Early Years Podcast

Nurturing Social and Emotional Wellbeing

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Topic Round-up: Approaches to ADHD through an inclusive lens with Debs Davies

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Take a deep-dive into the topics covered on our podcast with learnings, tips and resource recommendations from our in-house expert, Olivia Haslam.

Topic overview 

Alistair Bryce-Clegg is joined by Debs Davies, a coach and consultant who is committed to helping create affirming and inclusive environments where neurodivergent people can be valued. The topic of ADHD through an inclusive lens is reviewed and Debs discusses her late ADHD diagnosis and her journey to becoming an ADHD coach after a career in the corporate world and education.  

Throughout the episodes the pair explore the importance of recognising and understanding neurodivergent children’s needs in early years settings and emphasise the significance of moving away from traditional, limiting teaching practices and creating more inclusive environments for all children.   

Key takeaways

  • Neurodivergent children, especially those with ADHD, may have unique learning needs that require a different approach to help them thrive. 
  • The importance of reducing distractions and tailoring environments to support different learning styles.


  • Early diagnosis, and the importance of understanding challenges rather than assuming defiance or non-compliance, and the long-term impact of negative reinforcement on neurodivergent children’s mental health and self-esteem.
  • The importance of not making assumptions about a child’s behaviour. Practitioners should try to understand the reasons behind a child’s actions, such as sensory needs.
  • The potential harm of punitive measures, like missing break times or public shaming, and how these can negatively impact neurodivergent children.
  • Challenging preconceived notions to create a more inclusive and supportive learning environment, whilst stressing the significance of acceptance and the need for individualised support that respects each child’s unique learning style.
  • Creating an inclusive environment for neurodivergent children benefits all children, and helps instil valuable life lessons about diversity and acceptance. 

Key things practitioners could put into practice

Early intervention is key. Recognising the signs and symptoms, seeking timely diagnosis, and implementing evidence-based interventions sets the stage for lifelong success and well-being, providing children with ADHD the support they need to navigate challenges and embrace their unique strengths. 

The environment is key to support children to be effective learners. If we place children in spaces that are full of very patterned, brightly coloured, dangly things that are blown in the wind, these aspects of an environment can very easily be over stimulating for a neurodiverse child.  

Typically for somebody who’s neurodivergent, they’ll have a heightened sensitivity to all aspects of an environment. It is key to ensure that there’s a quiet time or a quiet space where children can get away and regulate again. 

People with ADHD may struggle with: 

Individuals with ADHD may have impairment in several areas of executive functioning:

  • Self-control/impulse control 
  • Maintaining focus 
  • Organising their schedule 
  • Completing tasks 
  • Getting motivated 
  • Feeling overwhelmed

To support children experiencing the above areas of executive functioning, as educators we must:  

  • Use positive reinforcement
  • Stick to consistent routines  
  • Reduce distractions
  • Provide regular relaxing or energy release breaks
  • Encourage physical activity
  • Create quiet break out spaces and calming areas to support regulation


To help children with ADHD cope with transitions, as educators we can use strategies such as: 

  • Allowing extra time
  • Creating routines
  • Using visual reminders 
  • Adapting the environment
  • Communicating using positive reinforcement

Breaktimes and physical outdoor activity is crucial for all children but especially those who are neurodivergent as this supports their regulation, wellbeing, and in turn their motivation and focus when returning back to learning. 

Neurodivergent children want to understand the reason ‘why’ they have been asked to an action, what is the purpose. They need to process and understand the request and the reasoning behind it. They’re not being challenging. Usually what they’re trying to do is understand why is it important that I do this thing that you’ve asked me to do – communication is key. 

Olivia's recommended resources

Physical Activity is crucial to support motivation and focus which is why this selection of fidgets are ideal for keeping fidgety fingers happy and focused on the job in hand. Small enough to be carried around in pockets or hands and can be moved, stretched or squeezed and can be useful to aid concentration and reduce stress and anxiety. Fidgets can also improve fine motor skills and hand eye coordination.

This set of sensory resources is a top resource to calm and relax children, fostering self-regulation.

This set offers daily sensory regulating activities that support children in staying calm, focused, and regulated. Designed to support children with varied sensory needs, this set is key for fostering self-regulation and emotional management. Including weighted items, tactile materials, and visual aids, it provides enriched sensory experiences essential for over-sensitive or under-sensitive children, promoting a calm learning environment.

Calming Kittens I would recommend for self-awareness and regulation as they offer children in early years a toolkit to understand and manage their emotions. Through engaging strategies, children learn to calm themselves and gain better emotional self-control. The activity cards assist practitioners, teachers and parents in discussing emotions with children. By using these tools, they can help children understand that feelings are natural and guide them in developing effective coping methods and encourage co regulation.

Each kitten symbolising a calming activity: controlled breathing, singing, chanting, repetitive actions, and exercise. These activities are designed to teach effective coping methods while ensuring they have fun. When children enjoy themselves, their bodies release oxytocin – a hormone that boosts feelings of happiness and well-being.

I recommend Happy Feet as these provide fantastic sensory feedback when walked over or explored by hand. This set is designed to support motor skills, develops children’s imagination and can be used to create interactive, or sensory stories as well as to promote imaginative play, colour exploration and collaborative play.

These sensory play mats are not just mats; they’re a step towards a healthier and happier development. Specifically designed to build strength to help prevent and correct flat feet as well as a number of common foot issues. In addition they help with sensory processing issues. The vestibular system is a critical sensory system located in the inner ear that helps us maintain balance, stability, and spatial orientation by detecting changes in head position and movement. Walking on uneven surfaces or different textures stimulates the vestibular system, which helps with spatial orientation and balance. This stimulation is important for healthy sensory integration.

Debs' episodes are now CPD accredited - listen now!

Use the link below to relisten to all 4 of Debs' episodes, take the CPD assessment, and get your certificate.

Emotions & Feelings

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