By Megan Romanczyk, SLP
This Autism Acceptance month, you may have seen Instagram and Facebook posts calling for greater acceptance of neurodiversity in our communities. You may have never heard of this term before, or you may be unsure of how to best respect neurodiversity while also helping your child meet their therapeutic and educational goals. We’re here to give you a breakdown of what neurodiversity is, why it’s important, and ways in which you can learn more about the neurodiversity movement!
What is neurodiversity?
Neurodiversity is a term for the range of differences in individual brain function and behavioral traits. Just as racial, cultural, and gender diversity are natural and valuable forms of human diversity, so too are variations in neurotypes, or types of ‘brain wiring.’
Who is considered neurodivergent?
Any individual who diverges from the dominant societal standards of typical neurocognitive functioning is considered neurodivergent. These include differences such as:
Neurotypical refers to an individual whose neurocognitive functioning falls within the societal standards of typical. If you have a classroom filled with both neurotypical and neurodivergent individuals, that classroom would be considered neurodiverse.
What is the neurodiversity movement?
The neurodiversity movement refers to the disability rights movement aimed at full inclusion for all neurodivergent people. The neurodiversity movement calls not only for acceptance, but for amplification and celebration of the valuable perspectives of neurodivergent individuals. Several prominent autistic public figures, such as Temple Grandin and Greta Thunberg, have spoken and written about how their unique way of thinking (i.e., thinking in pictures, focusing on details, sustaining attention for atypically long periods of time) enabled their successes in their fields. These leaders and activists were supported by individuals who viewed their different way of thinking and behaving not as a deficit but rather as a valuable asset. To best support neurodivergent individuals, the neurodiversity movement advocates for providing services which address specific needs while respecting individual differences in thinking and behavior.
Neurodiversity advocates support services that are dedicated to improving the wellbeing of neurodivergent individuals, including communication, motor, sensory, and emotional needs. In order to align with the neurodiversity movement, these therapies must focus on improving a child’s quality of life without attempting to “normalize” neurodivergent behavior.
At the BAC, we aim to empower children to develop valuable skills while also respecting their individual differences. Some examples of this include:
Working on increasing a child’s attention span while also respecting the need for movement breaks and fidgets
Working on communication skills while respecting that a child may not always be able to use their voice (i.e., providing augmentative and alternative communication options to reduce communication anxiety in stressful situations)
Working on play skills while accepting and including a child’s preferred objects and toys
Working on peer interaction skills without trying to “normalize” behavior (i.e., providing practice with developing peer connections without demanding eye contact, elimination of stimming, or use of social scripts)
Working on feeding skills while honoring sensory differences (i.e., not demanding that the child consume certain textures and tastes if they cause discomfort)
Addressing sensory, emotional, and communicative needs that underlie meltdowns and tantrums rather than focusing on behaviors
Collaborating with families and schools to provide children with environments that accomodate for individual differences and enable success (i.e., visual schedules, adaptive seating, choice boards etc.)
Empowering children to problem-solve and self-advocate
Always providing therapy that incorporates a child’s interests and goals
Language and Labels
Another way in which we work to empower neurodivergent individuals is by respecting their language preferences.
Language and labels can impact an individual’s self-perception as well as the perception of their teachers, therapists, and others. For that reason, we advocate for use of description of support needs rather than functioning labels. Instead of describing a child as high or low functioning, we may say that they have high or low support needs. In this way, instead of detailing what a child can or cannot currently do, we instead shift the focus toward what they need to be successful. This shift in language often leads to a shift in mindset. Instead of focusing on deficits, we look outward toward what therapies and environmental supports may benefit a child and empower them to be more independent.
You may have heard the debate between use of ‘autistic people’ vs. ‘people with autism.’ By saying ‘person with autism,’ you are using Person First Language. This is the language most commonly used in the medical realm and in mainstream society. It separates an individual from their autism, indicating that autism is secondary to the individual’s identity. By saying ‘autistic people/autistics,’ you are using Identity First Language. Identity First Language is preferred and advocated for by many autistic adults who view autism as inextricable from their identity. At the BAC, we respect individual differences by using whatever language is preferred by a child and their family.
There are plenty of resources available to learn more about neurodiversity and the neurodiversity movement. The best way to understand neurodiversity is to listen to the voices of neurodivergent people. Here are some of the resources that our clinicians have used to educate ourselves on how to be more responsive and respectful therapists:
Therapist Neurodiversity Collective
Ask Autistic Adults- Resource for Parents of Autistics
Autistic Self Advocacy Network
Ask and Autistic
Paula C. Durbin-Westby Autism Advocacy Blog
Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism
We Are Like Your Child
I Am Greta
Wretches & Jabberers
Neurotribes by Steve Silberman
The Autistic Brain by Temple Grandin
Disability Visibility by Alice Wong
Books by Julia Bascom, Ross W. Greene, Alfie Kohn, Katja Rowell, and Jenny McGlothlin
If you have questions regarding neurodiversity or anything else mentioned in this blog, contact us HERE.