Celebrating Neurodiversity/Neurodivergence

Celebrating Neurodiversity/Neurodivergence

Please read each links if you have a neurodivergent kid.

It was World Autism Awareness Day on Tuesday, so I thought it was time we put a spotlight on neurodiversity/divergence in this newsletter.

Neurodiversity or Neurodivergence are often used interchangeably to represent people who function differently than neurotypical people in society. Neurotypical people are those who behave in ways that are acceptable and already provided for within the society. No two people are the same. No two siblings operate the same way. And we all agree that the differences in family dynamics, in culture, upbringing and way of reasoning enrich a society. It takes nothing away from it. Rather, it brings perspectives that make our society, countries and the world beautiful. Like a Rainbow in the sky.

This is the way to think about neurodivergent kids/people. They are not in any way in deficit or lacking in intelligence or any other thing. Instead, they have different sets of uniqueness beyond what neurotypicals have been equipped to understand or even notice.

Often,people with Autism, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Dyslexia are the ones categorised as neurodivergent. However, because neurodiversity is not in itself a medical diagnosis, it can be used to categorise others who do not fall within the scope of neurotypicals.

Growing up, I saw first hand how neurodivergent people were treated badly, shunned, disrespected and disregarded. What’s worse is that such treatments were not only meted on them by strangers, but also by their own family members; parents who had no clue how to understand their children and who were ashamed because of what others would say. In my part of Africa, neurodivergence is still not given as much acceptance and celebration as should be the case.

If this would change, it would need to start from home. Parents who already have a feeling that their kid might be neurodiverse should probably take thisM-CHART-R that has been provided by Autism Speaks to screen the child. They would need to see a specialist to diagnose the child properly. This is because new parents in recent times are quick to suspect that their children are on a spectrum because they observe their kid do something that had been considered a symptom of a neurodiverse person. If you want to be sure, see a specialist and clear all forms of doubt.

Now, after diagnosis comes acceptance. I understand that it can be difficult to still accept the reality of a diagnosis. Especially when it is not a disease that can be cured, but a change in familiar lifestyle that would need to be managed and adapted to for life. It also becomes even more painful for parents to accept, because of how much hurdle the child would have to wade through in a world that serves mainly neurotypical people. That actually is very painful. But your acceptance helps.

Embracing this beautiful difference, a gift from God to your home shifts your perspective to see how to make life easier for your child. So that you are focused on creating a beautiful life for that kid to maximise their potential instead of fixating on what does not exist in the world. This is where normalcy starts.

Then you can get the necessary training you need in order to fully maximise your child’s potential. Whatever resources you need to read, whatever community you would need to join and everything else that you deem necessary. This is an uncharted territory for you. You need the knowledge to do it well.

Create acomfortable environment for your kid. No two kids are the same. It means that what works for a neurotypical kid might not work for his/her neurodivergent sibling. Please pay attention to that. A child with autism might have some sensitivity to light, prefer a more familiar environment rather than going out or even be fixated on one particular thing for an extended period of time. Reserve some patience and understanding for such kids. Understand that they are acting from their strengths. This means not forcing them to change or behave “like normal kids”. Make available whatever the child needs at home to thrive in comfort and be fully who they are to function in the society.

Let the teachers in school be aware of your child’s diagnosis. A child with ADHD might need more time to comprehend what the teacher is teaching or even thrive more with creative subjects.Work with the teachers to create a fun learning environment for the child in school. And if you are not comfortable with the way your child is being treated, change his/her school to a place that is more welcoming and suited for that child.

Advocate for your kid always. As humans, we are filled with so many biases that even the most welcoming and elite of us still  project unconscious bias from time to time. Ensure to create awareness for your child’s diagnosis. Let family members, friends and community be aware. Not so that they could pity the child, but so that they are more welcoming and are intentional about creating the space for such a child to thrive.

Then start toprepare your neurotypical kids for a neurodivergent world. If they do not have a neurodivergent sibling, chances are they will encounter a neurodivergent person eventually in their life. Begin to prepare your kid for the normalcy of that. Make them watch movies and shows that celebrate neurodivergence ( e.g Big Bang Theory, Like Stars on Earth). So that they do not contribute to the ignorance that is currently prevalent. And so that they are prepared toform meaningful relationships and interactions with their neurodivergent colleagues as they go through life.

The world would be so boring if there were only people who see, behave, and interact like you. Don’t you agree?