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Autism & Neurodiversity 101

Autism, Neurodiversity and April – What’s it all about?

 

Did you know that April has been celebrated as “Autism” month in some form since 2007? Since then there has been a huge evolution in the autism community. It has shaped how we understand and speak about autism, how people with autism prefer to be identified and even created a whole new movement called neurodiversity.

Awareness of NeurodiversityThere is a lot to learn and some of us are searching for info to help us actively understand . A Little Compassion and The Nest Coffee House we have you covered.

During the month of April we’ll be providing information and articles about how the Autism movement has evolved. Together we’ll work toward the common goal of understanding the gifts and struggles that come along with being autistic as well as how we can all actively be part of creating a dynamic, enriched, inclusive, diverse and kind community that is respectful and responsive to all.

Stay tuned and be ready to celebrate autism awareness AND neurodiversity with us all month!

Autism: One Kind of Neurodiversity

April is Autism Acceptance Month. During the month, The Nest is expanding our acceptance and celebration of autistic people to include all members of our community who share and contribute their strengths, passions, and unique ways of viewing the world! ‘Neurodiversity’ refers to the different ways the brain works and interprets information. Neurodivergent people are people who process, view and interact with the world in ways that differ from ways that others (or “neurotypical”) people do.

Neurodiversity is another kind of diversityAutistics as a group of individuals often experience their neurodivergence in similar ways. This can help autistics and the world better understand their experience. But the word Neurodiversity encompasses the many ways that brains are wired differently. 

Neurodiversity is a concept that recognizes neurological differences as normal, natural human variation and encompasses a wide range of neurological differences. In addition to autism, these include ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, dysgraphia and dyscalculia, Tourette’s Syndrome, and others. New research shows that approximately 1 in 5 human beings are neurodivergent. Acceptance acknowledges the diversity of minds, intelligences, abilities and differences that are all part of humanity. The use of a rainbow colored infinity symbol represents humankind’s infinite neurodiversity.  It follows that neurocognitive difference should not be a barrier that excludes neurodivergent people from achieving their potential, contributing to society, and being afforded the same rights and protections under law as everyone else.

The fact that neurodiversity is a natural part of human variation doesn’t mean that the experience of neurodivergence is easy. Being neurodivergent in a world designed for the neurotypical – or more common – experience can present challenges, both in immediate and long-term ways.

A common experience of autistic people is that communication can be difficult, not just in speaking but also in writing, in gestures, actions, tone and pace of our voices. These experiences are also common among other neurodivergent people. Difficulty communicating can affect the ability to study, learn, and succeed in employment and relationships. In addition, neurodivergent people may require support with organization, planning and time-management.

 So, what does acceptance look like? First and foremost, it means viewing autism and other forms of neurodiversity as a natural part of the human experience. It means valuing and celebrating differences and all of the perspectives, interests, creativity, passions, and talents these members of our community bring to our lives. And it means including and embracing them – all aspects of them – as we work together to create a better world. Afterall, if we all thought alike, the world would be a very different – and far less interesting – place!

Mythbusting Neurodiversity

Neurodiversity refers to the infinite variability in the human brain. Our brains are as unique as our fingerprints. We are all born with different brain “wiring” that comes with its own benefits and challenges, strengths and disadvantages.

As science has shed new light on neurodiversity, our understanding of neurodivergence has evolved. The term “neurodiversity” was first used to describe the way autistic brains process information and view and interact with the world. It has become clear over time that there are other kinds of neurodivergent brains. As scientists continue to try to understand the impact of neurological differences, the list of conditions considered neurodivergent grows. Additional examples of neurodivergence include dyslexia, dyscalculia, epilepsy, hyperlexia, dyspraxia, ADHD, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and Tourette syndrome (TS) – and potentially many more, including being left-handed.

Despite the new developments and understanding of neurodiversity, many myths exist.

Myth: Neurodiversity only refers to autism.

Fact: Neurodiversity refers to many conditions that result from different brain “wiring”.

While the term “neurodiversity” was originally coined by an autistic sociologist, as time passed, awareness of the role of brain differences in other conditions became clearer. As science continues to uncover new information, our understanding of the role brain functioning plays in different conditions continues to evolve.

Myth: Neurodivergent people with similar conditions have the same qualities/responses to their environment.

Fact: Autistic people and people with ADHD, OCD, Tourette’s Syndrome, and other neurodivergent conditions might have many things in common, but they are as individual as everyone else.

Neurodivergent people have distinct personalities that come with different interests and passions, likes and dislikes, and strengths and weaknesses. Some are social, some are not. Some excel at math, some do not. Some like to read fiction, others prefer science books. Some experience a great deal of anxiety and some do not.  The important thing to know is that neurodivergent people are as varied as everyone else. Just because a label or diagnosis may be similar, it cannot tell what strengths and challenges each neurodivergent individual possesses.

