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  • Taja 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 better understood as differences in cognitive processing. For example, a child who is easily distracted and has difficulty focusing 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, if the teacher shifted to a neurodiversity perspective, she would begin to view these behaviors as particular skills that are more challenging for this particular student. Perhaps this teacher could offer ways to help, such as shortening her verbal instructions, providing multiple ways of expressing the instructions (written, verbal, picture instructions), and breaking up this student's assignments to help his overall focus.

As such, interventions using a neurodiversity affirming model focus on the overall acceptance of these differences. We certainly do not want to change our children - their differences are what make them so special, fun, and unique! We want to understand these differences as personal strengths. Similarly, using a neurodiversity affirming practice in evaluating children and adolescents requires a greater understanding of the neurological differences that naturally occur across the 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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