3 Practical Ways to Kickstart your Neurodiversity Affirming Practice Journey

Exploring Neurodiversity Podcast – Episode 11

by Adina Levy

Play. Learn. Chat - Exploring Neurodiversity Podcast Logo

Show Notes:

Today I’m sharing three actionable, practical changes that you can make (or start to make) today around language, relationship strategies, and a commitment to keep learning, to support you on your Neurodiversity Affirming Practice journey.

This is an abridged version of my recent webinar (Neurodiversity Affirming Practice Kickstart: 3 Actionable Tips to do Today), where I share actions you can start doing right now to help you become more confident that your approach as a professional who supports neurodivergent kids is aligned more and more with a Neurodiversity Affirming approach.

All the resources that I discussed and more are linked here: www.playlearnchat.com/resources

Join me so I can support you going deeper into your Neurodiversity Affirming Practice journey!

2 Hour Introductory workshop for Allied Health Professionals: https://playlearnchat.com/neurodiversity-affirming-practice-intro-workshop/

1-Day Online Workshop for Allied Health Professionals, live on July 6th 2023: https://playlearnchat.com/neurodiversity-affirming-practice-1-day-online-workshop/




Welcome to the Exploring Neurodiversity Podcast. I’m Adina Levy from Play. Learn. Chat. I’m a neurodivergent speech therapist. And I’m obsessed with creating a world when neurodiversity is understood, embraced, supported, and celebrated. Join me as we have conversations about autistic, ADHD, neurodivergent experiences, and I share how you can support neurodivergent children in your world.

Let’s all work together to make change where change is needed so that the world can be a more friendly place for neurodivergent people and for everyone.

I hope that this is really helpful, practical, and useful for you to get you started on your neurodiversity affirming practice journey or keep you going along that path.

I’ve been a speech therapist since 2012, I think, and most of my career I worked with autistic and neurodivergent children. One of the important things about me and my, professional practice, I’ve always been very dedicated to the process of relearning, changing, pivoting, understanding things in a new light.

That very much excites me. And I think because you are here today, I think you’re on that journey too. It’s probably variously easy or difficult for us to take on new knowledge, question practices that we’ve learned in the past or done in the past. I have absolutely lived that journey. I’m constantly living it.

I just find it’s really important as professionals who support neurodivergent kids that we’re always assessing what we doing our practice, what we teach, how we view kids, how we talk about kids, how we talk about neurodiversity, neurodivergence. This process of learning is always exciting to me.

So I hope that it is for you too, but I recognise that it can be scary, it can be uncomfortable, it can be hard work. I have lived all of that. I get it. But it’s so important that we can’t just put this aside. We can’t put aside all this information coming out of neurodiversity affirming movement and say, oh no, that’s not for me.

That’s not what I was taught. What we have to do is accept, embrace, support, neurodivergence, neurodivergent kids and people and community, and understand that neurodiversity is about difference, not disorder.

I think it’s really important and helpful for you to take a moment and recognise if you have learned something about neurodiversity affirming practice, put that together with what you were doing before this terminology, and we’ll definitely reflect on that today and think about what are the practices that you were already doing, even if you called it something else, but they really fit into an affirming approach.

And also be thinking about what else do we want to learn about practice in, you know, put in our toolkit as well.

So I really am all about action. I know there’s so much out there, there’s a lot of overwhelm out there, and my hope here today is to start shifting that overwhelm into clarity and action.

Today, we’re going to talk about three types of actionable changes that you can make or start to make today around language, relationship strategies, and a commitment to keep learning.

And rather than just sort of have big ideas and go, oh, there’s so many things, I’m going to get you to actually pick three resources or accounts to follow. Just start really by doing the action today, and I’m going to share how I can support you on your neurodiversity affirming practice journey. It’s an absolute special interest of mine to share knowledge, information, and practice with professionals.

So it’s my absolute delight to share this with all of you today and then hopefully we can keep this going in the future.


The first thing I want us to talk about is language. I have a cheat sheet for you. So, basically comparing what is affirming language, what is not affirming language. You’ll find the link in the show notes.

I have a podcast episode. In fact, it’s my first full podcast episode where I go through that in a lot more detail. So if you look at that page and you’re not really sure why something is on the left or the right, please feel free to listen to that episode. That’s episode one, and that should explain a lot more, and it’s something we go into a lot more in depth in my introductory workshops and my one day workshops that I’ll share a bit more about later.

The big piece of language I want us to be shifting, especially around autism, and it’s a really pervasive one, is this idea that autism is a difference, not disorder. That means the acronym ASD Autism spectrum disorder is not okay. The medical model says, It’s ASD, it’s autism spectrum disorder, the DSM five our diagnostic criteria.

