NeuroDiversity, Autism, ADHD & Learning Differences
Neurodiversity is a concept that’s been around for a while. In a nutshell, it means that brain differences are just that: differences. So conditions like ADHD and autism aren’t “abnormal.” They’re simply variations of the human brain.
For kids with learning and attention issues, the idea of neurodiversity has real benefits. It can help kids (and their parents) frame their challenges as differences, rather than as deficits. It can also shed light on instructional approaches that might help to highlight particular strengths kids have. One such approach is Universal Design for Learning(UDL).
What Is Neurodiversity?
The current concept of neurodiversity has a basis in science. We know from brain-imaging studies that there are some differences between kids with learning and attention issues and their peers. Those differences appear in how the brain is “wired” and how it functions to support thinking and learning.
These findings can explain the source of difficulty for many kids with learning and attention issues. But the neurodiversity view is that brain differences are normal. And kids who have them are as mainstream as those who don’t have them.
Where Neurodiversity Began
Judy Singer came up with the term neurodiversity in the late 1990s. Singer, a sociologist on the autism spectrum, rejected the idea that people with autism were disabled.
Singer believed their brains simply worked differently from other people’s. The term was quickly embraced by activists in the autism community and beyond. Advocates have used it to fight stigma and promote inclusion in schools and in the workplace.
The movement emphasizes that the goal shouldn’t be to “cure” people whose brain works differently. The goal is to embrace them as part of the mainstream. And that means providing needed support so they can fully participate as members of the community.
Neurodiversity and Learning and Attention Issues
The concept that people are naturally diverse learners is important for kids with learning and attention issues. It can reduce stigma and the feeling that something is “wrong” with them. And that can help build confidence, self-esteem, motivation and resilience.
It also supports teaching approaches that can benefit kids with learning and attention issues. UDL, for instance, shares many of the principles of neurodiversity.
UDL recognizes that there’s a wide range of students with a wide range of abilities. It uses a variety of teaching strategies to remove barriers to learning. The goal is to give all students, of all abilities, equal opportunities to succeed.
Differences vs. Disabilities
Celebrating differences is important. But it isn’t enough to get kids with learning and attention issues the help they need at school. It’s important to acknowledge disabilities in order for kids to get supports and services.
Acknowledging disabilities has other benefits, too:
- It makes it less likely that kids with learning and attention issues will be overlooked or fall through the cracks in school.
- It makes it clear they have challenges that require support.
- It encourages research funding for these issues.
That’s why it’s important to recognize both differences and disabilities. Each one can help your child find his own path to success.
Learn how to help your child discover strengths and passions. Get tips for giving praise that boosts self-esteem. And discover how schools can use UDL to help every student succeed. (By Peg Rosen as posted on Understood.org)
The latest data released by the CDC in April of 2018 indicate 1 in 59 children (1 in 37 boys and 1 in 151 girls) as having autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
· Autism is the fastest-growing serious developmental disability in the U.S.
· Autism can cost a family $60,000 a year on average
· Autism receives less than 5% of the research funding of many less prevalent childhood diseases
What is Autism?
- Autism is a bio-neurological developmental disability that generally appears before the age of 3
- Autism impacts the normal development of the brain in the areas of social interaction, communication skills, and cognitive function. Individuals with autism typically have difficulties in verbal and non-verbal communication, social interactions, and leisure or play activities
- Individuals with autism often suffer from numerous co-morbid medical conditions which may include: allergies, asthma, epilepsy, digestive disorders, persistent viral infections, feeding disorders, sensory integration dysfunction, sleeping disorders, and more
- Autism is diagnosed four times more often in boys than girls. Its prevalence is not affected by race, region, or socio-economic status. Since autism was first diagnosed in the U.S. the incidence has climbed to an alarming one in 59 children in the U.S.
- Autism itself does not affect life expectancy, however research has shown that the mortality risk among individuals with autism is twice as high as the general population, in large part due to drowning and other accidents.
- Currently there is no cure for autism, though with early intervention and treatment, the diverse symptoms related to autism can be greatly improved and in some cases completely overcome. (National Autism Society. Autism Fact Sheet)
It is estimated 87% of children with Autism receiving effective early intervention will make significant improvement in social, communication, academic, and behavior skills. Therefore, appropriate identification, early and intensive intervention is vital.
Click HERE to view a cute story that explains The Autism Spectrum!
ADHD / ADD
Understanding the challenges of ADHD allows you to find the best help possible for your child.
ADHD is caused by differences in the development of brain anatomy and wiring. It often runs in families. Everyone has symptoms of ADHD at one time or another. But to be diagnosed with ADHD, kids must have far more difficulty with these problems than their peers. Kids with ADHD also have challenges in more than one area—for example, at school, at home and in friendships.
Estimates of how many children in the U.S. have ADHD range from 5 percent to 11 percent. For a long time, people thought ADHD was something only kids—boys, in particular—had. But research has shown that ADHD symptoms can persist into adulthood in some people, and that women and girls have it as often as men and boys.
ADHD and the Brain: Click here for a great infographic from Understood.org
Kids with ADHD struggle with key areas of executive function that are responsible for focus, impulse control and other skills.
Some of the skills kids with ADHD often struggle with include:
Most kids don’t totally outgrow ADHD, although some symptoms can lessen or disappear as they get older. Even so, there are treatments for ADHD that can help reduce symptoms. And there are supports at school that can make learning easier. (From Understood.org) .
Learning disabilities are neurologically-based processing problems. These processing problems can interfere with learning basic skills such as reading, writing and/or math. They can also interfere with higher level skills such as organization, time planning, abstract reasoning, long or short term memory and attention. It is important to realize that learning disabilities can affect an individual’s life beyond academics and can impact relationships with family, friends and in the workplace.
Since difficulties with reading, writing and/or math are recognizable problems during the school years, the signs and symptoms of learning disabilities are most often diagnosed during that time. Learning disabilities should not be confused with learning problems which are primarily the result of visual, hearing, or motor handicaps; of intellectual disability; of emotional disturbance; or of environmental, cultural or economic disadvantages.
Generally speaking, people with learning disabilities are of average or above average intelligence. There often appears to be a gap between the individual’s potential and actual achievement. This is why learning disabilities are referred to as “hidden disabilities”: the person looks perfectly “normal” and seems to be a very bright and intelligent person, yet may be unable to demonstrate the skill level expected from someone of a similar age.
A learning disability cannot be cured or fixed; it is a lifelong challenge. However, with appropriate support and intervention, people with learning disabilities can achieve success in school, at work, in relationships, and in the community.
In Federal law, under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the term is “specific learning disability,” one of 13 categories of disability under that law.
“Learning Disabilities” is an “umbrella” term describing a number of other, more specific learning disabilities, such as dyslexia and dysgraphia.