What is Neurodiversity Affirming Practice

What is Neurodiversity Affirming Practice?

What is Neurodiversity Affirming Practice?

The term neurodiversity is gaining popularity. So, it started in the 90s but it’s gaining traction in recent years. In other words, it is the diversity of human minds. Neurodiversity-affirming practice simply means validating and accepting the experiences of neurodivergent people. Further, accepting people’s ways of thinking, processing, feeling, and perceiving information. So, accepting people’s differences and not considering them as deficits is what neurodiversity stands for. Hence, today we answer questions on what is neurodiversity affirming practice.

What is neurodiversity?

Neurodiversity refers to the unique neurological variations within the human mind (Walker, 2014). The term neurodiversity was introduced by Autistic sociologist Judy Singer in the 1990s to advocate for Autistic people. Neurodiversity embraces neurological differences in people and accepts this as a difference. Further, it advocates this neurological divergence should be accepted in society. Furthermore, it is a human biological trait and does not need fixing.

“There is no standard brain” – Thomas Armstrong

What is neurodiversity affirming?

Being a part of the neurodiversity-affirming movement means accepting deficits as biological differences and not as deficits. In other words, we believe if a child or an adult faces challenges in their day-to-day life, the environment needs fixing not the individual. So, we focus on helping the person understand their differences. Then, work on modifying the societal barriers instead of fixing this person/ child.

“Every person is equally worthy and valued”

Who is a neurodiverse person?

Neurodiversity refers to two groups of people.

Neurotypical people: these people think, feel, behave and experience things to an expected standard for their age and gender.

Neurodiverse people: These people think, feel, process, and behave outside the typical range of their peers.

An individual or a child is neurodivergent if they identify themselves or are diagnosed as the following:
  • Autistic
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
  • Dyslexia
  • Anxiety Disorder
  • Depression
  • Tourette’s Syndrome
  • Dyslexia
  • Dysgraphia
  • Personality Disorders
  • Sensory Processing Disorders
  • Obsessive Compulsive disorders
  • Alexithymia
  • Other neurological conditions

 What is Neurodiversity Affirming Practice in Therapy?

“When a flower doesn’t bloom, you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower.” – Alexander Den Heijer

Practicing neurodiversity-affirming therapy is where the therapist accepts and values the neurodivergent person or child. Overall, the professional does not view the neurodivergent child through the lens of delays, deficits, and impairments. In other words, the therapist focuses on accepting and supporting their needs. The clinician believes in strengths and a rights-based approach to therapy rather than fixing the skills.

When a person is neurodivergent or Autistic they do not need therapy to fix them. Hence, therapy services support and optimize their functioning at home, school, and in the community. The professional works on a strength-based approach and focuses on supporting their development. Further, the focus is on aiding the child to become the best versions of themselves.

What is a neurodiversity-affirming type of therapy?

These are some common affirming therapies.

  • Play Therapy
  • Speech Language Therapy
  • Occupational Therapy
  • Music Therapy
Play Therapy

Neurodiversity affirms play therapy values and affirms the identity of the child. Play is the natural language of every child. Hence, this type of play therapy focuses on making learning enjoyable and engaging. One type of play therapy that is neurodiversity-affirming is AutPlay Therapy. This therapy integrates counseling theory, models of play therapy, and a relationship development approach. Further, it supports and addresses the mental health struggles of neurodiverse people.

AutPlay Therapy values and highlights the child’s strengths. Parents serve as partners and co-change agents in the process. This therapy uses play to support emotional regulation needs, social needs, sensory challenges, and many more needs of the person. A certified AutPlay Therapist provides this service for neurodiverse children.

Speech Language Therapy

Moving on the speech-language therapy, many clinicians engage in neurodiversity-affirming therapy these days. So, a neurodiversity-affirming therapist will view neurodivergent children/ people as neurotypes with unique strengths and needs. Hence, these therapists view an autistic person as neurodivergent and not as a person that needs fixing. This speech therapy will focus on the strengths and needs of your child. The therapist will take the child’s lead and not enforce goals to fix the child.

A neurodiverse affirming speech therapist will:
  • Not engage in ABA and ableist behavioral approaches or goals
  • Will not engage in goals to fix the autistic child/ person
  • Not train the autistic person to adapt to neurotypical social skills
  • The therapist accepts and validates the autistic child
  • Advocates to support the needs of neurodiverse people
  • Clinician conducts respectful and empathetic therapy
  • Targets self-advocacy and child lead activities
  • Conducts and writes neurodiversity affirming goals and activities
Occupational Therapy

OT practitioners have a holistic perspective. Overall, they focus on adapting the environment to fit the person and the person is an integral part of the therapy team (The American Occupational Therapy Association, 2021). A neurodiverse-affirming OT will focus on strategies, tools, and accommodations for autistic people. Further, cultural humility and power shift towards the client. Here are some ways this type of OT can support your child:

  • Goals are child-oriented
  • Therapists accommodated the social and environmental needs of the child
  • Does not work on social skills or neurotypical skills
  • Works on a strength-based approach
  • Supports the child’s emotional needs
Music Therapy

The American Music Therapy Association constantly is working on access to music therapy. Further, music therapy is an evidence-based approach. In other words, it helps to address social and communication challenges. This type of therapy supports a person’s cognitive, social and emotional needs as a neurodivergent person. Furthermore, through music, a person’s abilities are strengthened and transferred to other areas of life. Research in music therapy affirms that it can bring positive progress in a person’s life.

What neurodiversity affirming therapy looks like?

The values of this type of approach are based on acceptance, empathy, advocacy, and empowerment of the child/ person.

  • Life experiences of neurodivergent people are valued
  • Barrier-free access to resources
  • Competence is presumed for every child
  • The needs of the child/ person are accepted and accommodated
  • Respect for communication differences
  • Goals are based on the child’s interest
  • Therapy revolves around the child’s interest
  • The focus is on respecting the child’s abilities

How to find a neurodiversity-affirming therapist?

Caregivers should review individuals or professionals for affirming practices. You can ask your therapist these questions:

  • What is your view on neurodiversity?
  • Do you use neurodiversity-affirming practices?
  • How do you do so?
  • Share some examples from your practice.
1SpecialPlace’s stand on neurodiversity

We at 1SpecialPlace are neurodiversity-affirming. We believe in therapy that improves the person’s participation in everyday life. 1SpecialPlace believes that children are unique and their strengths should be valued. Our therapists are trained to be neurodiversity-affirming. They set therapeutic plans that support a child’s needs. Our approach to intervention is strength-based and respectful of the child’s needs.

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Ayesha Anjum
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