What is Neurodiversity?
Why use the term neurodivergent to describe people?
The Benefits of Neurodiversity for Children
A core objective of neurodiversity is to de-stigmatize different kinds of brain functionality, offering a framework for celebrating variations in how children think, learn and process information. This positive perspective can benefit children in school.
By encouraging kids to identify their brain functionalities as differences to be celebrated, rather than disabilities to be feared, it empowers them to self-advocate within the classroom. By giving children a positive way to think about their own neurodivergence, the neurodiversity movement encourages them to speak up about accommodations they may need in the classroom.
Neurodiversity also helps children cultivate self-esteem, viewing their differences not as impediments but simply as expressions of their uniqueness. As these attitudes are cultivated in children, they become better prepared to handle their neurodivergence in college, in the workplace and throughout their adult lives.
Teaching Strategies for Neurodiversity
Equitable use: This concept calls for teachers to provide different ways for students to demonstrate knowledge. For example, if all tests are essays, that favors students who are naturally gifted in writing.
Flexible use: A related concept is flexible use, which usually means providing students with different options as to how they are academically assessed.
Simple and intuitive expectations: Another critical aspect of universal design is ensuring that all students are clearly informed about the teacher’s expectations, and about what is required for success in the class. A clear grading rubric can help.
Perceptible information: It is important for teachers to understand that different students process information differently. Teaching methods should accommodate a range of learning styles. For example, notes may be given both audibly and in writing.
Low physical effort: Another core aspect of universal design is dividing class time between different activities, such as lectures and group discussions. This lets students move around the classroom and ensure maximum focus on each topic.
Counseling Strategies for Neurodiversity
Strategies for Counselors
Counselors can prepare students to improve their lives as neurodivergent people, as opposed to looking for a cure or a solution. This can inspire resilience and adaptability.
Counselors can show students how to discuss their own learning needs candidly and without feeling any shame or stigma, which empowers them in self-advocacy.
In affirming neurodivergent identity, counselors can also connect students with organizations, advocacy groups or support services that might provide more specialized help.
Counselors can show students how to think about their health and well-being on a holistic level, instructing on how to care for themselves in terms of sleep, nutrition, physical activity and more.
Counselors can also provide information and guidance for neurodiverse students who are interested in applying for college.
What Should Parents Know About Raising Neurodivergent Kids?
Because neurodivergence is a broad term that refers to a huge range of symptoms, behaviors, strengths, and challenges, there is not one simple set of tips for raising a neurodivergent child. However, there are some general guidelines for parents with neurodivergent children.
Adjust Your Expectations
Ask the Community
If your child is able to communicate their preferences, listen to them. For outside support, seek out your child’s neurodivergent community.
Early Diagnosis and Intervention
Understanding how your child’s brain works, their communication style, and their support needs are important in ensuring that they have the best quality of life possible.
If your child’s neurodivergence causes developmental delays or disabilities, identifying this at a young age can allow your child to participate in Birth to Three programs, speech therapy, occupational therapy, and other services that can help them develop communication and functional skills that can allow them to be more independent later in life.
It can be scary to learn that your child might not have the neurotype that you expected, but appropriate support can help you understand and meet your child’s unique needs and help them have the best life possible.
What are some things I can do to support someone who is neurodivergent?
Listen. People who are neurodivergent may feel misunderstood or left out. Be willing to listen to them. Let them know you hear them and respect them and their choices.
Communicate in ways that help them. Sometimes, people who are neurodivergent prefer written communication such as instant messaging, texting or emails over a phone call or face-to-face conversation. Give them the time and tools they need to communicate.
Avoid value-based labels. Experts recommend against using the terms “high-functioning” and “low-functioning” to describe conditions like autism. They often assume a person’s level of function based on how much they behave like someone who’s neurotypical.
No two neurodivergent people are the same. The personalities and preferences of neurodivergent people can be widely different, even when they have the same underlying condition.
Don’t assume that anyone is incapable or unintelligent. People who are neurodivergent often have conditions or preferences that make them stand out or appear different.
Treat everyone with respect. You can “normalize” and provide others with accommodations in a way that honors their human dignity.
Can people who are neurodivergent be successful?
Yes, many people who are neurodivergent are accomplished and successful.
More and more people who are neurodivergent are talking about their experiences. Some examples of famous and successful people who are neurodivergent include:
- Animal scientist and author Temple Grandin.
- Oscar-winning actor Sir Anthony Hopkins.
- Musician and singer Florence Welch.
- Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles.
- Climate activist Greta Thunberg.
- Most successful directors ever Tim Burton
Experts also believe several accomplished historical figures were neurodivergent based on evidence from their lives. Those include:
- Nobel Prize-winning physicist and chemist Marie Curie.
- Nobel Prize-winning theoretical physicist Albert Einstein.
- Artist Vincent Van Gogh.
- Inventor and engineer Nikola Tesla.
- Author F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Business leaders also have a growing understanding of the value of being neurodivergent. In 2017, the magazine Harvard Business Review published “Neurodiversity as a competitive advantage.” The article details the benefits of hiring people who are neurodivergent and why more businesses are doing so.
That same article noted that several major national and international corporations have hiring processes that can accommodate people who are neurodivergent. Those corporations include some of the largest names in information technology, the automotive industry, the banking sector and more.
The World Economic Forum, Nahia Orduña, explains that:
- Autistic brains are said to be highly creative with exceptional concentration, logic, imagination and visual thought. They also tend to be systematic, meticulous and detailed and share unique insights and perspectives in problem-solving.
- People with ADHD have great imagination and score higher on creativity tests than non-ADHD people. ADHD people can hyperfocus, which means that while they generally have an attention deficit, they do have a high focus on their area of interest, reports CNN.
- Dyslexic people have demonstrated the ability to think outside the box: 84% of dyslexic people are above average in reasoning, understanding patterns, evaluating possibilities and making decisions, according to the charity Made by Dyslexia.
Neurodivergent people experience, interact with, and interpret the world in unique ways. That can sometimes create challenges. But it can also lead to creative problem-solving and new ideas — things that benefit everyone.
Building a society that is accessible for neurodiverse people is not only beneficial for everyone, but fair.