April starts with the small but significant name change in acknowledging the month of Autism Awareness, to Autism Acceptance Month. This change reflects the growing belief that autism is a natural difference in neurology.
Awareness has not proven effective at improving the lives of people with Autism spectrum disorder. In fact, Autism has often been misunderstood and stigmatised by those outside the spectrum.
Neurodivergent is an umbrella term that identifies anyone whose brain diverges from what is seen as “typical” or “normal”. Examples of some common diagnoses which identify as neurodivergent include autism spectrum disorder (ASD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyslexia and mental health conditions like bipolar, personality disorders and more.
Neurodiversity acknowledges the diversity of all minds. Neurodivergent people can be disabled by noise, light and other stimuli in the environment.
People’s expectations can be disabling too.
But it’s not up to neurodivergent people to change. Rather, environments and expectations need to change to better include and embrace neurodivergent people’s differences.
Practically speaking, how do we all do this? Here are four ways to be neuro affirming;
1. Ditch neurotypical expectations like forcing eye contact
Avoid placing neurotypical expectations on neurodivergent people and educating others not to do the same. A key example is forcing eye contact as this does not mean the neurodivergent person is not paying attention. Gaze aversion and keeping busy is a sensory processing tool, one necessary to managing sensory overwhelm.
When a neurodivergent person looks away, they are thinking and processing. For many neurodivergent people, listening means rocking, flapping or fidgeting to focus.
2. Allow the mask to come off
Accepting a neurodiverse persons need to stim (performing repetitive or ritualistic movements or sounds that help them to self-soothe or otherwise cope with their emotions) and allowing them to fidget and or move around without experiencing any judgement or shame.
Rather than perpetuating the idea that neurodiverse people need to mask or camouflage certain characteristics like stimming to avoid being stigmatised or ostracised, we can show understanding of some of their innate behaviours that help them function and remain comfortable in various situations.
This is especially pertinent in the workplace and school setting when ‘social norms’ underpin our interpretation of behaviours as respectful and cooperative, or not. Showing curiosity and being less judgemental in applying meaning to a neurodivergent person’s behaviour is essential.
3. Communicate as clearly and unambiguously as possible
As a general rule, you can’t go wrong with keeping your language free of irony and euphemisms. Neurodivergent people can have trouble perceiving and reading contextual clues, vocal tone and body language which often leads to misunderstanding.
If you add sarcasm to the mix, neurodivergent people can take things quite literally and miss the social script to laugh. Communicating clearly and directly is the best approach.
3. By being neuroaffirming you are also LQBTQIA+ affirming
Understanding the large prevalence of neurodivergent people who experience gender dysphoria and may identify as non-binary, gender fluid or trans. Researchers theorise that, as neurodivergent people can be less likely to adapt to social norms, they are more likely to question and explore their gender or sexual identities.
Neuroaffirmative values and respects the dignity and worth of every individual regardless of our cognitive differences. By doing this, we can help to reduce the pressure on neurodivergent people to conform to the “neurotypical” standards of behaviour and communication.
We can do this by starting with these small neuroaffirming acts that can help to create a more inclusive and compassionate society of diverse thinkers.
So what next?
Recovery Station is committed to promoting an inclusive and supportive workplace culture by training all clinicians on neuroaffirming practices.
Through our comprehensive training program, our clinicians learn how to accommodate diverse neurocognitive needs, communicate effectively and create a positive and respectful environment that embraces neurodiversity.
To talk to our team, you can reach out to Recovery Station on 1300 588 851.
Until next time,