The value of Neurodivergent led Teaching. Freedom to be ourselves. Lets evolve!!
I am so in love with my son. He is the best of us.
He is so beautifully and wonderfully autistic and I dont want to change a single thing about him.
As I said on my home page, I maybe his parent but he is my "Teacher."
However, Joe and I, are not on this neurodivergent journey on our own, although it has felt like that for a long time, there are others who will join us if only for a short while.
Due to the way services/settings are designed, Joe and I have worked with many Teacher's, proffessionals, organisations, services through the years.
In this blog we want to explore how the past, present and future professionals will influence how Joe views hiself in terms of approach/mindset and the lasting influence this has. looking at how this shapes him as an autistic person.
The freedom to be ourselves cannot be underestimated.
There are many ways a person can be a Teacher not just within an educational sense.
We are going to share the difference between being and not being enabled to be autistic/neurodivergent. Looking at the difference this makes to Mental health and what we are actually Teaching every time my child dares to leave the house.
However, the buck stops with me.
For as many people that come and go in our lives, ultimately Joe knows that I am not going anywhere for now. The day will come when that will change. This of course is something I cannot control and he will be without me and in the hands of services.
This is why, preparation for this time needs to happen yesterday.
Joe does not like me to talk about this and doesnt like to think of me getting old for obvious reasons. So any talk about preparation for adulthood or independence is swiftly cut short and is understandably triggering for him. (Sorry Joe)
links to the obligations through an Educational and health care plan(EHCP) and preparation adulthood from year 9 onwards can be found here.
Annual reviews in Year 9 and beyond | (IPSEA) Independent Provider of Special Education Advice
Why am I always banging on about identity, equality, validation, empowerment and freedom?
We are conditioned very early on in children's development to behaving in the same way and if we dont tick most of the criteria for how a neuronormative person should behave then there maybe a focus on changing the "behaviour "as apposed to understanding the neurodivergent identify and neurodivergent culture.
Lets talk Schools.
Schools are massively under funded first of all. Some have neither the staff or the neurodivergent led training to develop and embed a total re think and shift from the pathologizing model to the neurodiversity model.
Teachers may have to follow the ethos of the senior leadership team who may feel they should be following neuronormative targets due to not being advised differently.
Neuronormative conversations may sound like this.
-"I cant understand why Bobby doesnt want to socialise, we must find a way around this otherwise their going to spend the rest of their lives not knowing how to socialise!"
-"I just cant get Bobby to sit still, their forever fidgeting and its distracting the other children"
-"Bobby just refuses to give me eye contact. People will think their not listening"
-Bobby had a massive melt down at lunch time, I just dont understand why. The other children are frightened of them and its not fair on them.
So you can see that the majority of these statements are focusing on everyone else apart from Bobby.
This is part of the barriers that Neurodivergent children face.
When an EP (Educational Phycologist) assesses as child, usually when the child is not meeting expected targets academically, they will spend either a morning or afternoon with the child in the school setting. Evaluating what they deem to be key areas.
Cognition and Learning,
Communication and interaction
Social, emotional and mental health.
Sensory and physical
Then they will summerise and provide outcomes.
Lets say in this instance the outcomes are also based on the above conversation as this will form part of the assessment.
Here I shall share typical outcomes/targets often seen in an Educational Health care plan (EHCP)
These are not outcomes I support but need to show as an example.
The outcomes may look like this....
By the end of key stage 3
-Bobby will choose at least one peer to socialise with at break times and lunch and any other opportunities.
-Bobby will learn to self regulate so he can sit still 50% of the time.
-Bobby will learn to give eye contact by receiving rewards 50% of the time
-Bobby will let a member of staff know when hes feeling overwhelmed so he is able to socialise at lunch time.
These outcomes may not seem counterproductive but from the Childs perspective they are being taught on how to NOT be neurodivergent i.e., themselves. Which will ultimately influence how they view their own neurodivergence and then use their voice to inform others.(Children need to be able to trust Adults)
The Outcomes are based on how the pathology paradigm ideology dictates how neurotypicals "behave."
Neurodivergent children/young people/adults have a completely different but valuable experinces of the world in terms of identity/culture/insight and sensory experinces.
As an alternative a Neurodivergent led outcome may look like this
-Adults will enable Bobby to decide where and how to spend their break
-Adults will be led by Bobbies preference for interaction or no interaction.
