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Last Friday, as part of the Combined Sydney Montessori Staff Development Day for 2024, FMS staff were treated to a live presentation from clinical psychologist, Dr. Andrew Fuller. 

Dr Fuller is a psychologist, author and (very entertaining) speaker. He specialises mental health and wellbeing for young people and their families, working with schools, communities and individuals in Australia and around the world.  

Forestville Montessori School staff development 2024

According to his website, Dr Fuller ‘puts the heart back into psychology.’

If you’ve had the privilege of hearing him speak, you’ll understand why.  His empathy, realism and humour bring optimism and hope to what is otherwise a heavy subject.

His talk, Cultivating Hope, Joy and Authenticity (in children who aren’t always feeling it), was a refreshingly positive approach to understanding and working with neurodifferention, ASD and anxiety in our classrooms, and in life.

Dr Fuller began his presentation by reminding us of the inherent differences in human thinking and aptitudes, highlighting the evolutionary value of our differences; survival of the group relies on the different skills of many.

Human beings have never thought or behaved a single uniform way.

We have thinkers and do-ers, creators and planners. We have people who are more physically able and those suited to strategy. There are people who focus on the most intricate of details and others who see the bigger picture.

We all see the world a little differently and we all have something different to offer. It is these differences which have allowed us to thrive.

How refreshing to see neurodiversity through this lense!


With this in mind, we were encouraged to see neurodifferentiation as more typical than generally presented, and to fine-tune our focus toward the advantages and opportunities differentiation presents, rather than dwelling on the challenges.

With an overarching theme that could be summarised as ‘converting neurodiversity into neuro-advantage,’ Dr Fuller challenged the way we think about – and teach to – diagnoses such as attention issues, ASD and anxiety.

He invited educators to look beyond diagnoses and to see instead, the child, their individual needs, circumstances and learning strengths.

Converting Neurodiversity to Neuro-advantage

Using the example of attention issues, Dr Fuller says “these are incorrectly labelled as ‘deficit disorders’ but are more accurately variations of the range of human experience with advantages as well as obstacles.”

He notes “there are many factors that may play an important role in inattentiveness or hyper-activity, including sleep deprivation, lack of physical care or exercise, neurochemical imbalances, fear & worries about school.”

This view offers parents and educators a more optimistic and practical framework to approach attention issues.

Arming ourselves with a better understanding of neurochemical, social and environmental contributors and taking time to uncover the unique learning strengths of each child provides much more than a diagnosis; it offers practical, individualised methods for educators to support students and their families.

Beyond support, this model promotes connection and partnership between students and educators. When teachers know their students’ learning strengths they can improve engagement in learning. This empowers students, parents and teachers and moves the child towards success.

While we used the example of attention issues above, these principles can be applied to the many varieties of neurodifferentiation we see in our classrooms and communities.

Dr Fuller has kindly shared a series of handouts for FMS staff and families interested to learn more about Converting Neurodiversity to Neuro-advantage.

Below is a preview of some of the wisdom you will find in these easy-to-read papers, starting, as we did on Friday with this:

“Neurodiversity gives humans a survival advantage through increasing flexibility & adaptability. We are not born to all think the same way. Our collective neurodiversity is a neuro-advantage.”

I hope these encourage you to think a little differently too!

Following Andrew’s presentation, staff could elect to listen to one of four AMI Trainers who were engaged to spend the day with us Sara Brady, Kay Urquhart, Rebecca Dallam and Laureen Barnard 

As Lauren Barnard later commented to Andrew on LinkedIn: 

‘With Montessori education based on adaptation- and supporting the individual, natural development of all children and adolescents- your gift to us was in weaving contemporary science and anecdotes with affirming practice.  what terrific insights and connections you helped so many of us forge.” 

Please read through these papers from Dr Fuller to learn more about the possibilities and potential for building the strengths of our wonderful young people!

Students with Attention Issues

“One strategy is for young people to know their learning strengths & how their brain works to help focus them & increase academic results.’

Click here to read full article

Students with Anxiety 

“We need to help all young people to understand how their brains work. Developing this understanding in neurodivergent kids helps them to know that differences are not disadvantages.”

Click here to read full article

Students on the Spectrum(s)

“It is often easier to think about the challenges & overlook the strengths that give these kids advantages. Success in life is more often about capitalising on what you do well rather than improving on what you don’t do well.”

Click here to read full article

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Denice Scala

Author Denice Scala

B.A, M.Ed, Dip ED, Dip RSA, Cert. Neuroscience. Principal, Forestville Montessori School. Denice Scala is an executive leader with extensive experience in key strategic roles requiring business transformation and innovation. As a passionate advocate for the power of education to enrich lives, Denice moved from classroom teaching to leadership positions in 1992 and since then has held international in roles in Scotland and Australia as Principal, Head of Junior School, and Head of Learning Support. She has an impressive working knowledge of early learning, primary, middle, and secondary schooling including gifted education and special needs. Her Masters in Gifted Education led her to work extensively to find ways to cater for gifted students. This led to providing professional development opportunities for educators to assist in their understanding of the characteristics of gifted children and the complexities of growing up gifted. Denice’s unparalleled grasp of current educational realities is equally matched by her big picture thinking combined with practical solutions to navigate change. Denice’s passion for Montessori education led her to undertake the AMI Introduction to Adolescents Course, to audit the AMI 6-12 Diploma, and to also currently undertake the AMI School Administration Certificate Course.

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