A few weeks ago our instructional coach played a video about a concept gaining in popularity—neurodiversity. Being the nerd that I am about the brain, my ears perked up.
Neurodiversity is a concept where neurological differences—such as autism, dyslexia, ADHD, and sensory processing disorder—are seen (and valued) as part of normal human diversity. That normal human diversity means that our brains, just like our bodies and personalities, are unique.
I’ve always thought that variations in my students’ written language, self-expression, attention spans, and perception were all part of the variation in human wiring. I’ve never seen difference as disease. That attitude probably formed most firmly when I became the parent of a child with sensory processing disorder (SPD).
My son processes the world in an uncommon way. Heights of only a foot can feel like the Empire State Building. Swings and slides feel like falling into deep pits. What are routine textures can literally feel like pain in his brain.
So the lessons I’ve learned as a parent are invaluable as a teacher. Now, I can see the beauty of each child’s differences and it makes me a better teacher for a neurodiverse classroom.
I’ve learned three main lessons that I hope will provide you insight and inspiration for your students who are all gifted with unique brains.
Value the differences. Fisher is one of my students whose brain doesn’t process written language as well as the majority of the population. He needs extra support with any written assignment. However, he has compensated by becoming an extraordinary problem-solver, listener, and discussion leader.
He has a gift of an excellent mind. I love his problem-solving abilities and his skill of hearing instructions once and knowing what to do—what teacher wouldn’t love that? I know with a loving teacher that points out his strengths, he’s going to succeed.
That’s what valuing the differences means. Think about it: reading and writing are important, sure, but isn’t listening and problem-solving just as valuable? Who would you want with you in an emergency? I know I would want Fisher on my side!
Emphasize a growth mindset. Students knowing how the brain works, and that all brains grow from challenges and practice is huge. Sometimes, neurodiverse students will need to work harder than others. That’s a good thing, and they should know that.
Because they face more challenges, they’re going to grow their brains that much more—and develop grit. They need to know that too!
Find your geniuses. Innovators emerge from neurodiversity. Many innovators past and present were blessed with neurodiverse brains as well.
Albert Einstein is included in a group of unique scientists that became high achievers. Agatha Christie was well known for her novels, but also for her inability to write legibly and spell (known as dysgraphia). Experts believe Leonardo da Vinci showed signs of ADHD and dyslexia.
Modern day achievers with dyslexia include Stephen Spielberg, Charles Schwab, Jay Leno, and Richard Branson. ADHD? Jim Carey, Michael Phelps, Karina Smifnoff, and Will Smith.
As teachers, our jobs are to nurture the whole child. That includes their beautiful brains, too. I’m inspired and excited to learn more about the diversity of the human brain. What if you have the next Stephen Spielberg or Agatha Christie in your classroom? Wouldn’t that be EXTRAORDINARY!