The Dark Side of Classroom Humour: Jokes at Neurodivergent Students’ Expense

In view of the recent news of a teacher WhatsApp group mocking disabled students being released in the UK, I thought I would write about a dark practice that many neurodivergent students have had to suffer.
Growing up, I was mocked by teachers and called names that I will not repeat here, but that was in the 1980’s and in rural France! I naively thought that these practices had been long banned from schools but I was wrong.
Classroom humour can often be a source of entertainment and lightheartedness during a long school day. However, there is a dark side to this seemingly innocent practice, especially when it comes to jokes at the expense of neurodivergent students. Sadly, even today in 2023, teachers in the UK have been found guilty of mocking students in the name of humour, causing harm and perpetuating harmful stereotypes. So, let’s delve into the reasons behind this behaviour and its impact on neurodivergent students.

Defining Neurodivergence: Understanding the Basics

Neurodivergence encompasses a wide range of conditions, including but not limited to autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and Tourette’s syndrome. These conditions can affect a person’s cognitive, social, emotional, and behavioural abilities.
Neurodivergent students often have unique ways of thinking, learning, and processing information. They may excel in certain areas, such as creativity or problem-solving, whilst facing challenges in others, such as social interactions or organisation skills. It’s important to recognise that neurodivergence is not a disorder or a deficit, but rather a natural variation of human neurology.
Understanding the basics of neurodivergence is crucial for creating an inclusive and supportive learning environment. By acknowledging and accommodating the diverse needs of neurodivergent students, educators can help them thrive and reach their full potential. Education plays a vital role in breaking down stigma and promoting acceptance of neurodivergent individuals in society.

A Deeper Dive into Classroom Dynamics: Neurodivergent Students and Their Challenges

Neurodivergent students face unique challenges in the classroom that can often go unnoticed or misunderstood. These challenges can vary greatly depending on the specific neurodivergence, but some common themes arise.
One of the main challenges neurodivergent students face is difficulty with sensory processing. Some students may be highly sensitive to certain sounds, lights, or textures, which can make it incredibly hard for them to concentrate or feel comfortable in the classroom environment. This can lead to heightened anxiety and stress, impacting their overall learning experience.
Another challenge is social interaction. Neurodivergent students may struggle with reading social cues, understanding social norms, or initiating and maintaining conversations. This can lead to feelings of isolation and exclusion from their peers, making it even harder for them to fully engage in the classroom setting.
Organisational skills and executive functioning can also be areas of struggle for neurodivergent students. Keeping track of assignments, managing time effectively, and staying organised can be incredibly challenging for some students, leading to difficulties in completing tasks and meeting deadlines.
These challenges, among others, can significantly impact a neurodivergent student’s academic performance, self-esteem, and overall well-being. Educators need to be aware of these challenges and provide appropriate support and accommodations to help these students succeed. Creating a classroom environment that is understanding, inclusive, and supportive is crucial for the overall educational experience of neurodivergent students.

The Use of Humour in Classrooms: A Double-Edged Sword

Humour in classrooms can be a double-edged sword, especially when it comes to neurodivergent students. On the one hand, well-executed jokes can create a lighthearted and engaging atmosphere, making learning more enjoyable for everyone. However, when humour is used at the expense of neurodivergent students, it can have serious negative consequences.
Jokes that mock or ridicule neurodivergent students perpetuate harmful stereotypes and contribute to an exclusionary classroom environment. These students may already face challenges in social interactions and self-esteem, and being the butt of jokes only exacerbates these difficulties. It creates a hostile and unwelcoming space for them to learn and grow.
As educators, it’s important to remember that humour should never come at the expense of our students’ well-being. Instead, we should focus on fostering an inclusive and supportive environment that celebrates diversity. By creating a safe space for all students, we can promote empathy, understanding, and respect. Humour can still play a role, but it should be used in a way that uplifts and includes all students, rather than alienating and marginalising certain individuals.

Why Do Some UK Teachers Resort to Mockery? Psychological and Sociocultural Aspects

Understanding why some UK teachers resort to mockery of neurodivergent students requires exploring both psychological and sociocultural aspects. On a psychological level, teachers may engage in mockery as a form of defence mechanism or to assert dominance. Mockery can be a way for teachers to alleviate their insecurities or frustrations by making themselves feel superior or by trying to fit in with their colleagues.
Sociocultural factors also come into play. In a society that often stigmatises and misunderstands neurodivergent individuals, teachers may be influenced by these prevailing attitudes. They may not have received adequate training or education on neurodiversity, leading to a lack of understanding and empathy.
Additionally, the hierarchical nature of the education system and the pressure to meet academic standards may contribute to teachers resorting to mockery. Some teachers may feel overwhelmed and believe that putting down neurodivergent students is an easier way to manage classroom behaviour and maintain control.
Addressing these psychological and sociocultural factors requires a multifaceted approach. Providing comprehensive training and resources to educators, fostering an inclusive and empathetic school culture, and promoting awareness and acceptance of neurodiversity are crucial steps towards eliminating mockery in the classroom.

