What is neurodivergent (ND) affirming approach?
A neurodiversity-affirming approach is a mindset and strategy that prioritizes the recognition and inclusion of neurodivergent individuals, such as those on the autism spectrum, within society. This approach seeks to reduce the practice of masking, which involves concealing one's neurodivergent traits to conform to neurotypical norms. Masking often puts a significant emotional and cognitive burden on neurodivergent individuals, and the goal of a neurodiversity-affirming approach is to alleviate this burden while fostering understanding and acceptance.
To elaborate further, a neurodiversity-affirming approach aligns with a psychosocial model of disability. This means that instead of trying to "fix" the neurodivergent individual or their differences, it emphasizes that the responsibility lies with society to enact change and create an inclusive environment. For instance, if an autistic individual is engaging in a conversation with their body turned slightly away, but the communication is effective, the neurodiversity-affirming approach does not pressure them to make eye contact or alter their body position to fit neurotypical expectations. It respects and values the individual's unique communication style.
Additionally, an ND-affirming approach incorporates trauma-informed principles, considering the impact of trauma on neurodivergent individuals. It acknowledges the six "F words" of trauma responses: fight, flight, freeze, fawn, fatigue, and flood. When these responses are triggered, it's essential for caregivers and professionals to step back, understand the emotional state of the individual, and work towards helping them regulate their emotions. The emphasis is on providing support rather than punitive measures.
Another key aspect of an ND-affirming approach is a shift from a deficits-focused perspective to a strengths-based one. Instead of viewing neurodivergent individuals solely through the lens of their challenges or deficits, this approach recognizes and celebrates their unique strengths and abilities. It respects their agency and autonomy, promoting their ability to advocate for themselves and make decisions aligned with their goals and aspirations.
In summary, a neurodiversity-affirming approach is a holistic and empathetic framework that strives to create an inclusive and supportive environment for neurodivergent individuals. It values their differences, focuses on strengths, and empowers them to lead fulfilling lives with agency and dignity.
This ask the experts is an edited excerpt from the course 4776: Neurodiversity: Navigating Scenarios Using a Neurodiversity-Affirming Approach by Joleen R. Fernald, PhD, CCC-SLP, BCS-CL