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  • Writer's pictureTaja Estrada, Ph.D.

What is "Neurodiversity"?

You've likely seen this word across my site and perhaps you've wondered, "Neurodiversity? It sounds nice, but what does it actually mean?" The essential idea of neurodiversity is that everyday cognitive processes - such as attention, social skills, executive functioning, sensory processing, learning abilities, and overall mood - exist across a multitude of presentations (including autism and ADHD) and all of these presentations are natural variations in human neurology. Instead of pathologizing these differences as being wrong or bad, they are instead more appropriately understood as differences in cognitive processing.

For example, a child who is easily distracted and has difficulty focusing on non-preferred activities may begin to chat with his friends while his teacher is giving instructions for an assignment. While his teacher might at first view these behaviors as purposely disruptive, when she starts to use a neurodiversity-affirming lens she will begin to understand that these behaviors are a result of differences in how this particular student regulates his attention. Specifically, this child may have a lower ability to attend to non-preferred activities, but has a greater ability to attend to things that he is interested in. Perhaps this teacher could offer ways to help during boring classroom instructions, such as shortening her instructions, providing multiple ways of expressing the directions (written, verbal, picture instructions), or breaking up this student's assignments to help his overall focus.

Interventions using a neurodiversity-affirming model focus on the overall acceptance of these differences. We certainly don't want to change our kids - their differences are what make them so special, fun, and unique! Using a neurodiversity-affirming lens in evaluating kids, teens, and adults requires a greater understanding of the neurological differences that naturally occur across human existence. Unfortunately, the medical model requires pathologizing terms such as "disorder" and "disability" to be included throughout the evaluation process in order to be submitted for reimbursement through insurance companies. However, with advocacy and acceptance, this "ableist" perspective will be able to shift to a greater understanding of neurodiversity.

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