Throughout most of human history, children with learning differences were simply labeled unintelligent or slow.
They were not given the tools they needed to succeed and typically struggled in a traditional academic setting.
Overall, these children were not given many opportunities to succeed and had to overcome enormous obstacles.
The good news is that we’re always learning more about the human brain and how it works. We now know that autism, dyslexia, and other neurological diagnoses can empower us to tailor a child’s education to meet their specific needs.
It’s crucial for anyone who works with children to not only understand neurodiversity but to celebrate the differences in children which create a stronger world.
What is Neurodiversity?
Neurodiversity is a term that was coined by Autistic sociologist Judy Singer in the 1990s.
Singer objected to the idea that people who thought differently from the neurological “normal” (also known as neurotypical) were disabled and created the term to remove negative connotations.
We now know that children who are neurodivergent think and process information differently from their peers.
Learning Differences Don’t Automatically Mean Disability
While autism, dyslexia, and other neurological or learning differences can cause problems in the classroom, it’s important to realize that neurodivergent children should not automatically be considered disabled.
They may think differently from their peers, but this does not mean that they are unintelligent or unable to learn.
It just means that they might have different skills and interests and require different teaching methods.
With that said, it’s important to recognize both differences and disabilities to ensure that children get all the tools and help they need to succeed.
Getting proper diagnoses and as much information as possible will help to provide children with resources and extra help when appropriate.
However, it’s also important not to underestimate these children or to consider them limited.
Can Neurodiversity Improve Education and Health Gaps?
Neurodiversity has always existed within the human population.
What’s different now is that we’re beginning to learn more about it and to understand the adaptations that are necessary to help people who think differently succeed.
This difference could end up being key for children and their families. We know that severe health disparities exist in the United States, targeting groups that are already vulnerable.
Children who are neurodivergent are at risk of not receiving an equivalent education as their neurotypical peers, and these thinking differences can affect the quality of healthcare they receive as well.
In thinking about neurodiversity in a new way, we could open the door for better understanding within our culture.
By shifting the narrative about neurodivergent children and adults, it might be possible to reduce these disparities in the coming decades.
How Teachers Can Use Neurodiversity to Improve Classroom Behavior
Many children who are neurodivergent are known as “disruptive” in the classroom. They might have behavior problems or have trouble grasping the material as it is taught.
Teachers need to think differently about children with learning differences to improve classroom behavior and to ensure that all students have the opportunity to learn.
Educators who take the time to learn about neurodiversity can apply what they’ve learned in the classroom and understand why kids lash out.
Are they frustrated or overwhelmed by the material? Is it time to consider a different approach to teaching the curriculum?
Understanding the reasons behind the behavior is key to reducing disruptions and ensuring that kids feel safe and happy at school.
Key Takeaway: Value and Encourage Differences in Children
The most important thing to understand about neurodiversity is that these thinking and learning differences are something to value and celebrate.
Our world benefits from different perspectives and it’s important for parents and educators to help all children unlock their passions and unique abilities.
Nurturing neurodivergent children, rather than pathologizing them, is key for allowing them to share their gifts with the world.
Shared classrooms are key for encouraging healthy social behavior and academic success. Whenever possible, neurodivergent children should be kept out of special needs classrooms, while being given every opportunity to succeed.
We cannot expect attitudes about neurodiversity to improve if children don’t learn to celebrate differences from a young age.
Every child has something to offer to the world. It’s time we stop thinking about neurodiversity as something negative and choose to celebrate it instead.