The neurodiversity movement has been fostering greater awareness and inclusion for people with neurological disorders since the 1990s, and continues to do so. Thanks to this, our children are growing up in more accepting classrooms and schools than ever before.
While this gives me hope for more inclusive workplaces and communities, it is important that we teach our children about neurodiversity for this to be successful. Understanding this concept is just as important as teaching our children that people come in all different shapes, sizes and colours, yet all are worthy of love and opportunity in this world.
What is Neurodiversity?
Though a simple concept, neurodiversity is one of those terms that gets used a lot without much explanation. In its simplest definition, neurodiversity is the concept that brains and neurocognitive abilities (e.g. learning, mood, sociability) differ from one person to the next.
In other words, people with neurological disorders (the neurological minority) like autism, shouldn’t be viewed by society as “abnormal”, whilst those with neurotypical brains (neurological majority), are normal. Rather, these differences should simply be viewed as natural variations of the human brain.
This concept of neurodiversity was originally coined by the autism community in the 90s as a way to shift people’s belief away from the idea that autism was something that needed to be cured and more towards accepting and accommodating these people in society. As the neurodiversity movement gained more traction, it was later embraced by people with other neurological conditions such as ADHD, OCD, Dyslexia and Tourette’s Syndrome.
Teaching Children about Neurodiversity
Teaching neurodiversity begins with helping children understand their own strengths and needs. Once children are able to understand themselves, they realise everyone else also has their own constellation of abilities as well.
One common question I receive from parents is, “How do I tell my child about their diagnosis?” This task can often feel daunting because no one wants to tell their child that something is ‘different’ about them. You don’t want to hurt them and you especially don’t want them to feel ‘less than’.
It is important to take away the negative connotations around the word ‘different’ here. While ‘different’ might mean that something is harder for your child, it never means ‘less than’. Rather than use the word ‘diagnosis’, instead focus on abilities and various needs for support. Everyone has abilities and we all have our own needs, so let’s work to understand them and support one another.
Focus on Abilities
With neurodiversity comes a huge range of abilities unique to each child. If we only focus on the dis in disability, our children will only notice more barriers, more challenges and more frustration. And so will we. If we allow ourselves and our children to focus on the abilities, they will notice what they can do. It is important that you remind your kids that they probably aren’t going to be good at everything, but they can be really great at their thing.
How to know when they are ready
Like most things in child development, there is no magical age to talk to your children about neurodiversity. Each child is on their own path. And like other tough conversations, talking to your child about their abilities is not a one time conversation.
You can usually tell when a child is ready to talk about their learning style as they will start to question their abilities. It is best to start talking to your child at the first sign of frustration. Many kids, both neurodiverse and neurotypical, wrongly believe they are no good at everything when they are struggling with just one thing.
Allow them to Understand Physical Differences
It’s no surprise that children are literal thinkers, so allowing them to understand physical differences can be a helpful framework. You can do this by first explaining the different abilities your child can see, such as a classmate with diabetes who has an insulin pump or a friend who wears glasses.
Once they have a solid grasp on varying abilities, you can explain that there are also some differences they cannot see because they are inside our brain.
One way to show these differences in a positive light is to explain to your child that everyone has different skills they are good at, and that there is a huge range of skills people can have that make them worthy outside of academics or social skills. For example, reading, maths, sport, music, computers, emotions and so on.
Once they are clear on all of their skills, we can explain to them that some skills are smaller than others and we need extra help to learn in those areas – through behaviour support or various therapies.
Give Their Strengths and Needs a Name
While it is important for children to understand their strengths and needs, it is also important that they understand that some combinations of strengths and needs have a name. This will help them identify with other children or adults with a similar pattern of strengths and needs.
For children with autism, it can be helpful to explain that when you have a super skill, like memory or maths, along with a need for support with sensory sensitivities, this combo of skills is called the autism spectrum.
We’re Here to Help
Imagine this – disabilities are just a variety of different abilities, some just need extra support. Once we normalise that everyone has different abilities, children will become more open and curious about everyone’s style of learning, and neurodiversity will be celebrated.
Here at Spear and Arrow, we specialise in identifying your children’s needs and compassionately work to improve their smaller skills. If you would like to learn more about how we could help your child embrace their neurodiversity, get in touch today.