The Neurodiversity Umbrella

The Neurodiversity Umbrella

31 October 2022 • Words by Dana Carbonara 5 mins
“But they are different”

As a special educator and behavior therapist, I am often approached by parents asking for support regarding their child’s behavior. Sometimes parents worry that their child may be on the autism spectrum or have some other condition before getting their child evaluated by a developmental pediatrician. 

I can sense their anxiety—all the “what if’s…”—even before the questions are asked. Most of the time, the parents’ keen sense is correct. But what hurts most is how fearful parents are about their child being “so different.”

Being a mother of two little ones, I can understand how important it is for my children to grow up and be accepted by society—to live a life without limitations or glass ceilings. This is why it’s so important to be a part of the neurodivergent movement, helping to create a society welcoming equality and diversity. 

A little history on neurodiversity:

The concept of neurodiversity is more easily understood when the term is broken down into parts. Simply put, neuro- means relating to nerves or the nervous system, and diversity means what makes each of us unique. When combined . . . you get the idea! In essence, there are so many different ways of thinking, learning, and behaving. 

The term neurodiversity was coined in a paper presented by Australian sociologist Dr. Judy Singer in 1998. Her work as a neurodiversity pioneer has ignited the greater conversation around the idea that societal influence is one of if not the main obstacles for those who think differently. Neurodivergent people experience, interact with and interpret the world in unique ways. 

The neurodiversity movement:

There is a pressing need for increased reflection and articulation around how intervention practices align with a neurodiversity framework and greater emphasis on eliminating stigma and misinformation—in our homes, schools, and workplaces. 

The neurodiversity movement has been gaining momentum for the last two decades. The movement has brought about huge socio-political shifts within the world of autism theory, research, and practice. Because of this, it now includes representing people with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyspraxia, dyslexia, and other neurodivergent conditions. This movement is expanding and growing—encouraging educators, practitioners, and parents to actively engage with the views of autistic people, and with neurodiversity as a concept and movement.

Supporting neurodiversity and the whole spectrum:

All children—all humans, for that matter—want to be loved for who they are. A neurodivergent child may notice that their interests and ways of acting are different from the norm. How can we support the neurodivergent child? Acceptance is at the top of the list. We want to encourage the neurodivergent child to be more confident in their different ways of thinking, to love and accept themselves, and to become more independent and assertive in asking for what they need. We also need to indulge in their quirks, alongside expanding on their interests. Additionally, we need to seek support that is right for our child and family.

But there is more! We also need to understand their neurodivergent condition…the thing that makes them unique. For example, sensory sensitivity, also referred to as sensory processing disorder, is the inability to regulate sensory input. One very challenging area for people on the autism spectrum is sensory processing regulation—the way an individual takes in information, evaluates this data, and filters out what is not important. 

If you are a parent who feels your child may be on the spectrum, here are a few subtle signs of autism to be aware of: Your child is communicating, but not with you—instead, they talk at you; they seem to want to frustrate you; general instructions are ignored; they tend to focus more on items than on people, and changes are challenging. 

For additional information and support, meet some of the groundbreaking influencers who are actively conversing and starting movements about the autism spectrum:

Jennifer Cook, USA

This brilliant best-selling author is also responsible for the carefully curated portal belong which offers resources, master classes, videos, and a dedicated community area.

Rob Gorski, USA

Rob has run The Autism Dad since 2010. It started from a post he thought was private, and he received such a strong response that he dedicated himself to it full-time. He shares his experience navigating autism with his three boys.

Frank Campagna, New Zealand

Another Dad Influencer! Frank runs The Autism Daddy about his life experience raising his son, who is a nonverbal communicator.    

The neurodiversity umbrella: 

ADHD, autism, dyspraxia, and dyslexia are all neurodiverse conditions. ADHD is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders of childhood. A person with ADHD may have trouble paying attention and controlling impulsive behavior. If you or your child struggles with initiating tasks and maintaining focus and motivation to persevere in completing tasks daily, the following strategies could help you support your child and/or yourself in transforming the relationship with ADHD.

Dyslexia and dysgraphia

Both of these are unique conditions that fall under the neurodivergent umbrella. Dyslexia is a learning disorder that involves difficulty reading due to problems identifying speech sounds and learning how they relate to letters and words. It’s a result of individual differences in areas of the brain that process language. Dysgraphia, also known as written expression disorder, impacts the understanding and deciphering of which letterforms to use when writing, as well as comprehension of words and/or the sounds they correspond to. 

Neurodivergent conditions such as dyslexia and dysgraphia can make learning in the classroom setting a challenge. To support the neurodivergent child, it is important to understand what accommodations could be beneficial for them. Individualized classroom supports that have proven to be very effective in helping kids manage these difficulties are speech-to-text tools, extra time on written assignments, and teacher or peer scribes. 

Most importantly, by being a child’s advocate, adults can help ensure that all children with language skills challenges have a richer experience of learning.

The first step toward change is awareness. The second step is acceptance.

Nathaniel Branden

Knowing how to support the neurodivergent person is crucial to the well-being of the individual, but also for the success of the neurodivergent movement. It is undeniable that we are all connected; as humans, we are social creatures meant to interact and be in relationships. Through this continued engagement and being in the conversation of neurodiversity, we will foster acceptance and create change so that people with autism and other neurodivergent conditions can thrive in a world that is not always the easiest place to be. The perspective shift known as “autism acceptance” means from simple awareness to real change. Negative stereotypes can and will shift and morph into celebrations of our own unique identities. 

The neurodiversity movement requires us to rethink homes, schools, and workplaces. The movement increases our awareness of how we talk about autism and other neurodivergent conditions. The power of awareness improves the well-being of us all.

Dana Carbonara