Monday, April 17, 2017

Neuro-Diversity: It's a Thing

By Becky Gamache 

She blows into our house each day like a tornado.  Backpack, jacket, socks, clothes hurtled in separate directions until she’s reduced to underpants.  She can tell you what the teacher talked about in school that day and if it’s interesting to her she asks questions and/or researches it further. She makes notes about what she wants to learn more about and what books to check out of the library.  She has at least four books going at a time and can tell you in depth about each one.  Her beloveds have been read to tatters. 

 Clothes don’t always feel right.  Noises and busyness can reduce her to tears.  She knows exactly what kind of a day you’ve had by looking at your face or by the tone of your voice.  If there’s tension in the room, it bothers her… a lot.  She feels and understands things on a whole different plane than me, but when she’s able to explain things herself, I always have an A-HA moment. 

By age 9, my daughter Caroline has had the alphabet soup of acronyms thrown at her…ADHD, ODD, ASD, SPD and GAN.  None of these acronyms even come close to helping tell her story, a story that gleans a new acronym depending on who you tell it to.  Instead, I use the term “neuro-diverse” to describe Caroline. 

 I don’t even really know if it’s a thing, but as far as I’m concerned it is the only term that begins to tell her story.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not afraid of a diagnosis for my child.  I’m afraid of a diagnosis putting her into a box, surrounded by inappropriate goals and expectations.  I’m afraid of a “one size fits all” approach to education that doesn’t support the diversity of children coming through the doors.  I’m afraid children are diagnosed to be pounded into the mold instead of diagnosed to allow the mold to be broken so the child can grow as an individual. 

 I call her neuro-diverse because I want the adults to change how they approach her and her learning.  I want the adults to recognize in her what I do and seek to understand like I do.  I want the adults to think of all children as neuro-diverse so that each child’s story and their journey into learning is their own. 

Unfortunately, where I live, the majority of school environments are set up for collecting arbitrary bits of data that have no real depth or understanding of what kind of learners the children are.  Each year is a carbon copy of the last.  If a class is struggling to learn a concept, the teacher feels pressure because now he is behind his grade level partners.  Learning is focused only on the “big test” and weeks of instructional time are devoted to reviewing for or practicing how to take it.  This is not the environment my neuro-diverse daughter thrives in and I would argue most children do not either.  

The environments where my daughter has thrived have been ones where the adults were responsive to the needs of all the children.  Those adults reflected on how they engaged with children and the interactions they had.  They wondered why behaviors were triggered or interests were piqued, looking to themselves and the environment for answers.  Those adults understood that all children are neuro-diverse and to be a responsive teacher you must continually observe, document, reflect, adapt and modify.  

There are children in our midst with and without diagnoses; they all deserve the mold to be shattered.  It’s the only way responsive teaching happens.

Becky Gamache has been an early childhood educator for over 20 years. She is a Home Base Teacher and Family Advocate for Head Start. Over the years she has been a consultant for early childhood programs, a presenter at local and state conferences and is adjunct faculty at the University of Wisconsin-Superior. She lives in Hermantown, MN with her husband and two daughters.

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