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Autism Practices Embracing the Neurodiversity Paradigm

Updated: Jun 4, 2021



When a child is identified as autistic, early intervention therapies start. Based on the medical-model of disability, the 'therapies' consider autistic children as 'disordered' and their purpose is to change autistic children in a way that can be more like their 'typical developing' peers. The medical oriented approaches are focused on the children's 'deficits' and perceive children as being different from normal.


As opposed to the medical oriented approaches, the Neurodiversity paradigm views autism and other neurominorities of neurodivergent people as a natural and valuable part of human diversity. All brains are valued and there is not an 'ideal' neurocognitive funtioning. 'Neurodiversity may be every bit as crucial for the human race as biodiversity is for life in general' (Harvey Blume, The Atlantic, 1998). Therefore, the is not a correct way for children to interact/play/communicate/move. All brains are unique and valued. Autism 'interventions' and practices look very different when educators, families, caregivers, teaching assistants and health professionals embrace the Neurodiversity paradigm. Autistic children are not the target of the 'intervention', but their physical as well as social environments. In this way, children can develop as unique human beings without having the style of neurocognitive functioning that fits with the dominant societal standards of 'normal'.

  1. Refuse 'normalising therapies' and model self advocacy early Say NO to intensive normalising therapies and inappropriate school settings. In general, say no to everything that triggers stress and harm.

  2. Respect special interests Special interests need to be respected as the're are part of children's development and help them to learn. It has been supported that one in ten people on the autism spectrum presents several talents (Treffert, 2010). In an early study of Rimland (1978), from 5400 participants with autism, 531 had special skills while around 53 of them had savant abilities (cited in Treffert, 2010). In reality, the circumscribed interests contribute to the social domain as well to the enhancement of language skills (Treffert, 2010). Mancil and Pearl (2008) outline the integration of interests in the curriculum as motivators and the expansion of them in broader areas. It is vital to raise awareness regarding the differences and the advanced abilities of autistic individuals (Plaisted-Grant and Davis, 2010) as well as to help them to improve these skills (Grandin, 2009). So, learn about their interests and join in!

  3. Understand and support sensory needs Autistic children may have sensory differences related to the visual stimuli, sounds, smells, taste and touch. The same child may be hypersensitive and/or hyposensitive and actively need sensory stimuli (e.g. excessive touching of objects or smelling, adverse response to particular sounds/textures, indifference to temperature/pain etc.) For example, as regards auditory input, Research Institute (2014) demonstrates that loud sounds can lead to distraction as well as to sensory overload (cited in Ghazali et al., 2018) which might affect other children’s domains (Kirby et al., 2015). In a study about the sensory experiences of autistic children, the feeling of pain due to increased noises was the most frequent answer (Kirby et al., 2015). However, the quiet and structured environments are advantageous for autistic children in contrast to noisy settings that are related to difficulties (Keane, 2004 cited in Costley et al., 2012). Educators and parents can create a sensory friendly area which helps students to calm down at times of stress from sensory overload. Therefore, depending on the children's needs, you can meet their needs creatively as well as defend and protect children from sensory assaults.

  4. Accept and respect stimming Stimming (self-stimulatory behaviour that is marked by a repetitive action or movement of the body) is like breathing for autistic individuals. Autistic children and adults may stim when they are stressed/anxious/happy and for many different reasons. Accept their need to stim, unless they are hurting themselves/others. Keep stimming!

  5. Support communication Respect and support all forms of communication. Communication is not only verbal speech, it is much more! And many autistic individuals are non-verbal. Support children to have access to communication supports such as symbol-based AAC, typing, sign language in order to develop their communication and interaction skills with family, friends and others.

  6. Give time and space According to my experience and of course to research, autistic children have their own pace like any other individual. Give children time and space to think, socialise and complete activities.

  7. Build pride and understanding of human rights Children need to learn from an early age about their human rights and discover what being autistic means for them. It is critical to teach children about their differences and that the idea that there is one 'normal' type of brain, is no more valid, is a culturally constructed fiction and no more conductive to a healthy society.

  8. Reinforce supports and use therapies when needed Help autistic children by using autism-friendly practices such as communication supports, visual supports and adjust the environment according to their sensory and general needs. Respect and explore their cognitive, communication, sensory and social differences in order to enable their inclusion in the community and in school. Use interventions only when needed, for well-being/health/psychological reasons.

  9. Learn from autistic people Discover autistic culture, Neurodiversity paradigm and inclusive practices. Learn from autistic individuals as they are the only experts on autism!

  10. Explore and embrace Neurodiversity

References

Blume, H. (1998). Neurodiversity: On the neurological underpinnings of geekdom. The Atlantic, 30.


Costley, D., Keane, E., Clark, T. and Lane, K. (2012) A Practical Guide for Teachers of Students with an Autism Spectrum Disorder in Secondary Education. Jessica Kingsley Publishers


Ghazali, R., Sakip, S. R. M. and Samsuddin, I. (2018) A Review of Sensory Design Physical Learning Environment for Autism Centre in Malaysia. Environment-Behaviour Proceedings Journal 3(7): pp. 145-151Ghazali, R., Sakip, S. R. M. and Samsuddin, I. (2018) A Review of Sensory Design Physical Learning Environment for Autism Centre in Malaysia. Environment-Behaviour Proceedings Journal 3(7): pp. 145-151


Grandin, T. (2009) How does visual thinking work in the mind of a person with autism? A personal account. Philosophical Transactions of The Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 364(1522): pp. 1437-1442

Kirby, A. V., Dickie, V. A. and Baranek, G. T. (2015) Sensory experiences of children with autism spectrum disorder: In their own words. Autism 19(3): pp. 316-326


Plaisted-Grant, K. and Davis, G. (2010) ‘Perception and apperception in autism: rejecting the inverse assumption’ in Happé, F. and Frith, U. (Ed.) Autism and Talent. New York: Oxford: Oxford University Press

Treffert, D. A. (2010) ‘The savant syndrome: an extraordinary condition. A synopsis: past, present, future’ in Happé, F. and Frith, U. (Ed.) Autism and Talent. New York: Oxford: Oxford University Press




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