For Autistic, ADHD, 2e and Gifted and other Neurodivergent Children.
Most parents want to ensure their child is receiving the best education possible. For those with a neurodivergent child, it can be even more challenging to find a teacher who understands their unique needs and can provide a learning environment that is supportive, safe, and affirming. A checklist can therefore be a handy tool for finding a neurodivergent affirming teacher.
What is Neurodivergence?
Development and learning occurs when children process information and their experiences using their nervous system. Neurodivergence refers to children (and adults) whose ways of processing and experiencing the world in ways that are not ‘typical’. This includes – but is not limited to – individuals with profiles, identities, conditions, and diagnoses such as Autism and ADHD, as well as giftedness, twice-exceptionalism, trauma, intellectual disability, and some types of mental health difficulties.
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Neurodivergence therefore refers to a very wide range of profiles, which are not all the same. Despite this diversity, most neurodivergent children share a high degree of vulnerability in many community settings, including school. Some educators often view the learning, play, and social skills of neurodivergent children as inferior. These children are at higher risk of neglectful or abusive educational practices, bullying and other types of traumatic experiences. Neurodivergent children are also under increased pressure to conform, and hide (or mask) their neurodivergence. This can include things like having to supress sensory pain or discomfort that typical neurotypes don’t experience, or to adjust their learning interests to ‘fit in’ with others.
What is a Neurodivergent Affirming Teacher?
A neurodivergent affirming (or ‘neuroaffirming’) teacher is one who reduces the vulnerability of neurodivergent children. Rather than the harmful practice of teaching children how to be more ‘typical’, the neuroaffirming teacher upholds the dignity of neurodivergent identities. They validate the different ways that diverse children experience safety, belonging and interest in the learning environment. Neuroaffirming teachers ensure all children are welcome to express themselves and learn authentically, and do not treat any particular neurotype as being superior or preferable.
How to Find a Neurodivergent Affirming Teacher – A Checklist
Parents can face several challenges in finding a neuroaffirming teacher, school or educational program. In particular, most educators would likely say they have a general commitment to inclusion. However, when a child enters some classrooms, it is apparent that ‘inclusion’ is conditional on a neurodivergent child behaving and communicating in more neurotypical ways.
Nevertheless, there are several ways that parents can more easily identify neuroaffirming teachers and programs prior to enrolment. The language of class descriptions, curriculum outlines, and websites can reveal much about neuroaffirming practices. Parents can also ask for this information directly from potential educators.
This checklist for finding a neurodivergent affirming teacher, outlines some of the important things that are visible in neuroaffirming educational environments. These include particular ways of approaching goal-setting and curriculum and children’s comfort and sensory needs. In a neuroaffirming classroom, teachers also approach tricky situations in particular ways. By using this checklist, and adding their own criteria as well, parents can feel more confident in their search for an education their child deserves.