They say ASD probably most of the pediatricians or the doctors or the psychiatrists and many psychologists are referring to ASD, but it’s not right. We do not have to accept everything that’s come from the medical world at face value. We can question it and we should question it. So I would like for you to think about where you are on your using the D in ASD journey.

Do you use it all the time unquestioningly?. In which case there’s a lot of you to think about and shift. It takes time. Changing language does not happen overnight, and that’s okay. Give yourself some grace. But today I’m going to get you to list. The documents, templates, handouts that you use, and I’ll give you some ideas what they might be where you need to change the language.

Of course, some of it is changing the language in your own head. How are you going to describe an autistic child to a family? How are you going to write about autism or an autistic person in a report? And again, this is something I go into in a lot more depth in one of my deep dive webinars, but I want you to get started just understanding that the D in ASD is a thing of the past.

Sometimes yes, you might need to refer to the exact diagnosis as given by a doctor, for example. And then every other instance, you do not want to be using ASD. So here are some ideas of where you may need to change language. And you might have other ideas. So it could be your website, social media posts, intake forms, progress notes or session notes reports.

So again, that’s a really big one. I understand it’s not an easy thing to marry up getting support for kids, but also discussing them in an affirming way. But it is possible. Any handouts or cheat sheets that you share with families.

The other thing to note about language is personal preference matters, and I share this in the podcast episode.

The way that somebody chooses to be referred to themselves takes precedence over anything I say. However, in some cases, we might need to support neurodivergent kids to understand their identity and how it fits within the neurodivergent community.

So hopefully by now you’ve written down some of the documents, templates, handouts that you use, where you need to change the language, and that’s exciting.

So the next thing to keep even more accountable is when are you actually going to make these changes? You might not make them all. That’s okay. Even things like updating a website might feel like a big overwhelming task get started. So even pop something in your calendar for say, Thursday lunchtime. Do it right now and say on Thursday at lunchtime, I’m going to update these three documents.

Or I’m just going to spend half an hour updating where I need to and find out, or write down who’s going to be your accountability buddy, A colleague, a friend, a partner. You may not need one, but I find for a lot of us, it’s really helpful to report back to somebody else. And you might even say to them, maybe you’ve got a practice manager or an admin who can help you with this.

And just literally write them a text right now and say, on Thursday at lunchtime, we’re going to spend half an hour updating our language. Let’s do it together. You know, just lock it in and make it accountable in a way that works for you.

Let’s move on to relationship strategies. I love these. It was really hard to pick three, but these are my top three right now.

Acknowledging that a lot of you probably do these strategies all the time, a lot of the time, often, and I want you to even be thinking as I go through them, what do you do well? As well as, which one of these do you want to think about more and heighten, do more of it.

These relationship based strategies are all about more acceptance of a child and less about changing a child to fit in. So we’ve got three, and I will ask you to pick, like I said, your one that you want to keep working on as well as reflect where you are really solid and you really nailed this strategy.

So the first strategy we’re talking about is around supporting behaviour by understanding and collaborating. This is a huge amount of ideas in one or two slides. So yes, if you want to understand more and go deeper, please do check out my Deep Dive webinar on this topic. However, we can really get started thinking about this.

We need to view behaviours as the child doing their best in that moment. If there’s a challenging behaviour, however you define it, you need to be considering what is the deep reason behind it. What are the deep whys that contribute to that behaviour? Not the immediate triggers, the things that happen just before the behaviour that is too shallow and short-sighted.

To really understand what the challenge is for the child to be able to meet your expectations. We need to be working with children to support them. Rather than punishing and shaming. This might look very different in your life, in different settings at home, verse when you’re working with kids. When you’re working with certain kids, it might look very different.

So have a bit of a reflection about how this matches with your view of behaviour and why challenging behaviours happen. Some of the deep whys, deep reasons that may contribute to challenging behaviours can be around a child needing connection, aka seeking attention. But that is not a problem. That’s a very human thing.

We often might cast a negative light on seeking attention, but it’s, it’s really not a bad thing. We all need it. Another deep why Might be sensory needs or dysregulation. Difficulty sensing internal feelings. So interoception, so not understanding if you’re tired, hungry, need the bathroom, feeling sick.

Any other kind of internal feelings, uncertainty about what’s happening or what’s expected. A task being too hard, and that could be for so many reasons, difficulty expressing their needs, wants, or emotions. And in almost all cases, the reason the deep why behind a challenging behaviour is a combination of these things.

So this relationship strategy, rather than being about exactly what you do, it’s more about how you think about how a child is acting and therefore how you respond next. So the collaboration piece, it’s something that Dr. Ross Greene talks a lot about, and I share his book in one of the resources very, very strongly recommended.

Once you’ve figured out what the deep why is, and sometimes you might need a child to help you figure it out, sometimes you might have to do a lot of detective work to figure it out. Have your best guess is work through the challenge, collaboratively with the child, rather than go top down adult dictating what the child needs to do.

