How the Mute Button Can Help Children’s Voices Be Heard

Creating a Supportive Learning Environment for Neurodivergent Learners

By Lauren Brooks

At Gaia Learning, we recognise the importance of individual comfort and autonomy, particularly for neurodivergent learners. When someone has more complex needs, autonomy and a sense of control are paramount to improving their capacity for regulating symptoms and improving their overall wellbeing: 

“Empowering people to have control over their life and mental health care instills personal dignity, value and respect. It can increase self-esteem and confidence. It also gives people a level of choice and autonomy they may not have received otherwise.” - World Health Organization 

This is why we put a large focus on allowing our neurodivergent learners to feel in control of their learning environment as much as possible. 

SEND needs tend to fall into four broad areas off needs: 

  • Cognition/learning
  • Communication/interaction
  • Social emotional/mental health
  • Physical/sensory impairments or other medical needs. 

Let’s delve into how our learning environment at Gaia Learning actively supports the mental health of neurodivergent learners, and how the mute button in an online lesson can significantly reduce anxiety and shyness whilst increasing their engagement with their lesson, creating a sense of safety online.

Why Feeling in Control Matters

Many of the adverse experiences a child experiences at school or in life in general can cause them to lose the feeling of control. 

Even as adults, we know how uncomfortable and overwhelming adverse experiences can feel that are beyond our control. When we don’t feel in charge of a tricky situation, we can quickly feel helpless, vulnerable, and anxious. 

Most of our learners at Gaia Learning require additional learning support due to neurodivergent challenges or social and emotional health needs.

What we must understand about traditional schools is that at present, few have the resources or training to support children who don’t gel with the education system as it stands. 

We can’t blame schools for this - it’s a mammoth challenge to create an environment that suits the needs of thousands of students every day. 

But we cannot sanction learners for behaviours that are not understood as we can be doing more harm than good. 

A glaring omission from the SEN Code of practice is understanding how ADHD manifests as behaviours in the classroom which are different for boys and girls and as social and emotional impacts on learner wellbeing. This must be considered in light of the increasing focus on attendance if we’re going to be able to meaningfully tackle what the root cause is.

Bridging The Gap 

While we await the completion of the national standards outlined in the SEND and AP (Alternative Provision) Improvement Plan, which is currently being trialled and expected to be implemented nationally by 2025, schools are under increasing pressure to fill the role of a qualified SENCO in coordinating support. Provision varies between schools based on student cohorts' specific needs. 

The aim of the SEND and AP Improvement Plan is to increase inclusion in mainstream schools by providing better ordinarily available provision and targeted SEND support while reducing the number of student needing special schools or EHCPs. It also aims to improve access to support for parents or guardians and ensure all young people can reach their potential regardless of background or SEN, through financial stability within a system that is currently overspending across the country.

The SENCO plays a crucial role in coordinating support. Gaia Learning bridges this gap by pulling together a tighter network amongst the stakeholders of a young person’s education, including parents/guardians, educators and any other support the young person is receiving when reviewing and assessing a learner’s SEND needs. 

High-quality teaching integrated into classrooms is essential for supporting students with SEND and according to the SEN Code of Practice (2015) ‘all teachers are teachers of SEN’. Evidence-based interventions should be used to meet specific student needs.

How Different Personality Traits Affect Learners at School 

Introverted, shy learners often find the crowds of children overwhelming and speaking up in class terrifying. 

Fidgety, energetic kids often find sitting still for an hour unbearable. 

Daydreamy learners who struggle with focused listening often find themselves lagging behind in lessons, having not been able to pay attention to the last thing the teacher said.

How Does Not Fitting In Impact A Child’s Wellbeing?

Unfortunately, the child brain has a tendency to turn inwards and blame themselves when things aren’t quite right in the outer environment. 

When a child feels out of control over these smaller (yet difficult) situations day in, day out, they start to blame themselves for not being able to ‘control themselves better’. 

They feel like an outsider or that something is inherently wrong with them. They don’t feel in control of their own brain and body. This has huge implications on their self-esteem and emotional wellbeing. 

Notice that the examples listed above aren’t particularly extreme adverse events, on the surface. Conversely, they are negative micro-events that add up over time. At some point, too many of these difficult experiences can cause learners to develop adverse coping mechanisms to try to claw back a feeling of control. Some examples include: 

  • Anxiety (hypervigilance so they are prepared to handle a tricky situation)
  • Defiance (‘if you won’t accept me, I won’t accept you’)
  • Avoidance (‘if I don’t belong, why would I go anyway?’)
  • Disengagement (frightened or unwilling to participate for fear of being ‘caught out’ again).

Adults Get to Be More in Control, Why Not Kids?

We need to consider how adults generally get to have a say in what environments they put themselves into that allow a sense of safety and contentment:

  • People who don’t like large crowds or loud music don’t frequent nightclubs or prefer to avoid public transport
  • Energetic or chatty adults might avoid office work and follow a career that is physically demanding, or enjoy customer-facing jobs 
  • Daydreamers are often highly creative, and will find joy in their creative pursuits like writing or music. 

In the adult world, there is a always a place for lots of different traits and personalities. We accept and enjoy the variety of options available to us. Many of us have spent years in a state of trial and error, finding the right environment for us where we feel we belong. We applaud those who continue to seek out environments that they thrive in. 

So why is it that we are taking the option of control away from every child in the country, putting them in one cookie-cutter environment, and expecting every child to finish school with an appropriate amount of attendance, discipline, studiousness, ambition, creativity, and positive self-esteem? 

Everyone can be a genius in their own way. But if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree…

Our Solution - Optional Engagement

At the core, most of our learners come to us at Gaia Learning is because they felt like a fish trying to climb a tree in their original school. As a result, many of these young people come to us with a real sense of confusion, low self-esteem, and a lack of confidence in their learning potentials. 

This is where giving them control in how they decide to engage in our lessons works its magic. Suddenly, they get told: 

  • You can log in from wherever you are
  • You can fidget and doodle while you are listening 
  • You can wear whatever you want
  • You can eat and drink during the lesson 

They also get told: 

  •  You can take your time to get to know everyone before you talk through the microphone or put your camera on. Just try to answer questions in the chat box if you can. 
  • You are not expected to get the same results as anyone else - so just try your best
  • Don’t worry if you lose focus. Tell us, and we’ll go back over it with you.

Fostering this open and relaxed attitude to learning really puts the learner in the driving seat, and allows them to get comfortable in their new environment at their own pace. 

It also gives the learner agency - we encourage them to communicate with us when they are struggling with an idea or have lost focus. This is a great way for them to build up their confidence and self-esteem; they come to realise that it’s fine to be exactly who they are, and instead learn how to manage their symptoms by being clear with others about what their needs are. 

So yes - letting kids use the mute button allows learners to clearly express exactly what their needs are.

Get in Touch

Gaia Learning is an online alternative education provider supporting schools and families across the world. a high percentage of our learners struggle in the traditional classroom and so their attendance is lower than the school would like. By working in partnership with Gaia Learning, learners remain part of the school ecosystem and community, therefore are part of their attendance figures, whilst being engaged in our personalised, online learning environment.

To learn more about our group and 1:1 sessions, contact us at