Start Accepting Neurodiversity

courtesy of

courtesy of

Ryley Douglass, Co-Editor-in-Chief

Ableism is defined as discrimination in favor of able-bodied (or minded) people in the Oxford Dictionary. 

The world, and with it the education system has been ableist for as long as history has been recorded. People with physical disabilities would be limited from reaching their potential in the workplace and looked down upon. Visible disabilities were seen as a sign of weakness. Accommodations have been implemented in the world today as required by the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) to support people with visible disabilities such as wheelchair ramps and automatic doors. 

But what about the invisible disabilities that people need to deal with day in and day out?

In school, we are told about different ways of learning. Some kids might learn better from drawing models than listening to an audiobook. Some kids might benefit more from doing hands-on activities than taking notes from a teacher’s lecture. But these styles of learning neglect to include kids who are neurodivergent. 

In schools, the ADA requires schools to provide qualified people with accommodations appropriate to their level of ability. For example, kids with ADD or ADHD might be able to test in a quiet location rather than in their normal classroom. Some students might get more time on a test.

But these accommodations are made to level the playing field in a manner of speaking. These accommodations don’t take into account neurodivergence. 

Neurodiversity is a concept that developmental disorders (such as ADD or ADHD) are normal variations in the brain. This means that neurodivergent brains don’t function the exact same way that neurotypical brains do. 

The standardization of schools has become a roadblock for neurodivergent students. Each and every student is supposed to learn, perform, and function in the same way, take the same tests, learn the same lessons… There is no room for customization. 

Learning accommodations can only do so much to lower a playing field that was engineered only to benefit neurotypical students. As Einstein said, ”Everybody is a Genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” If all schools do is test people by their ability to climb a tree, the fish, even if given the best ladder known to man, will not be able to do it. 

This is a metaphor of course, but one that needs to be understood. 

Additionally, there are so many different ways neurodiversity might present itself that aren’t always the stereotypical kid bouncing their leg and jumping off the walls. 

These signs might not be recognized by schools and kids with less “out there” symptoms might be told that they are faking. Even things as serious as OCD have become jokes.

Things like ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder), ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), and ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder), have likely been masked long enough by students for people not to notice that it is there. And less and less people are feeling safe enough to get help because of the stigmatization of mental illnesses and neurodiversity. Education doesn’t do anything to help it. 

Sure, we learn about mental disorders in health classes, but we don’t learn about how to deal with them. We don’t learn about how to deal with overstimulation, how to focus effectively. We don’t even learn the specifics of neurodiversity. These are things that should be taught everywhere, not just in psychology classes. If we were taught more about neurodiversity, it would be more normalized and it would be easier to find common ground upon which to build understanding. It should be a requirement for all students to learn about neurodiversity. 

In my experience, my teachers never believed me even though I had a diagnosis and clear accommodations I needed in order to function. I had to seek outside help from a therapist to get the things I needed to have the same advantage that normal kids had. What teachers need to know is that not every neurodivergent kid acts the same way. Everyone is unique, which means every neurodivergent student acts uniquely. 

Of course, now that I’m in high school I know how to better deal with these things, but it is an uphill battle and it was one that I had to fight nearly alone. 

I don’t think any kid should be alone in this battle. In order to support kids with neurodivergence, there need to be systems in place. Better lessons about how to deal with neurodiversity should be taught.

Teachers should be more understanding about mental health as well. They should be able to understand that not everyone learns the same way and that not every kid’s brain works the same way. If teachers were more accepting, students might feel more comfortable asking for help. Teachers could be educated further in neurodiversity and how it impacts students’ learning styles. They should be able to teach kids with all types of learning styles, not just kinesthetic, auditory, and visual. Teachers should help kids develop ways to study that work for them, not just teaching the age-old ways of the past, the ways that caused students to believe that they were stupid and that they couldn’t succeed. 

The stigmatization of neurodiversity needs to stop. People need to stop using things like OCD and ADHD as adjectives. This invalidates other people’s struggles and results in them feeling as though what they’re feeling isn’t right or isn’t okay. 

Changes need to be made. That can only start by fostering acceptance.