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Neurodiversity: Let’s Talk About It!

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Hey, Destiny Huff here. I am late-diagnosed Autistic and ADHD and currently raising two neurodivergent children while navigating this military life. I wanted to talk to you about topics I’m passionate about – neurodiversity and neuroaffirming! If you are like me when you first heard neurodivergent, you were wondering what that means, so here is a quick breakdown with links to help you dive deeper.

Neurodiversity & Neurodivergence

Neurodiversity is the diversity of human minds, the infinite variation in neurocognitive functioning within humanity. This is a belief and an approach that we all think differently. Some of us think based on the typical societal norms, while others diverge from that thinking. That is where the term neurodivergence comes in. Neurodivergence or neurodivergent (ND) is when the individual’s mind diverges from societal standards and the “normal.” Individuals who are neurodivergent can be Autistic, dyslexic, epileptic, or multiple neurodivergent.

So, how do we support our neurodivergent learners in Special Education? We must learn about neuroaffirming practices and educate those who support them, too!

Neuroaffirming Practices

Neuroaffirming practices recognize that neurodivergent learners think differently, but that doesn’t make them any less capable or competent to thrive. We must provide support to meet them where they are.

Neuroaffirming Core Principles

There are nine core principles for neuroaffiming practices: 

  • Intersectionality
    • Recognizing the multiple social identities that neurodivergent military children have. For example:
      • Cultural identity
      • Racial identity
      • Gender
      • Disability
      • Nationality
  • Respecting Autonomy
    • Respecting the ability to control their own lives, reach their goals, and make choices to participate in the world around them in a way that works for them. 
  • Validating Differences
    • Acknowledging that neurodivergents have different perspectives, communication styles, sensory experiences, and cognitive processes.
  • Presuming Competence
    • Always presume competence and that they are self-aware, capable, and can make valuable contributions to society. In other words, don’t limit what they are capable of.
  • Reframing Expectations
    • Are we holding them to societal expectations and ignoring their disability?
    • Reframe expectations based on who they are and what they need.
  • Promoting Self-Advocacy
    • Allow neurodivergent learners to express their needs, preferences, rights, and what supports empower them.
    • Include them in the special education process.
  • Rejecting Neuronormativity
    • Challenge the standard, usual, typical, and expected. Being different is not bad. It’s just different. 
  • Prioritizing Lived Experience
    • Listen to neurodivergent children who are now neurodivergent adults and who can provide input on what worked for them or didn’t.
  • Nurturing Positive Self-Identity
    • Help neurodivergent learners recognize their strengths, talents, and what they can contribute to the world.
    • Find support to overcome the barriers and support and incorporate their special interests. 
  • Adapting Systems and Environments
    • Challenge structures, policies, and practices that don’t support your neurodivergent learner and don’t help them thrive and succeed. This is especially important in an educational setting that isn’t built to support them. 
  • Honor All Forms of Communication
    • Honor all forms of communication. This includes but is not limited to:
      • Gestures
      • Vocalizations
      • Traditional spoken word
      • Sign language
      • Writing
      • Augmentative & Alternative Communication (AAC)

Embracing Neurodiversity: Advocating for Neurodivergent Learners

Neurodiversity is the new buzzword. It can seem like a scary word to embrace, but it is acknowledging that we all have different ways of thinking and communicating and that those of us who are neurodivergent deserve to have a space to be ourselves without judgment or lack of safety. Learning about neuroaffirming practices truly helps you advocate for your neurodivergent learner in any setting, especially the educational setting where they often need the most support. Honor who they are, implement what they need, include them in the conversation about those supports, and they will thrive!

Destiny Huff

Destiny is the proud wife of an Army Armor Officer and the former military brat of a Retired CSM who served 27 years in the U.S. Army. She is a Licensed Professional Counselor, Certified Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavior Therapist, and Certified Supervisor who has worked with military service members and their families as a mental health professional.

Destiny received a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Georgia Southern University and a Master of Science in Clinical-Counseling Psychology from Valdosta State University. She is currently a Doctoral Candidate in the General Psychology Program at Walden University, where her research focus is on using bibliotherapy as a clinical strategy to address the unique challenges that military children face.   

In 2022, Destiny received a crash course in special education and IEPs when her oldest son was diagnosed with Autism. After advocating early on for her youngest son, who has a Speech Delay, she learned the importance of having to advocate in the school setting. Destiny became a Special Education Parent Advocate and Master IEP Coach to help other families advocate for their children and prevent them from going through what her family went through.

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