop self-monitoring strategies like taking a quiet break. Use the Sparklers Balancing Energy activities to support this.

The ADHD Association offers some tips too:

Autism Spectrum Diagnosis (aka ASD)

Tamariki with ASD have widely diverse characteristics. The strengths of this diagnosis can include an amazing ability to focus and attend to fine, intricate details and an intense interest in specific topics or areas. Exploring and utilising a child’s interests is a fantastic way to encourage learning. Tamariki find communication, social interactions and imaginative play confusing and challenging.

Teachers and tamariki will benefit from spending time developing their relationship, discussing any expectations of each other and the classroom/school routines. This will help tamariki feel more settled.

In the classroom, be a curious observer – behaviour is communication – what is this student telling us? There may be direct teaching required to support social situations and teacher aides are often significant in their role encouraging social and emotional learning.

Tips for the classroom:

  1. Think about the sensory environment (lighting, noise levels, busy-ness, colours, overhanging artwork, temperature, smells) and provide ‘calm’ spaces too (a quiet tent with cushions and blankets work well).
  2. Think visual communication – daily and activity schedules with images and text. Visual countdown timers for activities. Comic strip conversations and social narratives are great ways to describe social situations.
  3. Tamariki may pick up some academics easily, but will need support with social interaction. Using a play-based approach can be really useful.
  4. Collaboration with others is so important – engage with whānau and any other support people.
  5. Focus on tamariki interests and look for ways of integrating these into class activities. Using ‘Frozen’ characters as spelling words for example or adding these images to other worksheets ensures it’s exciting. Avoid using interests only as a ‘reward’.
  6. Break times can be particularly tricky for tamariki with ASD – look to provide some structure (specific choices of places to be, activities to do and peers to be with is really helpful).

Autism NZ provides lots of information and training for whānau and teachers - Sue Larkey’s website is also excellent.


Dyslexia is an alternative way of thinking and a learning preference. People with dyslexia can be highly creative and offer ‘out of the box’ thinking.

Dyslexia makes it challenging to translate printed letters into spoken words and vice versa. Think in pictures – it’s pretty cool!.

Tips for the classroom:

  1. Use tech - talking books, speech-to-text apps (instead of writing a story can tamariki record themselves talking about it?)
  2. Make learning about letters and sounds visual – not just the letters.
  3. Try and retain tamariki interest in books – provide motivating choices that aren’t all filled with words and read to them regularly.
  4. Focus on and utilise tamariki interests and avoid using their interests only as a ‘reward’.
  5. Get hands on – don’t forget to provide play times, play things and make it fun!
  6. Think multi-modal – what other ways can tamariki demonstrate their knowledge and abilities? (art, music, images, computer-based)
  7. Use visual schedules with pictures and words.

The Dyslexia Foundation also has some great insight -


Dyspraxia is also known as Developmental Coordination Diagnosis (“DCD”). Tamariki are often creative, original thinkers and terrific problem solvers. Dyspraxia affects tamariki coordination, gross motor skills and planning can be challenging.

Tips for the classroom:

  1. Encourage fun, physical activities as much as possible
  2. Reduce the amount of competitive sporting activities as a part of your fitness programme, or provide other non-competitive options and the opportunity to do these instead.
  3. Spend time on the teacher-tamariki relationship. Show an interest in tamariki interests and identify their strengths. Ensure interests and their strengths are accommodated in everyday learning.
  4. Provide support and scaffolding in the planning – for the day, of activities and organising themselves.

Also have more helpful information and support available.

If you have whānau who have received a recent diagnoses...

Our Sparkers at Home Parenting Guide, How to Support your Kids With Diagnoses and Differences, can be a great starting point and help.

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Many thanks to:

Dr Dean Sutherland, University of Canterbury

The Schools-based Mental Health Team, Canterbury District Health Board

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