Neurodiversity is not a new term. It has been around since the 1990s, and was used to differentiate students with autism from students with disabilities (e.g. ADHD). According to Disabled World, neurodiversity is an approach to learning and disability that suggests diverse neurological conditions appear as a result of normal variations in the human genome. Today, this term is being applied to students with a range of learning disabilities and social disorders. There is a movement to replace “disabilities” with diversity, to do away with stigma attached to “disabilities” as well as to recognize the different (diverse) ways children learn.
Neurodiversity and diversity in the classroom are synonymous. They are part of the inclusion education trend. Inclusion education is when students with and without learning or social disabilities learn together in the same classroom. Studies have shown that inclusion helps neurodiverse children learn social skills and develop friendships with classmates. Some teachers become overwhelmed at the thought have having neurodiverse students in their classroom. They immediately claim they are not special education teachers.Yet, when the focus on the deficits is changed to strengths, teachers find they are better able to teach their neurodiverse students.
A Neurodiversity-Oriented Approach to Learning
Some ways teachers can help their neurodiverse students use their strengths and other tools to learn include:
- Workarounds — Finding ways for students to complete assignments. For example, if a student is unable to give a speech in front of the class due to a social or emotional disorder, he or she can use their smartphone to record the speech and play it in class. Or, if a student is physically handicapped, he or she can still go on field trips with the use of virtual reality software.
- Teach Students about their Neurodiversity — Educators can teach their neurodiverse students about the brain, including how the brain works, how their brains work, how the environment shapes brain structure and more. Using examples also helps students to visualize how the brain works. For example, comparing the brain to an ecosystem (e.g. rain forest) shows students how different plants create a habitat and how each animal plays a part in the ecosystem.
For support, teachers can have a special education aide in the classroom or a neurodiversity coordinator. A neurodiversity coordinator is a person who has specialized training in neurodiversity. The coordinator advises teachers (regular and special education) on strength-based instructional strategies as well as provides professional development to a school district’s faculty. Neurodiversity is not only changing the landscape of special education, but also the classroom.