Myth: Neurodiversity is something that people “grow out of”.

Fact: Neurodivergent kids grow up to be neurodivergent  adults.

Adults and kids look and act differently. This is true for everyone. Neurodivergent adults look and act differently than neurodivergent kids. They learn new skills, get new hobbies, and make new friends. Things that were hard when they were kids might get easier. Neurodivergent people may also get better at pretending (or masking) as they become adults. Their differences may or may not be as visible, but they will still process the world differently.

Myth: Neurodiversity needs to be “cured”.

Fact: Neurodiversity is not a disease.

A disease is something that makes you sick and the goal of a cure is to “fix” something. But neurodiversity is not a disease and does not need to be fixed. It’s just how neurodivergent brains work. Neurodivergent people are neurodivergent their whole lives. Things can get easier as neurodivergent people develop new skills and coping strategies, but attending large, loud events may never be something an autistic person can comfortably do.

Myth: All neurodivergent people have intellectual disabilities.

Fact: Just like neurotypical people, neurodivergent people represent the full range of intelligence, from having an intellectual disability to being a genius. 

Most neurodivergent conditions coincide with exceptional abilities in a variety of areas. The main challenges neurodivergent individuals face are typically in the way they perceive things, the way their thoughts processes work, and the social interaction differences they experience.  Having an intellectual disability is just one form of neurodiversity.

Myth: Neurodivergent people have little chance of being successful.

Fact: Neurodivergent individuals can achieve great things!

Neurodivergent individuals often see things from a different perspective but that does not mean that they can’t be successful. Many neurodivergent people are more creative, observant, detail-oriented, and focused. Many can absorb and retain facts better than most as their long-term memory can be excellent. Some neurodivergent individuals may need more support than others, but when their views are respected and accommodations made, they are often capable of doing great things and of being extremely successful. Albert Einstein, who famously discovered the theory of relativity, is an excellent example of someone who was neurodivergent.

Myth: Neurodivergent people should try to be like their neurotypical peers.

Fact: While neurodivergent people can and should be taught skills that may not come naturally to them, it is incorrect to try and make them become someone they are not.

Expecting neurodivergent people to think and behave as neurotypical people is highly damaging. Because there has been such a taboo on neurodivergent people, many try to hide who they really are by “masking” and trying to be someone they aren’t. This makes life much more difficult for them. Making accommodations for them in a neurotypical world should be the norm. The faster society accepts them and their differences, sees the benefits of their skills and supports them, the faster they will be comfortable and able to become their best authentic selves.  When they show the world who they really are, their talents, strengths, and quirks make our world all the richer.

Myth: Being neurodivergent is a sad reality.

Fact: It’s okay to be neurodivergent!

Neurodiversity is not a sad thing. While there may be things about being neurodivergent that make life more challenging, it also brings with it lots of strengths and skills. People with a range of neurodivergent conditions lead happy, fulfilling, and successful lives. They have jobs, children, and friends. They volunteer and participate in their communities. Their ability to see things from another perspective actually makes our world a better place!

 

Myth:  Neurodivergent people require accommodations that make it harder on others.

Fact:  Accommodations for neurodivergence often help others too.

Many accommodations made for neurodivergent people also help neurotypical people. Things like eliminating fluorescent lighting in the workplace and allowing noise cancelling headsets has made the work environment better for everyone. Providing things like closed captioning, flexible communication methods, flexible work schedules, and alternate work spaces provide models for how to make everyone’s environment healthier. And providing instructions in multiple formats — written, verbal, and graphic — can clarify tasks for everyone.

 

Myth: Neurodivergent people do not have disabilities.

Fact: Neurodivergence is not, in and of itself, a disability, but neurodivergent people are impacted by their differences to varying degrees and some of their challenges are disabling.

Despite the many gifts that can come with being neurodivergent, these differences can interfere with daily life. Many neurodivergent people are able to develop the skills that allow them to function in a neurotypical world, but this is not the case for everyone. Some neurodivergent people need help with multiple aspects of their daily lives, will never be able to fully participate in the workplace, will not be able to live independently, and may engage in behaviors that are simply unsafe or very difficult to accommodate. Other neurodivergent people experience less severe impacts but still require disability services and support to lead fulfilling lives.

 

Moving Forward..

As scientists continue to study brain diversity and functioning, our understanding of the impact of neurological differences will evolve. And as it does, our capacity to accept, accommodate, and embrace the many ways neurodivergent people experience and respond to their world will lead us to appreciate and celebrate the gifts they bring to our lives even more.

Autism Month – From Awareness to Acceptance

Autism Awareness, Autism Acceptance, and Neurodiversity –  How does it all connect??  

 Here’s a quick run through of the evolution of a month-long movement to recognize and bring about change for some pretty amazing and diverse people in our communities.

