Neurodiversity: Difference not Deficit

What is Neurodiversity?

The term ‘neurodiversity’ refers to the huge variation in cognitive functioning that occurs across all humans, including our ability to learn, pay attention, remember information, make decisions, and engage with others socially. As a result of neurodiversity, each person possesses their own unique set of skills, talents, needs, and difficulties.

The Neurodiversity Movement aims to change the way that we think about common neurodevelopmental conditions, such as Autism, ADHD, and Dyslexia. Instead of being viewed as ‘disorders’, which are characterised by a range of ‘deficits’, these conditions should be viewed as ‘different ways of thinking’ that are also associated with a variety of unique strengths.

Defining Autism:

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is clinically defined by difficulties in two areas:

1) Social communication deficits, including difficulties with back-and-forth conversation, abnormal eye contact or facial expressions, and problems adapting behaviours to suit different social contexts.

2) Rigid and repetitive patterns of behaviours and interests, such as inflexible routines, intense personal interests, and sensory sensitivity. 

This diagnostic profile paints a picture of the autistic community as cold, rude, and obsessive – a damaging stereotype often perpetuated by the media. 

The Neurodiversity Movement aims to challenge these negative views of Autism by highlighting the skills and strengths often exhibited by autistic individuals as a result of their Autism. For example, the communicative style often associated with this condition is direct, clear, and honest, whilst the cognitive features of Autism often lead to a detail-oriented and logical approach to tasks. Furthermore, many autistic individuals can demonstrate an extensive knowledge of their ‘special interests’, and can be hyper-focused when engaging in activities surrounding this topic.

In addition, the Neurodiversity Movement also aims to challenge the narrative around neurodevelopmental conditions by addressing the language used to describe them. For example, medical professionals often use the term ‘Autism Spectrum Disorder’. However, neurodiversity advocates argue that the use of the term ‘disorder’ has harmful connotations associated with the need to be ‘cured’. Instead, they believe that ‘Autism Spectrum Conditions’ is a more respectful term that better represents Autism as a ‘unique cognitive style’. Furthermore, recent research also suggests that many in the Autism community prefer to be referred to as ‘an autistic person’ rather than ‘a person with autism’. This is because using ‘identity-first’ language reflects the notion that an individual’s Autism is an integral part of who they are. However, it is important to remember that this is often a case of personal preference, so it is always best to check in with the individual.

Supporting Neurodiversity in the Classroom:

Implementing the neurodiversity paradigm in the classroom is about creating an environment that will cater to any neurodiverse student. Practical ways of executing this approach include:

  • Limiting auditory and visual distractions in the classroom by creating a ‘clutter-free’ space.
  • Communicating clearly and consistently with students, allowing for additional processing time and alternative ways of responding. Verbal instructions can also be accompanied by visual prompts to aid understanding.
  • Making specialist resources and equipment, such as computer software or pencil grips, available to all students – those that do not require them will not use them, but making them readily available to everyone reduces stigma.
  • Recognising that there are multiple ways of completing a task, and subsequently encouraging students to express their individuality when approaching activities. 

The Value of Neurodiversity:

The 28th of March 2022 marks the beginning of the National Autistic Society’s ‘World Autism Acceptance Week’, and ‘Autism Awareness Month’ is celebrated throughout April. These campaigns raise awareness of the challenges faced by the autistic community, with the aim of promoting acceptance and encouraging inclusivity. Maybe your contribution could be educating those around you about the value of neurodiversity?

In case you missed it or want to read more by Lauren, she also wrote another blog post for us earlier this month on encouraging children to get involved in research which you can find here.

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