Think about these kids as little humans who should have voice and agency in whatever capacity they can to work with you, to come up with solutions that seem appropriate to everyone.

Relationship strategy 2, accept all communication. Speech, is not better than other ways of communicating. I do have a podcast episode on this

but basically the idea is speech is not better than non-Speech communication. It’s a very ableist belief to try and have that as the highest goal for children to speak. Some people find it very variable, very yeah, it changes how much they’re able to speak at different times. Some people might take a long time to be able to speak.

It may be very effortful. Some people may never speak, but they may communicate in other ways, and that is okay. So this might be another thing to examine in yourself how much your belief about speech versus non-speech communication affects how you support kids in your interactions with them. This is the action, rather than focusing on speech, focus on communication and relationship.

That means honoring and responding to all communication attempts, not waiting or coercing or withholding things while you’re waiting for a child to speak. And the way that you’re supporting the communication, not just their speech is by you modeling speech and also modeling other ways of communicating.

There may be a lot to examine here around your own beliefs and practices, so I’m just going to leave that thought with you if that’s something you need to follow up further.

Relationship strategy three. I love this one. Make motivating things the main activity. I’ll give you a little thought experiment in a moment.

This is all about creating fun, motivating, learning opportunities that are relevant for the children. It’s not about withholding a motivating topic, toy or activity as the reward. It’s not about doing the boring thing to get the fun thing. It’s not about stopping talking about the main interest, so you can do boring stuff or the adult’s agenda and then coming to your interest at the end, or even never.

It’s actually all about using motivating activities and topics as the main activity. What does that look like? So one example, Shari is an eight year old autistic, ADHDer. She loves trains and she finds maths hard and boring. How could you use trains to help her learn about maths concepts? Pick any maths concept, whatever comes to your mind, rather than withholding trains until the end of the math lesson.

So I’ll get you to pop any ideas you’ve got in the q and a. My gosh, we’ve got so many comments there. So any ideas? You pick the math concept, I don’t really mind. It’s more the idea of how do we match a learning topic that is important with an interest.

Great ideas. So counting how many trains, adding together the trains, counting the wheels on each part, how many wheels on the whole train? Counting wheels, windows, counting, patterning, adding, subtracting.

Great addition. patterning, categorising. I love it.

Use trains when learning one-to-one correspondence. Fractions.

How many of the trains are red? Timing? Yes. Arrivals. Departures. I’m even thinking shape. Multiplication. You’ve got it. So many great ideas.

Here’s another one. Jack is a four year old autistic child. They love talking about colours and lining up objects in rainbow colour order. Hi Jack. I see ya.

Imagine one goal that you commonly work on with young children and how you could build colour patterns lining up to support that goal. So now we’re thinking, think about maybe, perhaps a child that you work with and a goal that you’re working on. Something that you’re helping them learn at the moment.

How could you match that with what Jack likes? colour lining up matching rainbow order.

Okay. Some ideas of what we could do with Jack. Cutting pieces of paper in rainbow order. Spelling activities using rainbow writing. Oh, I love that. Labels. Receptive language interaction, making a rainbow, using items he loves, using colours for visual, routine. Beautiful. So many great ideas. Dressing, organising, clothes in preferred order.

Choice making. Which colour goes next in the lineup? I love it. Modeling of AAC, that’s Augmentative And Alternative communication, if you don’t know that. Acronym. Yes. Plaster scene Rainbows. Ah, I want to play all of these games. That’s awesome. Great. I can see you’re all really thinking about how to bring this interest in with something that is a learning goal.

Sometimes we might still question what our learning goal is, and if that’s appropriate, but that’s probably a topic for another day. But bringing those ideas together, make the motivating thing the main activity.

One of you’s got a great question. How would you suggest we find motivation in autistic children under two years? Just watch, stop and watch. See what they like. See what they’re interested in, what grabs their attention. It could often be very much about sensory exploration.

That’s fine too. You might have to get quite creative in how you bring together what the child is interested in and things that you kind of think they should be learning. But actually we might even need to question that.

So. The reflection for you is, which relationship strategy that I shared do you already do very well?

Which one relationship strategy will you focus on first when you interact with autistic and neurodivergent children, let’s say over the next week, just pick one of these strategies that you think you know, I really need to think about that a bit more and get yourself even more accountable. Write down how exactly are you going to do this.

So , think about a particular child, a client, or a student that you support, and think about what you’re going to do to say, build in this maybe it’s not preferencing speech over non-speech. Maybe it’s about bringing in their learning goals with their interests. Maybe it’s about supporting their behaviour by reconfiguring how you think about their behaviour.

So get actionable. Write down your plan here and just to, as a bit of a recap, strategy one is about supporting behaviour by understanding and collaborating. Strategy two is about accepting all communication. Strategy three is about making motivating things the main activity.

