Neurodiversity Affirming Practice
Neurodiversity is the concept of natural differences across the spectrum of human brains. Each person has something unique and valuable to offer the world due to their neurological differences. Neurodiversity can include individuals across the spectrums of Autism, ADHD, Dyslexia, Dyscalculia, Dyspraxia, etc. Historically, neurodivergent people have been (and continue to be) marginalized. This is largely due to the medical model of disability that is so prevalent in society. The medical model of disability places the blame for disability on the individual. It focuses on what the person cannot do, and paints them as a burden to society. It emphasizes the capitalistic view that human worth is contingent on what one contributes to society. In this framework, those with disabilities may not be able to contribute as much as able bodied individuals, due to the level of support they require and therefore, this view lessens their value as human beings.
On the contrary, the social model indicates that disability is a social construct, created by poorly designed systems. The world is built for neurotypical, able bodied people. This limits the opportunities neurodivergent and disabled individuals access throughout their lives. The neurodiversity movement aims to expand rights, equality, access, and inclusion for neurodivergent individuals.
This is quite the endeavor, as it involves shifting our mindset from deficit based intervention to strengths based intervention. That is to say, rather than looking at what a learner cannot do, we assess what they CAN do, and we build on that. The medical model requires us to abide by the requirements put in place by insurance companies, which has us use inherently deficit based assessments. This is something we are actively working to change with funding sources. In the meantime, we view the results of these assessments from a strengths based lens. We use the child’s strengths in one area to help build upon strengths in other areas. We learn where the child thrives, and we connect with them there.
As a neurodiversity affirming practice, we use methods that allow children to exercise their right to bodily autonomy. This means that we listen to both verbal and nonverbal cues (e.g. body language). We reinforce attempts to communicate the need for personal space, breaks, sensory interventions, assistance, etc. We use hand over hand prompting as a last resort, as this is considered an intrusive intervention and we strive to create an environment where children can learn with the least restrictive supports in place. We do not force eye contact, and we do not view goals through a compliance based lense. Statistically, Autistic children are 6-7 times more likely to be victims of sexual assault. Our mission to reduce physical prompting and teach self advocacy skills and bodily autonomy has a lot to do with keeping every child safe throughout their lives.
We value autistic voices. We are constantly seeking information from autistic adults, in order to identify new ways to best support autistic children. Autistic voices are hugely important in understanding the autistic experience. Their voices help us make positive changes to our practice so that we can continue to abide by the very important ethical obligation to do no harm.
Talk to your child about their neurodivergence. Openly discussing differences and acknowledging that they are normal and beneficial to humanity can help develop a positive sense of self. Additionally, normalizing brain differences contributes to the shift in our collective mentality as a society that all brains are valuable and diversity is an integral part of societal growth.
Instead of focusing on what your child cannot do, make a list of what they CAN do. Lean in to their special interests and preferences. Get on their level and join in on their play, even if you don’t understand it. Autistic play is valuable and provides numerous learning opportunities. It can be hard to overlook the negative light that Autism has been painted in, but autistic humans bring so much to the table. They have incredible capacity to make a positive difference in the world. As support professionals and family members of autistic humans, we need to make room for them to do so.
We also encourage you to acknowledge the rainbow infinity symbol as the emblem representing neurodiversity. The gold infinity symbol specifically represents Autism. The puzzle piece is problematic in that it represents something missing from the individual (among numerous other reasons), and the majority of autstic individuals no longer approve of this to represent them. This is a small gesture of solidarity that we support.