‘Neurodivergent (ND) affirming service provision’ is a term that refers to the importance of services to be facilitated differently in order for people with a neurodivergent brain to complete them. In order for a service to be ND affirming, it must have taken steps to consider the differences in ND brains (when compared to NT brains) and made changes and accommodations to support a person who has an ND brain to thrive.
You can watch some training on ND Affirming Practice here (these are the same two links from the course):
Let’s face it, the world is established to make NT people feel good about themselves and to make ND people feel broken, unwell, mentally ill, stupid, ignorant, and socially incompetent. To say that the NT brain has ‘privilege’, doesn’t even come close to explaining the significant advantage that the NT brain has in this world, in Australia, in QLD, in my suburb, even, until recently, in my house.
Let me take you on a little trip around society and point out some pretty unfair situations, institutions, rules, expectations, and social norms. Before we can work out how to be ND affirming, we must first have our minds exposed to what is not ND affirming. We must first receive that metaphoric punch in the guts as we realise that we have been part of, and are still part of, making a massive number of people (eg. ND people), feel broken, feel unwell, feel unable to cope.
Here are some rules and situations which exist to dictate how we should behave to be considered a compliant, included, valued person. Those who don’t follow these established norms are considered to be quite deviant, by society’s general expectations.
As you can see, the world is built and run by the neuromajority – the neurotypical. Anyone who doesn’t fit the norm, anyone unable to meet the expectations, anyone who looks different to what’s expected, is considered broken. Broken people need fixing and this is what the world is focused on. People are broken because they are being looked at from a lens that only considers one neurotype unbroken. People are broken because the rules about how to be ‘unbroken’ are not written down anywhere, yet must be followed. People are broken because one type of brain apparently has the right to decide how all types of brains must function.
This is why it’s so hard for NT people (Ally’s) to make their service provision ND affirming. In order to achieve this, you must totally change the lens you see our neurotype from. We must shift from seeing Autism and ADHD as a disability and instead, start seeing it as a neurotype. Next, we must adopt the lens of this neurotype, which can only be done by those who are this neurotype, and redesign services to make Au/DHD brains thrive and feel able to regulate and manage.
The fundamental difference in what motivates the sensory, purpose-driven ND/Au brain, compared to the validation seeking motivation of the NT neurotype is the reason that NT services keep failing to get it right. Not understanding this is why NT led services are often unsafe places for neurodivergent brains.
Being ND affirming includes:
- Seeing people from their lens, not your own.
- Seeing Autism and ADHD as a neurotype and a culture, not a disability.
- Not determining if someone needs help, based on how different they are to what’s considered normal by the neuromajority.
- Having Au voices guiding your services, checking your practices, and providing you information and support.
- Not requiring small talk, forced social interactions, eye contact or ‘whole-body listening’.
- Not using any of the practices determined to be harmful, based on international consensus from neurodivergent professionals. A list of these can be found in the resources below ‘Non-ABA Evidence Based practice’.
- Changing physical environments to manage the sensory conditions (lighting, noise, smell, food).
- Don’t use conversion, compliance, or exposure therapies at all, ever.
- Never record a person when they are having a meltdown, or in distress.
- See meltdowns as a personal crisis, not as a ‘behaviour’.
- Never restrain, seclude, or coerce people. Hands off!
- Stop seeing communication as verbal speech and recognise it in gestures, stimming, body movements, AAC and even just by participation.
- Don’t have cumbersome enrolment or access requirements for people to access service, if the services you provide are aimed at people who don’t manage cumbersome enrolment requirements. Have another way for people to get help, without all of the ‘process’.
- If you’re working with neurodivergent participants, be trained to be aware and mindful of sensory stimulus and aversion. If you’re working as a specialist behaviour practitioner, become an expert at sensory stimulus, assessment, profiles, and response.
- Understand interoception and respect the huge role it plays in the lives of many Au individuals.
- Accept the constant interruptions and talking over people. Allow people to engage with you, to learn and to access services in a variety of different ways. Make it ok for people to be looking at their phone while talking to you, for them to be bouncing on their seat, or walking around while chatting to you.
- Have capacity for ‘overwhelm’ or ‘meltdown’ cancellation, without charging participants. Understand that this cannot be avoided and the burden of knowing you’ve also lost funding as a result can be so overwhelming and even more distressing.
- Have space where you meet people. Always focus on meeting people in a place they feel safe, be clear about what you need to do. Avoid eye contact at the first meeting, stay focused on your task and keep it simple on the first meeting.
- Never set goals based on social norms, or what anyone other than the person themselves want. If mum or dad has their own goals, then this ok, but the person’s goals must be what the person wants, not their parents.