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  • Writer's pictureCavendish Education

Applying the Neurodiversity Framework to Travel Training

Updated: Jul 28, 2023

Bridget Young is the Headteacher at The Holmewood School London, an Outstanding specialist school for young autistic people. She is passionate about social outcomes as well as academic, and supports young people to thrive independently within their communities. She writes about travel training for National Road Safety Week.

How did you learn how to travel around the place independently? How did you learn to walk to the corner shop, to take the bus somewhere, to go to a far off place by train, boat or plane?

It’s normal to have difficulty answering this if you’re neurotypical. That is because for neurotypicals, learning to travel, like learning other skills, often happens by a sort of osmosis. You probably worked it out by travelling with your parents and friends and then built up the courage to do it on your own. You probably made mistakes and learned from them, keeping in mind safety and punctuality.

It’s not so accidental for a neurodivergent person. This is because for neurodivergent people there are barriers to such osmosis learning such as anxiety, lack of spatial awareness, challenges with attention and focus, literal understanding and social communication differences, for example.

Therefore neurodivergent people need to be taught explicitly how to travel.

How can you teach them by using the Neurodivergent Support Framework?

  1. Explain the relevance or importance of the topic.

  2. Explicitly teach the topic.

  3. Support the practice of skills in a safe environment.

  4. Support the generalisation of skills across different environments.

  5. Respond positively to success and failure.

How does the Neurodivergent Support Framework apply to travel training?

1. Relevance - Many young people already understand the relevance of being able to travel independently. In fact, they yearn to be allowed to go here or there on their own. Furthermore, if you pair travelling with a special interest (this could be the destination or the journey), students will easily become motivated to venture out and the task becomes more personally relevant to them.

2. Explicit Teaching - An important step in supporting neurodivergent young people is explicit teaching. This means ‘spell it out’. Don’t assume prior knowledge, don’t assume social understanding or don’t assume an understanding of unspoken rules.

In the case of travel training this might sound something like: ‘The tube might smell, and there will be people on it. It might be loud. However, it is such an efficient way to get around that we must get used to it. Here are some clever ways to navigate it. Here are some useful ways to plan your journey’.

3. Practice - Next is ‘the doing’. The first step of this might be to take a trip with a young person, prompting them to remain aware and to make the decisions. Prompt them about when to get off the tube for example, but remind them that you won’t always be there to prompt. Repeat the trip, but next time take away the prompts and from then on, work little by little to take away support. This could include riding in the next carriage and then next time meeting them at the destination.

4. Generalise - Once they have been able to complete a known trip independently, help them to consider how they might go about using different methods of transport. Support them to go on a longer trip by themselves, or to change from tube to bus. Factor in mishaps like road closures and diversions.

5. Respond positively to success and failure - Different levels of failure are going to happen, but the more often someone experiences this and survives it, the more they realise that they can survive. Failed travel could include missing the bus, running late, getting lost or going the wrong way.

Failure requires us to think on our feet and problem solve. Responding positively means remaining calm and moving to plan B.

This point might be just as much about allowing our young people to fail. Sometimes it is difficult for us not to jump in and make everything better, but support isn’t always about fixing. Often it is just about acknowledgement. Make sure you’re on the other end of the phone to think through options.

The Neurodivergent Support Framework can be applied to many settings but it only works on the condition that a positive relationship has been built and that the adults do not treat the young people with condescension.

To find out more about The Holmewood School, visit their website



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