The autistic community has always been an ever growing and evolving one that at its core strives to recognize the strengths of autistic individuals and to ensure autistic voices are heard, autistic individuals are seen, and autistics are understood and represented in all aspects of our society. A day to recognize autism began in 2007 when the United Nations first recognized April 2nd as World Autism Awareness Day. Since that day Autism Awareness has evolved to be recognized during the entire month of April and celebrated across the world.

 In recent years,  autistic voices have advocated that awareness is not enough and that awareness and acceptance are not the same thing.  Awareness means you can “see” something but does not evoke any action toward what you see. To see the struggles of another human and not DO something is quite a paradox – imagine if an entire month was spent recognizing that people are hungry but doing nothing to address it?  Most people would be shocked.

 Fast forward almost 20 years and The Autism Society of America, along with leading disability organizations across the Country, are finally formally shifting reference to April as Autism Acceptance Month, ushering in what has been an important distinction with a call to action advocated by autistics for over a decade.

 Eric Rozansky, an autistic blogger, recently wrote “What I think needs to replace it (Autism Awareness Month) is Autism Acceptance, because it’s one thing to be aware of autism and autistic people and their experiences and problems and what have you, and it’s another to actually accept and understand those things. I know all too well the experience of being looked at differently or as “lesser” because of my autism.”

 In the past few years, there has been yet another shift in the movement to change how society references autistics and others who process and experience the world differently – not as groups of people with inflictions or disorders to be treated or cured  – but as individuals who are part of a growing community of those whose neural pathways simply are wired differently.  Simply stated, this group of people are now referred to as “neurodiverse”.

 Neurodiverse or neurodivergent individuals encompass many different formal diagnoses including ADHD, dyslexia, dysgraphia, depression, anxiety, autism and more (see our previous articles to learn more about neurodiversity). The neurodiversity movement does not see neurodivergent people as needing to be cured or changed; instead, those who are neurodiverse want to be understood, embraced, accepted and included as they are. 

 At A Little Compassion Inc. and The Nest Coffee House, we have made a conscious choice to recognize April as Autism and Neurodiversity Acceptance Month to honor the voices of autistics and others who have expressed their desire to be referred to as neurodiverse.

We see you; we admire you, we need you to build with us an open, affirming and accepting community that enriches all our lives and makes our communities a better place for us all.

Awareness to Acceptance: Identity First Language

 

As we continue our journey through Autism Acceptance Month, we come to a topic that you may not have given much thought to: identity language, or the way we refer to a neurodivergent or disabled person in relationship to their diagnosis or identity.  Though it may seem intuitive to just use person-first language (“they have autism”), the autistic community widely prefers the use of identity-first language (“they are autistic”).  Their rejection of person-first language upends the status quo, and may unsettle neurotypical people who were always taught to “put the person first”.  Yet it also grants us the opportunity to interrogate our perceptions of disability, neurodivergence, and its place in society.

The identity language debate is as complex and rich as the community at the center of it all, which is why we’re turning it over to the people who know it best.  Read this article from Bustle.com for a beginner’s guide to identity language, and why it matters.

Understanding the identity language debate is an integral part of being an ally to the autistic and neuordivergent communities.  Using proper identity language is equally important.  Here are some tips for what to do when identity language comes up in conversation:

  1. If you’re talking with a disabled or neurodivergent individual, ask them for their identity language preference and respect it.  Use what makes them comfortable — not just what makes you comfortable.
  2. If you slip up, or if someone corrects you for using the wrong identity language, thank them for letting you know, and don’t make a big deal out of it.  Mistakes happen, and it’s okay.
  3. When you’re talking about a neurodiverse or disabled person and they aren’t around, continue to use the language they prefer.  If you’re not sure, go with the general community consensus.  Be aware that this may vary from community to community — while the autistic community largely prefers identity-first language, others may prefer person-first language.

Being a Disability Ally in 8 Easy Steps!

 

During the month of April, A Little Compassion has shared information about autism and neurodiversity with members of our community. Autism & Neurodiversity Acceptance Month has provided an important opportunity for all of us to strive to be better allies. So, how can you do that?

Click here to find strategies for how you can support members of our community in this insightful blog post by Meriah Nichols:

Tips On Being A Disability Ally

 

 

Famous People With Autism

Did you know that there are many people you’ll recognize who are autistic or neurodiverse including the creator of Pokemon and Anthony Hopkins?  Many successful autistics even refer to their autism as their superpower.  What’s true is that for some people, autism and neurodiversity highlights their natural gifts and talents and often gives them the ability to laser focus on something they are good at and enjoy.  Check out this blog post from The Magnet to see who’s on the list and has become very successful – often because of what their neurodiversity brought to their life.  To quote The Magnet “They’re all included here to inspire and uplift anyone who struggles with similar social and sensory issues; reminding them that despite the challenges, being neurodiverse can help you live an extraordinary life and bring something truly unique and worthwhile to the world.”

CLICK HERE TO READ THE BLOG POST

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