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  • Bee Schlotz

Neurodiversity and education

Diversity is strength. Think about an ecosystem, a nation, an individual’s microbiome, a web platform - the more unique individuals that make up the whole, the more resilience and adaptability the whole develops.

The neurodiversity paradigm extends this understanding to the role of neurological differences in our society, recognizing that individuals whose brains are atypical enrich society by living in it, and that as such attempts to cure or eliminate these conditions and the individuals do more harm than good on an individual and collective basis. Advocates propose that autism, tourette’s, ADHD and other diagnostic categories be treated in the same way that left-handedness and blondeness are: as variation that doesn’t require stigmatization or medical intervention.

In this way, the neurodiversity paradigm echoes similar points made by other marginalized groups - LGBT people, who up until recently were regarded by psychologists as mentally disordered; Deaf people, who have long promoted the view that deafness is a difference to be embraced; and the broader Disability Rights movement, which has focused on implementing accommodations rather than the eugenics oriented “solutions” proposed by organizations allegedly working “for the disabled”.

But what does this have to do with teaching?

As an educator whose practice focuses on students with learning disabilities, neurodiversity informs my practice in a number of ways.

  • Avoiding stigmatizing language - we aren’t “conquering” or “overcoming” autism, we’re learning to accept it and find ways of working with it, while at the same time advocating for fair accommodation to make content acceptable.

  • Modeling self acceptance - I’m upfront about my own diagnoses, discuss them as things I’m proud of even when they’re challenging. It’s easier to know your own strengths and difficulties if you can evaluate your abilities with clear, accepting eyes. I think of it as making friends with oneself.

  • Focusing on developing self advocacy skills - if students can speak about their diagnoses and their needs without stigma it will be considerably easier.

Parenting kids with (diagnosis) is hard. This sounds like it invalidates that experience

Parenting is always hard, and parenting children who are unlike us especially so, but we can acknowledge both positions. One key nuance is that we can separate challenging behaviors from the underlying diagnosis, and we can also separate behaviors that are challenging because they hurt people from behaviors that make us feel uncomfortable because we worry they will cause others to judge our children, us, or our parenting.

That judgement isn’t a problem with the child, it’s a problem with society. The stigma around neurodivergence is a big part of what makes parenting neurominority kids hard - the lack of support and understanding, the narrow inaccessible education system, the endless condescending pity. So the needs of the child and the parent are closely linked - acceptance and the neurodiversity paradigm helps everybody.

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