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Neurodiversity Celebration Week

We have the privilege of working with many individuals who are neurodivergent, and we deeply value their unique perspectives, ideas, and visions. However, more often than not neurodivergent individuals are often misunderstood and face stigma that makes it difficult for them to thrive in society.

Neuro-affirming practice is a fundamental aspect of our approach at Wildflowers, centered on recognising the strengths inherent in neurodivergent individuals, rather than viewing them through a lens of deficits or abnormalities. Taking a strengths-based

approach to developmental differences like Autism and ADHD, allows us to simply view these as neurotypes that are a part of the human tapestry of life. Unfortunately within the medical model, which still makes up a large part of our society, it is traditionally assumed that because an individual has neurological differences they require “fixing” to become “normal”. Neuro-affirming practice, on the other hand, recognises the strengths, qualities, and challenges that come from being neurodivergent. By recognising there is nothing “wrong” or nothing to “fix” or “this person will grow out of it”, the focus then becomes on developing an understanding of each individual and empowering them to appreciate and value the unique way in which their brain works as well as acknowledge the insights, abilities, and talents that they have. 

It is important to note that there is significant variation in individuals who identify as neurodivergent, just like there is significant variation in those who identify as neurotypical. Therefore, neuro-affirming practice is about providing support that affirms one’s neurodivergent identity by implementing adaptations that assist them to thrive. Some key areas of neuro-affirming practice that cause one to reflect and re-frame from the typically assumed medical model include, but are not limited to language, communication, sensory needs and self-regulatory behaviours such as stimming. 

Language plays a pivotal role in reshaping societal attitudes toward neurodiversity. By shifting away from deficit-based language and using inclusive and empowering language, neuro-affirming practice seeks to validate differences and promote acceptance. Key considerations in reframing language include adopting identity-first language and avoiding deficit terminology. While we acknowledge the inherent challenge, particularly when terms like "disorder" that stem from a pathology paradigm are ingrained in diagnostic labels such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or Autism Spectrum Disorder, it's crucial to recognise that individuals are not defined by these diagnoses. By mindful communication, we can ensure that individuals and families are not stigmatised or perceived as flawed but are valued for their unique experiences and contributions.

For example, consider ADHD. Rather than focusing solely on the challenges associated with ADHD, neuro-affirming practice highlights the unique strengths and qualities it brings:

Talking too much >>>

Super passionate about ideas

Interrupting >>>

Excited to share ideas/ Enthusiastic

Hyperactive >>>

Energetic and Motivated

Obsessed >>>

Persistent and Determined

Hyper Focused >>>

Engrossed in work, dedication, full attention to passion

Risk Taking >>>

Creative Thinking

Inability to stay on task/ train of thought >>>

Divergent Thinking,ability to branch off into multiple ideas from one starting point (amazing for brainstorming and creativity)

Communication is another crucial aspect of neuro-affirming practice. We get that individuals who are neurodivergent may not communicate in neurotypical ways, and that's perfectly okay. Rather than imposing neurotypical standards and expectations, neuro-affirming practice strives to understand and respect unique communication styles. There are many different communication styles that exist and that can be utilised. For example, we may use visual aids for those who process information visually or use key word sign, gesturing, AAC or text to speech device for non-verbal individuals. Additionally, neuro-affirming practice also looks at reframing language around communication styles and seeing the positive aspects of neurodivergent communication styles. For example, while a neurotypical individual may perceive an individual with autism to be rude or blunt, neuro-affirming practice looks at how this can be reframed, for example, perceiving it as honest and informative.

Sensory needs are also an important consideration. Individuals who identify as neurodivergent may have various sensory needs, which can vary widely. This can include hypersensitivity (heightened sensitivity) or hyposensitivity (decreased sensitivity) to sensory stimuli such as sounds, lights, textures, tastes, and smells. Some neurodivergent individuals may engage in sensory-seeking behaviours, whilst others may engage in sensory-avoidant behaviours. Some may be more susceptible to sensory overload, where they become overwhelmed by sensory input in their environment. Neuro-affirming practice is about understanding these diverse sensory needs to create inclusive environments. For example, understanding the individual's unique sensory profile and developing strategies for coping with sensory overload, such as wearing headphones to the shops, encouraging and creating sensory-friendly environments that reduce stimulation like playing calming music and using soft lighting. This supports the well-being and participation of neurodivergent individuals in various settings like schools, workplaces, and community spaces.

Self-regulation strategies are a further area to be aware of, especially in the space of stimming. Stimming is a tool used by both neurodivergent and neurotypical individuals to regulate their bodies. Stimming behaviours can take various forms, including tapping, fidgeting, spinning, nail biting, lip biting, hair twirling, and more. For example, a student rocking on their chair at school may be seeking movement to self-regulate. In a neuro-affirming approach, rather than discouraging or removing the stimming behaviour, accommodations are made to ensure safety and comfort. Providing alternatives like wobble chairs or cushions can offer similar sensory input while minimising potential risks, such as falling off the chair. Instead of suppressing stimming behaviours, the goal is to understand their function and provide supportive strategies that honour the individual's unique self-regulation needs while fostering a safe and inclusive environment. 

In summary, neuro-affirming practice is about embracing the unique strengths of neurodivergent individuals, equipping them and their families with strategies to flourish in various settings and thrive on their own terms. We deeply value the first-hand experiences of individuals, and understanding how these insights can enrich our approach. Our commitment lies in truly seeing, hearing, and celebrating every individual who seeks support from us.  It’s about creating a world where everyone is valued, respected, and celebrated for who they are. After all, diversity is what makes our world vibrant and extraordinary.

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