-Adults will receive training on autisitc identity and autistic culture
-Adults will educate bobbies peers about autisitc identity and culture
-Adults will be trained on sensory integration by a sensory integrated Occupational therapist.
-Adults will find other alternatives to sitting so Bobby is able to learn whilst supporting. regulation in line with the Sensory integrated OT report.
-Adults will enable Bobby to stim.
-Adults will not ask Bobby to give eye contact
-Adults will not use any visuals which support eye contact.
-Adults will support Bobby to be his neurodivergent self and listen to his voice as an autisitc child.
-Adults will validate bobbies autisitc identity by empowering them to communicate with adults so he feels safe to self advocate
These remove the pressure/demands away from the child.
Placing the responsibility on to the adult.
Now you maybe asking....
But how do we measure progress?
How will the child make progress?
The subject of "Progress" is another conversation worth having but in the meantime it is worth considering the following.......
When I asked Joe.....
What helps you to want to go to school Joe?
In Joes words....
When My Teachers listen to me of course.
Learning about languages OF COURSE!!!!(Passions and hobbies)
When I know who's picking me up
When I know I can come home
When my sensory needs are understood
When they dont put pressure on me.
They dont tell me off
I like getting lots of help
I like helping my friends
I love my autistic brain now
When I asked him about his previous setting his response was.....
I remember some good times there and some good teachers but....
They didnt understand a beautiful autistic boy like me
Everyone was mean
The work was boring and hard
Shall we go back there and tell them I WAS autisitc??
Perhaps we can help them to understand other autisitc children so they can get more help.
They didnt listen to you did they mum
I really struggled
I would have lots of meltdowns every day of my life when I came home
My class mates used to like me and then they didnt and stopped playing with me,
They abandoned me.
I felt like someone different then. I wanted to flush my brain down the toilet.
So when we look at progress ,first of all look at the two examples that joe has given.
3 years on and he has made so much progress and I'm not talking in academic ability only.
I'm talking about how his school day feels to him.
How he sees him self as part of the school community.
How his identity as an autistic person is valued and not disabled.
How placing his trust in other adults was a risk.
He had deep embedded trauma when he arrived at his current setting and its not been plain sailing. Through open and honest conversations, meetings, working partners and I as a trusted guide, helping Joe to be proud of his neurodivergence by providing him with validating language to advocate has also been key.
Having said all that, there have still been times where hes not been able to attend school. Its really important that I listen to him and give his brain the break it needs to enable him to return.
I feel there is a misunderstanding sometimes when children dont attend school. Joe has always wanted to be part of the community. Weather its in school or out of school. However hes community has been lacking in accepting him as hiself and his intuition is super on point. As is mine. Why would you repeatedly expose yourself to environments where you feel unsafe and not accepted?
Ability to process and understand(cognition) depends on a whole host of environmental factors which impact on the central nervous sytem/brain/mind/body
When Joe is instructed to learn about a topic he has no interest in or cannot relate to, this dramatically reduces his ability to
This will of course effect how his "Progress" looks and how this is measured and recorded.
When Joe is studying a child led topic all of the above is super charged and he blows me away with his expert knowledge.!!!!
I am quite confident in stating that the majority of proffessionals are teaching from a neurotypical perspective written by neurotypicals delivered for neurotypicals in mind.
However within this group there will be, of course neurodivergent Teachers.
I do know that some of this group are extremely frustrated within the work environment and find it equally frustrating that they have to follow a neurotypical practice and one model of being especially having been through the same Education sytem themselves.
We are missing a massive opportunity here!!
Can you imagine how powerful a completely different approach might be if
Neurodivergent children were enabled and encouraged to be themselves.
-Freedom to be ourselves
-Sensory integrated OT Input from the beginning.
-The Neurodivergent culture and identity with the curriculam along side, cultural, GLBTQIA+, racism, feminism ect.
-Self advocacy. The power of voice.
-Hidden Talents will be showcased
-Alternative and inspiring ideas of problem solving, designing and creativity
Just one big mix of humans all learning from each other and NOT following the same model of one way of being.
As a race we are beautifully diverse but our Education sytem does not reflect this.
We are getting better at evolving in terms of inclusivity in terms of other historically marginalised groups but not when it comes to being Neurodivergent. Not really.
You get the idea!!
We hope you enjoyed the read and would love to read your comments
Love, Joe and Jen.x