Consequences of Ridicule on Neurodivergent Students: A Lifelong Impact

When neurodivergent students are subjected to ridicule and mockery in the classroom, the consequences can be far-reaching and long-lasting. These students often face challenges in their academic and social lives, and being the target of jokes only exacerbates these difficulties.
The impact of such ridicule can be felt throughout their lives. It can significantly affect their self-esteem, leading to a lack of confidence and a negative self-image. This can in turn impact their mental health, causing feelings of anxiety, depression, and even suicidal ideation. The trauma inflicted by these experiences can stay with them well into adulthood, hindering their ability to form positive relationships, pursue their passions, and reach their full potential.
Furthermore, the mocking of neurodivergent students perpetuates harmful stereotypes and stigmatises them within society. This can result in exclusion, discrimination, and a lack of opportunities for success in various areas of life.
We must address this issue and create a more respectful and inclusive environment in our classrooms. The consequences of ridicule on neurodivergent students are too significant to ignore, and it is our responsibility as educators to protect and uplift all of our students.

Charting a More Respectful Course: The Way Forward for UK Education

As educators, it is our responsibility to create a more respectful and inclusive environment in our classrooms. To achieve this, several steps can be taken to ensure the well-being and success of neurodivergent students.
First and foremost, comprehensive training and resources on neurodiversity should be provided to all teachers. This will help increase understanding and empathy towards neurodivergent students and equip educators with the necessary tools to support their diverse needs. Additionally, schools should foster an inclusive and empathetic school culture, where differences are celebrated and respected.
Creating individualised support plans for neurodivergent students can also be highly beneficial. These plans can outline specific accommodations and strategies that can be implemented to help students thrive academically and socially. It is important to remember that what works for one student may not work for another, so flexibility and open communication are key.
Finally, promoting awareness and acceptance of neurodiversity in society is crucial. This can be achieved through school-wide events, guest speakers, and an inclusive curriculum that highlights the contributions and strengths of neurodivergent individuals. By challenging stereotypes and stigmas, we can create a more inclusive society where neurodivergent students are valued and embraced.
In conclusion, by taking these steps, we can chart a more respectful course for UK education. Let us strive to create classrooms where every student feels seen, heard, and valued, regardless of their neurological differences. Together, we can build a brighter and more inclusive future for all.


  • “Neurotribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity” by Steve Silberman
    • This book provides a historical perspective on autism and explores the concept of neurodiversity, advocating for a more inclusive and understanding society.
  • “The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism” by Naoki Higashida
    • Written by a nonverbal autistic teenager, this book provides insights into the mind of someone with autism, offering a unique perspective on neurodivergence.
  • “Uniquely Human: A Different Way of Seeing Autism” by Barry M. Prizant
    • Barry Prizant, a clinical scholar, explores autism as a neurodivergent way of being human and offers a compassionate understanding of the experiences of individuals with autism.
  • “Neurodiversity in the Classroom: Strength-Based Strategies to Help Students with Special Needs Succeed in School and Life” by Thomas Armstrong
    • This book focuses on strength-based approaches to support neurodivergent students in the classroom, providing practical strategies for educators.
  • “Freaks, Geeks, and Asperger Syndrome: A User Guide to Adolescence” by Luke Jackson
    • Written by a teenager with Asperger Syndrome, this book provides a personal account of the challenges faced by neurodivergent individuals during adolescence.
  • “The Autistic Brain: Thinking Across the Spectrum” by Temple Grandin and Richard Panek
    • Temple Grandin, herself on the autism spectrum, offers insights into the different ways autistic brains work and discusses the importance of understanding and embracing neurodiversity.
  • “In a Different Key: The Story of Autism” by John Donvan and Caren Zucker
    • This comprehensive book traces the history of autism and delves into the evolving understanding of the condition, highlighting the struggles and triumphs of individuals with autism.
  • “Differently Wired: Raising an Exceptional Child in a Conventional World” by Deborah Reber
    • Deborah Reber explores the concept of neurodiversity and provides guidance for parents on raising neurodivergent children in a world that may not always understand or accommodate their differences.

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