Valerie Rice | March 24,2021
Welcome back! I am so excited that you are still here with me on this journey of neurodiversity. As a subject near and dear to my heart, I am pleased that so many people are interested in the colorful spectrum of the human mind. Today I figured I would go in depth on how to invite your diverse human into your world. When I think of diversity, I picture a colorful kaleidoscope, and wonder how boring it would be if all the beads inside were the same. This is the reason I get super excited when people start becoming interested in neurodiversity inclusion.
The human brain has what we call neuroplasticity, or the ability to evolve according to life’s experiences. The divergent brain struggles with this. I mean, we can do it, it just takes longer and we go about it differently. The way we experience the world is different in many ways including intensity, sources of information, type of information, and the processing of it. It used to be standard for treatment to medicate and force the neurodiverse brain to comply with the rules and regulations of the typical world. This was done with ABA therapy for autism and stimulants for ADHD. Unfortunately, we are not designed to work this way. These treatments were traumatizing and damaging to the brain. It was like forcing your iphone to charge with a dollar tree knock off charger. It didn’t really work. I mean sure, you can get the desired behavior, but you cause irreparable damage to the system and it no longer operates properly. Oh dear, what do we do now? We follow the dopamine. Diversity literally means different, and different is not a bad word. In fact, difference is essential for survival. So let that child run free! Okay, within limits, I’m not talking about setting a feral beast loose on the town here. Am I going to use myself and my children as examples? Of course I am. I am also going to use the school setting because this is where things start to get sour really fast.
MOnce upon a time my parents thought I was a serial killer in the making. True story. Not only did I have zero friends or interest in friends, I also spent all my time memorizing books in the library. I was 6. I also tended to despise physical contact and would bring up topics of conversation such as politics and philosophy, neither of which my parents were ready to engage in with me, so they freaked out and had me tested. Turns out it was “just” autism, so they let it slide and nobody told me about it until this year (enter existential crisis) and I spent most of my life masking. I dropped out of high school at 15 because I despised teenagers, aced my GED and ACT so I could go to college, and then failed to adapt to the environment. It wasn’t until the introduction of online school that I was able to truly thrive thanks to the flexible learning pace and environment. Click here for information about the importance of early diagnosis.
My oldest: This child has ADHD and, like me, has a high IQ and very little patience when it comes to people. He was failing high school and the system wanted him to repeat 9th grade. So of course he freaked out, threatened a few teachers, and ended up in a psych hospital. I mean, wouldn’t you? The answer was not in medications and punishment, however, as the motivation for his undesirable behavior was not to cause harm. The answer was to listen to his concerns and adapt. I sent him to an alternative school that tested his knowledge and awarded him credit for what he already knew. He hates repetition. Instead of repeating 9th grade, he tested into 11th, and then was allowed to work at his own pace, which was ahead of his peers. To nobody’s surprise, his “behavior” problems vanished and his grades improved dramatically.
My second born: This one has ASD and could not read by third grade and, again, had numerous undesirable behaviors. I pulled him out of school and decided to “unschool” him. Luckily I was in an area that allowed me to do this. Unschooling is basically allowing your child to teach themselves through daily life. Once the pressure to perform was gone his anxiety dissipated. He became hyper focused on France; the language, the history, the culture, and especially the food. By giving him space to explore his interest he was able to learn how to read, write, perform math equations including fractions (because cooking), speak basic conversational French, learn the metric system, art appreciation, and western European history all on his own. Oh and did I mention giraffes? Because he loved those too and now knows every fact the encyclopedia has to offer. We also spent many afternoons at the zoo so he could feed and sketch them. By the time 4th grade rolled around he had not only caught up to his peers but surpassed them.
My Girls: These two have different diagnoses but similar adaptive needs. Both girls need small class sizes, individual processing time, a “no homework” requirement, and sensory intervention in order to function. These sensory interventions range from a place for a nap (yes, my 13 year old needs naps at school) to the teachers allowing them to chew gum in class. Yes, you can get away with that. There are also yoga balls instead of chairs, noise cancelling headphones, little fidget spinners, access to their phones at certain times, texture toys, and more.
OKAY, I’M DONE
I’m never really done, but I don’t want to burn out your brains. If there is a moral to this story, it is that the easiest way to help your child is to play to their strengths. In order to do this you need to identify and acknowledge their weaknesses and then adapt their environment so that they can overcome them. Not only will your child thrive, but it will strengthen the bond you have with them. The message children receive when you work with them instead of against them is one of care and support. They know that they can trust you and that you value them as a person, which is something that they are not going to get from society as a whole. So you and your human get together and create that world of inclusion where they can thrive. Until next time, be well!