Our third action today is about either following accounts, choosing to register or buy a book, or you know, really getting three resources that are going to take your learning into the future.

I want you to learn in the way that you prefer. So if you don’t listen to podcasts, then don’t write podcasts unless you feel like you want to explore it, go for it. If you love books, write down books. If you love learning from Facebook groups, fine. Do that. or do a mix, but the most important thing is you’re picking ways that you like to learn.

I want you to pick at least three to five, but maybe not more than five resources that you want to follow and even grab your phone and follow them right now. The reason I say not more than five is because I want you to take action in a way that feels achievable for you.

But if you want to go and follow more, please do go for it. On my website I’ve got a resources page and these are all linked, or most, if I’m missing any links, let me know at the bottom of the page and I’ll add them in. Or if there’s a broken link, let me know. But you should be able to find these resources on my resources page. Play Learn Chat com/resources

I want to make it easy for you. So, podcasts that you might want to listen to are Neurodivergent Woman, ADHD Adults Differently. Brain Yellow Ladybugs, Podcast Princess and the Pea, Think Inclusive. Two sides of the spectrum. This is not an exhaustive list. There are other amazing resources out there.

These are just some that I love to get you started.

Books for grownups, Chloe Hayden’s. Different, not less. Dr. Devon Price, unmasking Autism. Dr. Ross Greene, the Explosive Child. I mentioned that one before when talking about behaviour. Very important. Read, Pete Warby Untypical Kay Kerr love and autism, and Yellow Ladybugs Supporting Autistic Girls and Gender Diverse Youth book.

Strongly recommend looking up one, two, or three of those if that is your style.

Some kids’ books that you might get as resources to support how you talk to kids, share them with kids, but also for yourself as a way of thinking and learning too. The Brain Forest and the Rainbow Brain by Sandhya Menon, A Day Without Words by Tiffany Hammond.

Love me, love my ADHD by Chrissy Davies, my brother Otto, and my brother Otto, and the Birthday Party by Meg Raby. All really great kids books. There are, again, so many more, but please start there.

Now, instagram accounts. So this is where you definitely might want to visit Play Learn Chat .com/resources. And you can just tap them and find them.

Go and explore. And the big idea is to follow diverse voices. Don’t just follow speaking white women like me, try to follow a mix of people with different communication ability, different lifestyle, different racial background, different experience, different cognitive ability. You’ll find links in the show notes.

Okay, where to next? This is the beginning. I hope you’ve written down some ideas to take you into the next steps to make changes today, this week in your mindset, in how you relate to kids, in how you talk about autism, neurodiversity. This is the beginning. You may like to take the solo DIY path and just listen and learn and absorb and take your time and that is okay.

If you want more help, I’m here. Let me help please. So if you just want to dip your toes in and you’re thinking, I’m just getting started on this journey, I’ve got a two hour introductory workshop, which is on demand, so you can watch it at a time that suits you. You get 12 months access when you register.

And I keep it practical. There’s action, there’s thinking, there’s relating your learning to your experience and your practice and your world.

If you want to dive in even deeper, we’ve got an online workshop on Thursday, the 6th of July, Sydney time.

It’s very practical. It’s very accountable. It’s very active, very discussion based. It’s not just listening to me. It’s a very different format. So here’s what we cover.

We do the introduction to neurodiversity affirming practice. We cover affirming approaches to social support, affirming approaches to understanding and supporting behaviour. Big, big one. And we talk about affirming goal setting and report writing. And we take action. We actually change your reports and your templates.

You are very, very welcome to join wherever you are in the world, if you can make it live. It’s not recorded, so it’s very active and discussion based, very practical, and you get direct feedback from me during that session. So I hope that you will join and not miss out on this one.

And if it’s not right for you, absolutely fine. If time zones don’t work or you’re not ready for the deep dive, then you’ve always got the neurodiversity affirming practice, intro workshop.

And that one is, available anytime, any time zone you just hit play when you’re ready. Also, if you’re not quite ready for any of those things, Follow along, keep learning, keep listening. That is absolutely fine. I get that you’re all on your journey in a different place. So I just hope that I can help where help is helpful, if that makes any sense.

Whether you’re ready to dip your toe in, or whether you’re ready to deep dive and I can’t wait to find out who’s going to join me next on this journey. I love to just journey with you.

Friends, thank you so, so much for joining.

I’m just so honored to share this space with you and to share this knowledge, these ideas, the excitement that I have for neurodiversity affirming practice. It is a journey. It will take time and that is totally fine.

If you found this episode helpful, please share it with a friend and join me on Instagram and Facebook. I’m @play.learn.chat

that’s Play.Learn.Chat, you’ll find all the links that we discussed in the show notes. Have a beautiful day.

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