Pro-neurodiversity Speech Therapy

As a speech and language therapist I work with a lot of neurodivergent kids. So engaging in discussions about neurodiversity and learning how to be affirming of neurodiverse identities is really important to me.

Over recent years, there’s been increasing discussion and research highlighting how our traditional ways of working can be potentially harmful to neurodivergent kids. Traditional ‘social skills’ training can risk teaching children to mask their true nature, which can negatively impact their mental health and wellbeing.

In this video I give a brief rundown of the trouble with traditional views of social communication difficulties and some practical suggestions for being actively pro-neurodiversity in speech and language therapy sessions.

Pro-neurodiversity Speech Therapy: Why I don't teach social skills

Neurodiversity is a term used to explain the vast difference in brain types, which affects how individuals experience and interact with the world around them. It’s a term that includes things like autism, adhd or dyslexia to name a few.

If we view these types of neurology from the ‘medical model’ we might focus on the child as having a problem that needs to be fixed.  But, if we view the situation from the ‘social model’ of disability, then we can start to see how the environment can create the challenge.

For me, the core of pro-neurodiversity practice is about approaching my interactions with radical acceptance, genuine joy and curiosity in order to find out what each child needs and what we can do to accommodate that.

Here’s three practical suggestions for making this happen:

  1. Support self-awareness.  Help the child to understand their unique identity and be comfortable naming that: what they need, what helps them be successful, what helps them feel comfortable. This can’t be just about helping a child to understand themselves.  We also need to ensure that the environment is safe and supportive for them to practise doing so.
  2. Facilitate shared understanding.  Discussions of diversity need to involve everyone. The focus shouldn’t be on the minority group having to adjust or explain themselves to the majority, but instead for us to all have a better understanding of different neurotypes and different needs. I’d like us all to be able to talk about what we need and find a way to negotiate that within a group.
  3. Be clear about what you’re expecting and why.  We need to think carefully about who our goals are for and prioritise work that improves the child’s wellbeing and access in the environment.

What things have you been thinking about in your own practice or with your own child? What does pro-neurodiversity mean to you? Let us know in the comments below. We’re all learning together.

Want more?

Here’s an explanation of autism.

Thoughts on social justice.

Social Skills: It’s not about what you say

When I first qualified as a Speech and Language Therapist, many moons ago, I was introduced to the work of Michelle Garcia Winner and Social Thinking. But, it wasn’t until I attended a Social Thinking conference, many years later, that I really grasped how useful these ideas really were. Hearing her cover so many of the key topics was really helpful in giving me a better understanding of how all of the vocabulary and frameworks tie together. My favourite idea is the Social Competency Model.

Social Skills : it's not about what you say

To find out more about the Social Competency Model, you can join this free webinar hosted by Social Thinking.