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Neurodiversity: Sustaining and Nurturing All Learners

Monaliza Maximo CHIAN

 

Neurodiversity was coined by sociologist Judy Singer and journalist Harvey Blume (Dwyer, 2022; Ellis et al., 2023) in the late 1990s to advocate the need to recognise different diversities, including neurological variations. Neurodiversity, they argue, is as essential as biodiversity to the sustainability of the human race (Blume, 1998; Singer, 2023). Without a formal definition, its conceptualisation has been evolving, causing controversies, confusion, and criticism (de Houting, 2019; Dwyer, 2022). It has been referred to as a paradigm, framework, movement, and approach(es) (Dwyer, 2022; Planet Neurodivergent, 2021). Singer (2023) explains that the term "neurodiversity" was used to specifically shed light on the viable variabilities of human cognition, emphasising an individual's uniqueness with strengths and needs. In its simplest term, neurodiversity refers to cognitive differences (Ellis et al., 2023), neurological differences (Singer, 2023) or the existence of "diverse minds and brains" (Dwyer, 2022, p.74; Planet Neurodivergent, 2021, Sec 2, para 1). It aims to dismantle the deficit-focus on diversity and encourage embracing different ways of being, thinking, and (inter)acting in the world.

The emergence of neurodiversity prompted (re)viewing differences within the diversity, equity, and inclusivity (DEI) framework. Adopting an "understanding that neurological differences are to be honoured and respected just like any other human variation, including diversity in race, ethnicity among others" (Armstrong, 2017, Sec 2, para1) can catalyse in creating a more inclusive society that values individual differences. However, the variations in individuals' social interaction, learning processes, and other neurological functions can be challenging to decipher, leading to the underrepresentation of neurodiversity within the DEI framework (OECD, 2017). Thus, it is exigent for education systems to implement inclusive education and innovative curricula, including brain-based learning, neuroplasticity, and a growth mindset to support all learners (OECD, 2017).

Influenced by the neurodiversity approach, strength-based, multi-sensory, and multimodal learning are becoming standard classroom practices (e.g., Armstrong, 2017; Rentenbach et al., 2017). The support towards inclusive education, whereby identified students with specific learning difficulties are included in the mainstream classroom, is increasing. Inclusive education can be the conduit to advancing the knowledge about neurodiversity while fostering peer interactions and friendships. However, researchers implore clear understanding of the differences between inclusive education and neurodiversity (e.g., Armstrong 2017), despite the common goal of providing all students with equitable access to education.

Proponents of neurodiversity advocate for a social model of disability, challenging the medical model of disability, the dominant approach in schools. The students are diagnosed and given labels of "disorders" and "deficits", exacerbating their perceived inferiority. The social model recognises spectra of neurologically based conditions, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, Tourette syndrome, and other specific learning differences. It promotes acceptance of neurological differences as natural human variations rather than disorders to be cured or eradicated (Shmulsky et al., 2022). It encourages creating learning environments responsive to the physical, social, and emotional needs of neurodiverse communities.

Below are some relevant and timely resources that raise issues, considerations, and challenges as we understand the concept of neurodiversity leading to sustaining and nurturing all learners.


References

Ellis, P. Kirby, A., & Osborne, A. (2023). Neurodiversity and education. Sage.




Singer, J. (2023, March 14). How not to define neurodiversity. Reflections on Neurodiversity.

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Twinkl Educational Publishing. (2022, March 25). What is Neurodiversity? A quick guide to neurodiversity for educators.


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