5 simple shifts that you can make to take your practices from ‘old ways’ towards a truly Neurodiversity Affirming approach

by Adina Levy

On the journey towards becoming a more Neurodiversity Affirming professional, there are some changes that are hard to make, and there are some that are simpler shifts (in mindset or in practice).

Here are 5 simple shifts that you can make to take your practices from ‘old ways’ – more compliance-based approaches to supporting neurodivergent children – towards a truly Neurodiversity Affirming approach.


Instead of:

Having children work on a task and then be rewarded with a movement break or with a fun activity they’re interested in

Do this:

Use children’s interests and sensory preferences as central parts of an activity. Embed learning within these interests and joys, as you share and discover them with the child

Instead of:

Teaching Autistic children ‘how to play’ – modelling, shaping and rewarding their play with the goal of their play activities looking more like the play of neurotypical children

Do this:

Embrace Autistic play. Learn from your Autistic children, clients, students about their preferred ways to play.

Play can look different, and as long as it’s fun and engaging for the child, it’s play.

Instead of:

Treating sensory challenges (e.g. a child feels a space is too loud, or their socks feel too crunchy) as something that a child should ‘push through’ and get used to because ‘that’s how the world works’

(clue – it doesn’t have to work that way!)

Do this:

Believe the child. Believe them that they are experiencing discomfort, distraction, maybe even pain from their sensory experience. Help them remove or reduce that discomfort (e.g. move to a quieter space, ask others to turn the volume down, wear earmuffs… and let them change their socks as the crunchy socks will absolutely be on the child’s mind ALL. DAY. LONG!)

Instead of:

Practising increased ‘flexibility’ when a child is set on completing an activity in a specific way

Do this:

Try to understand from the child’s perspective, what are they aiming to do within that activity? Find the value in their way of doing things.

Your most important role as a therapist, teacher or parent to a neurodivergent child is to be a safe person for them. Not to continually put up road blocks and challenges. You can explain and practice ‘flexibility’ when it truly emerges in the ‘real world’. Don’t add more hard stuff than is necessary to a neurodivergent child’s experience.

Instead of:

Saying “use your words” when a child isn’t expressing themself to you with speech/mouthwords

Do this:

Tell yourself that all communication is valid. All modes of communication are fine ways to share messages. Your role as a communication partner is to work to understand the child’s message, however they share that with you.

For many children, especially neurodivergent children, speech is not their best or most consistent way of communicating. Speech is not inherently better than other ways of sharing messages, if it’s not the best way for that child in that moment.

I wish that the ‘old ways’ would stick in the past, and I recognise it takes time. It takes a massive cultural and perspective shift for so many of us. YOU CAN DO IT. Truly you can make these shifts. And you need to. Anything less is not providing the best practice, most ethical ways of supporting neurodivergent children.

    Keep learning with me!

    Register for the Communicate and Connect Webinar Series for Professionals who support Neurodivergent Children: https://playlearnchat.com/communicate-and-connect-webinars/

    The 3 webinars in the series are:

    • Responsive Relationships: Communication Strategies for Professionals to Connect with Neurodivergent Children


    • Collaborative Connections: Coach and Communicate with Carers & Teams of Neurodivergent Children


    • Supportive Spaces: Creating Inclusive and Accessible Environments to Support Neurodivergent Children in their Communities

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