What is the Neurodiversity Paradigm?

    Considerations for providing meaningful, compassionate, and connection-driven therapy to neurodivergent children.

    by Angela DiBernardo, M.A., CCC-SLP 

    You may be asking, what is neurodiversity?

    Neurodiversity is recognizing the expectation that there will be variations within the human population, including brain differences. One way an individual may be neurodivergent is with a diagnosis of Autism; another is ADHD, dyslexia, or dyspraxia. Considering that brain differences are expected within the human population, is it “normal” to be neurotypical? I think it is important to reflect on whether or not we are setting up this world to accept this expectation of neurodiversity.

    So, what is the Neurodiversity Paradigm? 

    The Neurodiversity Paradigm is a shift of thinking. It is a change awakening within the “helping people” fields that is critical in nurturing meaningful relationships with the clients we serve. It all began with the rise of the internet and the ability now for neurodivergent individuals to advocate for themselves and find like-minded individuals to relate their experiences with. Let’s face it, the basis of happiness lies within our relationships. Our happiness is reflected in our relationships with colleagues, friends, family, and ourselves. People need other people, and I imagine it must be lonely constantly being taught ways to mask, be more “normal,” or behave “appropriately.” 

    In terms of sensory differences, everyone experiences some degree of sensitivities, and our sensitivities differ. Neurodivergent individuals may experience various sensory stimuli in a heightened or under-responsive manner, and instead of being validated and encouraged to advocate for what they need at that moment, therapeutic professionals were instructed to create goals and objectives for their clients to behave “typically” or “appropriately.” 

    How can we better support neurodivergent individuals? 

    Well, we must first listen to neurodivergent voices. Neurodivergent individuals are the only experts on what it feels like to be neurodivergent. Allowing someone to speak their truth is the only way to develop trust, create a meaningful relationship, and support positive growth. 

    Next, we must consider how sensory differences affect the body’s ability to either be ready to take in new information and learn by reaching an optimal level of arousal or be overwhelmed and feel the need to freeze, fight, or flee. Validating someone’s sensory experience allows them to feel understood. Teaching young learners what their sensory differences are and to later advocate for support for these differences is critical in them becoming independent individuals. 

    Finally, introduce your neurodivergent young learners to other people like them. Neurotypical people do not understand the idiosyncrasies of being Autistic or an ADHDer, for example, and it feels validating to be understood. To take snippets from the wonderful book, Sincerely, Your Autistic Child – What People on the Autism Spectrum Wish Their Parents Knew About Growing Up, Acceptance, and Identity, “presume competence,” “seek to understand,” and “acceptance of yourself is crucial.”



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