May 18, 2023
The Beachwood Neurodiversity Family Network (NDFN) created the Neurodiversity Champion Award to recognize school staff members whose work has helped neurodivergent students to feel included, understood, connected, and valued.
Congratulations to Neurodiversity Champion Annie Bracale! Ms. Bracale is a first-grade teacher at Bryden Elementary. She artfully fosters trusting one-on-one relationships with her students. First and foremost, she works to ensure that her students feel safe and comfortable being themselves at school. She then shares with them her high but well-informed expectations. “They work hard and play hard in Ms. Bracale’s class,” one parent shared.
Another remarked, “She was my son’s biggest cheerleader, celebrating every win with him- big or small. It really built him up and made him want to keep pushing himself.”
A parent who nominated Ms. Bracale shared:
Ms. Bracale is a first-grade teacher at Bryden Elementary, and she has had a transformative positive impact on our son who is learning to navigate his ADHD. Our family first met her after our son had decided, with conviction, that he hated school. He had concluded and internalized, “I’m a bad listener," “I have too much energy to be good at school,” and, “Something is wrong with me.”
From her first day with him onward, she has taken a genuine interest in getting to know him and in building a positive, trusting relationship with him and our family. She made time for one-on-one chats and check-ins with him that gave her insight into how he thinks, how he’s feeling, what engages him, and what’s challenging for him.
She has made his strengths and interests her starting point in all of her work with him. She actively seeks out the positive and builds upon it. In doing so, she has helped our son reshape how he sees himself and how he views and experiences school. She has helped him replace his old self-deprecating, hopeless beliefs with, "I am a kind, thoughtful, energetic, inventive kid who loves math challenges, AND I'm also really working hard at following instructions the first time they're given and staying focused during my work times.”
In Ms. Bracale, he has a coach and ally in that very important work. She provides scaffolds and support to set him up to be successful, and she celebrates his progress- big or small. He knows she’s on his side.
The relationship she has built with him has made him feel understood and valued, and it has put him at ease in a way that’s allowed him to enjoy his school days. That foundation of psychological safety that she has provided to him has set the stage for incredible growth- personally and academically.
Some specific, inclusive methods she uses include:
She leads her whole class in jumping jacks and push-ups before a mentally demanding stretch of instruction or work. This is massively helpful to sensory-seeking children, like mine, whose brains and bodies truly need that kind of “heavy work” and stimulation in order to settle in and focus.
She pays careful attention to her students’ emotional cues. When she sees a child getting nervous or frustrated, she checks in before emotions start to snowball, and she supports them as a guide on the side, expressing confidence in them and their ability to get through it- without doing the hard thing for them, so they can experience the ‘win’ of overcoming a struggle.
She makes class time interactive. She creates stations that allow for engaging, hands-on work—both individually and with peers. She also coordinates projects with strategic groupings so students’ strengths and personalities complement one another.
She differentiates her students’ work. When she notices a student is ready and hungry for more challenges, she provides them, ensuring that her students are engaged, stimulated, stretched, and learning. She’s quick to recognize signs of boredom.
She gives redirection in ways that protect his self-esteem and avoid shaming. Ex. If my son drifts off to a daydream, she says something like, “We need you here with us because your creativity helps our group so much. We can’t do this without you!”
When communicating with us, she does not make assumptions about or assign intentions to his behaviors. Instead of, “He was acting out for attention today,” or, “He got lazy with that assignment,” she shares facts and curiosity. For example, “He was wandering from his seat and tapping his pencil a lot, which was unusual. Has he shared anything with you that might give us clues about what was going on for him?” She wants to understand his perspective and experiences and how those influence his behavior.
She’s open, accessible, and collaborative. She proactively started a text thread with us (both parents + her) and she calls our group “Team Ollie!” (name changed for privacy) and she truly brings a collaborative team mentality to our conversations.
Knowing that my child is spending his days with a caring, emotionally responsive adult who really sees and understands him has meant the world to us. We are deeply grateful for Ms. Bracale’s thoughtfulness and compassion, skilled teaching, and her ongoing partnership.