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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.


Armstrong, T. (2017, April 1). Neurodiversity: The future of special education? EL Magazine, 74(7).

Blume, H. (1998, September). Neurodiversity: On the neurological underpinnings of geekdom. The Atlantic Monthly.

den Houting, J. (2019). Neurodiversity: An insider’s perspective. Autism, 23(2), 271-273.

Dwyer, P. (2022). The neurodiversity approach(es): What are they and what do they mean for researchers? Human Development, 66, 73-92.

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

OECD. (2017). "Neurodiversity in education" Trends shaping education spotlights, No. 12, OECD Publishing.

Planet Neurodivergent. (2021).

Rentenbach, B., Prislovsky, L., & Gabriel., R. (2017). Valuing differences: Neurodiversity in the classroom. Phi Delta Kappan, 98(8), 59-63.

Shmulsky, S., Gobbo, K., & Vitt, S. (2022). Culturally relevant pedagogy for neurodiversity. Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 46(9), 681-685.

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

Schools as Sustainable Organisations

Highly-Cited Academic Articles

Armstrong, T. (2012). Neurodiversity in the classroom: Strength-based strategies to help students with special needs succeed in school and life. ASCD.

Van Mieghem, A., Verschueren, K., Petry, K., & Struyf, E. (2020). An analysis of research on inclusive education: A systematic search and meta review. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 24(6) 675-689.

Clouder, L., Karakus, M., Cinotti, A., Ferreyra, M. V., Fierros, G. A., and Rojo, P. (2020). Neurodiversity in higher education: A narrative synthesis. Higher Education, 80, 757-778.

Dwyer, P., Mineo, E., Mifsud, K., Lindholm, C., Gurba, A., & Waisman, T. C. (2022) Building neurodiversity-inclusive postsecondary campuses: Recommendations for leaders in higher education. Autism in Adulthood, 5(1), 1-14. 

Moriña, M. (2017). Inclusive education in higher education: Challenges and opportunities. European Journal of Special Needs Education, 32(1), 3-17.


Publications in/about the Region

Goh, S. C. F., & Tan, S. Y. (2021). Moving towards greater inclusion in Singapore’s preschools: The enablers, possibilities and barriers. Polish Journal of Educational Studies, 73(1), 83-98.

Li, K. M., & Cheung, R. Y. M. (2019). Pre-service teachers’ self-efficacy in implementing inclusive education in Hong Kong: The roles of attitudes, sentiments, and concerns. International Journal of Disability, Development and Education, 68(2), 1-11.

Li, M., Lin, Y., Bao, T., Zhao, Q., Wang, Y., Li, M., Chen Y., Qian, Y., Chen, L., & Zhu, D. (2022). Inclusive education of elementary students with autism spectrum disorders in Shanghai, China: From the teachers' perspective. BioScience Trends, 16(2), 142-150.

Rahman, A. A., & Woolard, J. (2019). Neurodiversity awareness: Is Malaysia there yet? International Journal of Evaluation and Research in Education, 8(4), 676-685.

Roy, R. & Jain, S. (2021) Global neurodiverse support systems: Primary research findings on key challenges and optimised solutions in Mumbai, India. The Physician, 6(3) 1-22.

Westwood, P. (2021). Integration to inclusion in Hong Kong: Not an easy progression. Australasian Journal of Special and Inclusive Education, 45(2), 268-280.


HKU Scholarship

Beamish, W., & Yuen, M. (Eds.) (2022). The inclusion for students with special educational needs across the Asia Pacific: The changing landscape. Springer.

Nieminen, J. H. (2022). Assessment for inclusion: Rethinking inclusive assessment in higher education. Teaching in Higher Education.

Nieminen, J. H., & Pesonen, H. V. (2022). Politicising inclusive learning environments: How to foster belonging and challenge ableism? Higher Education Research & Development, 41(6), 2020-2033.

Xie, Z., & Zhang, L. F. (2022) Attitudes towards inclusive education and organisational commitment: Comparing three types of teachers in Chinese inclusive education schools. Asia Pacific Journal of Education.

Yuen, M., Wu, F., Wong, F., Yeung, P., Lam, C., Chan, K., Ma, G., & Tan, C. Y. (2022). Inclusive education in a Chinese context: A Hong Kong perspective. In W. Beamish, & M. Yuen, (Eds.), The inclusion for students with special educational needs across the Asia Pacific: The changing landscape (pp. 79-93). Springer.


School Examples and Resources

English School Foundations: Jockey Club Sara Roe School. (n.d.). Pathways.

Sense: Integrated Education and Special Education Information Online.

The Hong Kong Society for the Deaf. (n.d.). Inclusive education support service.


Internet Resources


Neurodiversity Hub. (n.d.). Neurodiversity and universal design: Primary and secondary schools.

Singer, J. (n.d.). Neurodiversity: Definition and discussion. Reflections on Neurodiversity.

Stanford Medicine. (n.d.). Stanford Neurodiversity Project: Awareness and education.

UNICEF. (n.d.). Inclusive education.

YouTube Videos

Aucademy. (2020, August 16). Neurodiversity inclusive teaching.

TEDx Talks. (2016, January 23). Playing to our strengths: Neurodiversity & education - Christy Hutton - TEDxSanta Cruz.

The Education Hub. (2022, August 3). Neurodiversity in education.

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

Blog Post

Bailin, A. (2019, June 6). Clearing up some misconceptions about neurodiversity. Scientific American.


Extended Readings

Acevedo, S. M., & Nusbaum, E. A. (2020). Autism, neurodiversity, and inclusive education. Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Education.

Global Education Monitoring Report Team. (2020). Global education monitoring report, 2020: Inclusion and education: All means all. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Hamilton, L. G., & Petty, S. (2023). Compassionate pedagogy for neurodiversity in higher education: A conceptual analysis. Frontiers in Psychology, 14.

Mirfin-Veitch, B., Jalota, N., & Schmidt, L. (2020). Responding to neurodiversity in the education context: An integrative review of the literature. Dunedin: Donald Beasley Institute.

Sewell, A. (2022). Understanding and supporting learners with specific learning difficulties from a neurodiversity perspective: A narrative synthesis. British Journal of Special Education, 49(4), 539-560.

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