Out of the woods


If Inquiry Learning is education’s current golden child, then the pedagogy must surely aim to enlighten all learners. Neurodiverse students have struggled on so many levels in mainstream education, we can no longer leave them in the woods to fend for themselves – whatever path we take, we have to take them with us in order to be truly inclusive.  And their journey to the other side must be one of personal growth to the same degree as everyone else on the journey – they can’t just come along for the ride, Neurodiverse learners must also contribute to getting through and out of the woods.

To understand the specific considerations for Neurodiverse learners in Inquiry Learning environments, I’ve taken Inquiry Learning guru Kath Murdoch’s advice (2012, Para. 6):

“in order to understand what something is, it can help us to think about what it isn’t” – Kath Murdoch.

This blog series sought to reverse engineer the Inquiry Learning process to a degree and build it back up with Neurodiverse learners in mind. Before discussing my findings, I want to declare that I bring to this process the position of the “vulnerable observer” (Behar, 1997) as I have a diagnosis that positions me as “neurodiverse”. In the search for peer-reviewed literature and scholarly articles that relate directly to Inquiry Learning and Neurodiversity, there appeared to be a paucity of research to report upon, which in itself is part of the findings. During expert searching, search strings with “inquiry learning” AND “autism”, where the two phrases were related in text, consistently produced very minimal or zero results. This is clearly an emerging area of research, the demand for which will only be necessitated by educational and social pressures.

Aspects of neurodiversity in conflict with the Inquiry Learning environment and process include: autistic or non-altruistic, illogical mindsets that permeate the entire Inquiry Learning process (Hong et al., 2014); Neurodivergent learners possession of different sets of cognitive skills and abilities which is at odds with the assumed cognitive competencies being brought to the Inquiry Learning process (Kuhn, Black, Keselman & Kaplan, 2000); the assumption that the use of assisted technologies will create a level playing field for Neurodiverse learners in the Inquiry Learning process (Whitby, Leininger & Grillo, 2012); significant weaknesses on some aspects of induction – the ability to make general rules based on a number of observations –  with a substantial proportion of Neurodiverse students never making the correct induction independently (Mastropieri, Scruggs & Butcher, 1997); and questions as to whether some Neurodiverse learners are even aware of the learning process and that Inquiry Learning requires a net learning outcome (Knutsen, Mandell & Frye, 2015).

While education research on this topic may not yet abound, parental advocacy on behalf of Neurodiverse students warrants educators’ consideration when answering questions of the suitability of Inquiry Learning. Do we really need to wait for expensive and protracted research studies to know there are limitations for Neurodiverse learners in student-centred learning approaches? This heartfelt blog by nicolekea is to 1) remind educators and policymakers that parent voice in agency for their child is very valid, and we should listen to all stakeholders concerned with successful education outcomes, and 2) affirms the validity of queries about whether Inquiry Learning can be an exclusionary pedagogical practice in a very defined real world context.

Mapping the Journey


Figure 1: Inquiry Process and Information Search Process. Image by site author CC by 2.0


Armstrong, T. (2012). Neurodiversity: A concept whose time has come. Retrieved 24 June 2016.

Audet, R. and L. Jordan (2008) Integrating inquiry across the curriculum. Heatherton, VIC: Hawker Brownlow. p. 14

Hong, J., Hwang, M., Liao, S., Lin, C., Pan, Y., & Chen, Y. (2014). Scientific reasoning correlated to altruistic traits in an inquiry learning platform: Autistic vs. realistic reasoning in science problem-solving practice. Thinking Skills and Creativity, 12, 26-36. doi:10.1016/j.tsc.2013.12.002

Knutsen, J., Mandell, D. S., & Frye, D. (2015). Children with autism are impaired in the understanding of teaching. Developmental Sciencedoi:10.1111/desc.12368

Kuhn, D., Black, J., Keselman, A., & Kaplan, D. (2000). The development of cognitive skills to support inquiry learning. Cognition and Instruction, 18(4), 495-523. doi:10.1207/S1532690XCI1804_3

Kuhlthau, C. C. (2004) Seeking Meaning: A Process Approach to Library and Information Services, 2nd edition, Libraries Unlimited, Westport, CT.

Markham, T. (2013). The Challenges and Realities of Inquiry based learning. MindShift. Retrieved 14 September 2016.

Mastropieri, M. A., Scruggs, T. E., & Butcher, K. (1997). How effective is inquiry learning for students with mild disabilities?. The Journal of Special Education, 31(2), 199-211.

Murdoch, K. (2012, September 24). …said no true inquiry teacher ever… [Web log post]

Nicolekea. (2015, March 5). Day 178 – Self-Reflection with Sophocles [Web log post]

Whitby, P. J. S., Leininger, M. L., & Grillo, K. (2012). Tips for using interactive whiteboards to increase participation of students with disabilities. TEACHING Exceptional Children, 44(6), 50-57.

Feature Image: Bruev, G. (Photographer). Forest Road Under Sunset Sunbeams. Lane Running Through The Autumn Deciduous Forest At Dawn Or Sunrise. Toned Instant Photo [photograph] via 


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