5 Simple Shifts to be more Truly Neurodiversity Affirming

Exploring Neurodiversity Podcast – Episode 36

by Adina Levy

Play. Learn. Chat - Exploring Neurodiversity Podcast Logo

In today’s episode, I’m going to run you through five simple shifts that you can make to take your practices from what we might call old ways towards a truly neurodiversity affirming approach. We’re going to cover interest based learning, accepting old play as valid, understanding and honoring sensory challenges or differences, whether we should be teaching children to learn flexibility or not, and what we should do instead of saying “use your words” to children, which is probably one of my most hated phrases.

Keep learning with me!

Speech Therapists – Here’s how I can help you get there, make the shifts and gain confidence that you’re doing Neurodiversity Affirming Practices when you support Autistic children!

My course Affirming Communication for Autistic Children is open for enrolment right now! Doors are only open until 5th July. You’ll get 12 months access so you can register now and participate in the course anytime you’re ready in the next year!




Welcome to the Exploring Neurodiversity Podcast for adults who support Neurodivergent children. Whether you’re an allied health professional, medical professional, education professional or a parent of a Neurodivergent child, you are welcome here. 

This podcast is recorded on the Aboriginal lands of the Gadigal and Bidjigal people. I acknowledge the traditional owners elders past and present, and I extend my acknowledgement to any Aboriginal first nations people listening in. 

I’m Adina from Play. Learn. Chat. I’m an autistic ADHDer, a speech therapist, professional educator speaker, and I also support Neurodivergent Business owners in my other business, neurodivergent Business Coaching and Consulting. 

I’m obsessed with creating a world when Neurodivergent people are understood, embraced, supported, and celebrated. A world where we Neurodivergent people can understand ourselves and thrive in a life aligned with our individual strengths, wants and needs. 

On the Exploring Neurodiversity Podcast, you’ll get my perspectives and conversations with my Neurodivergent friends. All about how adults can best support Neurodivergent children in our lives. 

I bring a Neurodiversity Affirming approach and indeed a human affirming approach to the support that we all provide for Neurodivergent kids in our lives.

Let’s dive in. 

Quick exciting uptake for speech therapists. my course, affirming communication for autistic children   is open right now.  For registration. The doors are closing  on the 5th of July. 2024

And I only open generally twice a year. This is a course, I am absolutely delighted. And so, so proud of, and I have had the most amazing feedback from therapists around the world who have taken part in this course.  He feels keen head over to the link in the show notes. 

And you can learn about the cost and register straight away. Check it out and let me know any questions.

And if you’re listening after the close date has passed, still head on over to the link in show notes, and you can add yourself to the wait list so I can let you know and give you the best offers when we next open doors. 

 In today’s episode, I am going to run you through five simple shifts that you can make to take your practices from. Um, what we might call old ways towards a truly neuro-diversity affirming approach. 

we’re gonna cover. Interest based learning. 

Accepting old play as valid. 

Understanding and honoring sensory challenges or differences. 

Whether we should be teaching children to learn flexibility or not. 

And what we should do instead of saying, use your words to children, which is probably one of my most hated phrases. Yes. I’ve said it before. Maybe you have to, won’t go into that as our fifth point. 

So when we think about interest based learning. 

What we might call the old way is having children work on a task and afterwards be rewarded with a movement break or with a fun activity that they’re actually interested in. Oftentimes, it looks like with holding a child’s interest, their most motivating thing that they love to do or hold or engage with. Well, they do a more boring task. 

And then that we’ll call it. The carrot that we’re dangling is. 

Sane as a motivator to help the child do the boring thing so that they can. Get their reward of their fun, engaged, enjoyable thing. 

And you were a diversity of framing approach flips this on its head. 

And the best practice, the most intrinsically rewarding way of supporting children is to use their interests, their sensory preferences. The joys. They’re the things that they love to do as the central parts of an activity. All the learning and goals can happen within those interests and activities. 

When you joined children in their interests and you allow them to use those interests, not as the bait for them to go and catch when they do something boring, but you actually use. Their interests and their preferences as the core of your engagement together. You get to learn a lot more about the child. 

And then motivation to join in, in everything that you’re doing is likely to be much higher because you’re not. 

Trying to get them to do boring isolated tasks that don’t make sense to them. 

So, especially in a therapy context where you’re often one-on-one and you’re really able to personalize the support that you do with children. But even, I hope to see this in schools and many other settings as well. 

Here. We’re going to go so much further when you use children’s interests. Of the core of the learning activity rather than the reward at the end. I teach a lot more about this and share some very specific examples in my affirming communication for autistic children. Cause. 

Our second simple shift that we’re going to make is thinking about how we think about play. I love to say all play is okay. Meaning that different modes of play different ways of playing. If they’re right for the child, if the child is in flow and is engaged and is having fun, then that is play. So instead of teaching autistic children, how to play by modeling, shaping rewarding their play, when it looks like the neuro-typical kind of expected in inverted commerce,  and ways of playing with toys or ways of interacting with things. 

I want you to be embracing autistic play, learn from the autistic children, your clients, children, students, that you support. 

Not about the preferred ways that they like to play and engage with materials and enjoy activities in their world. 

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

You don’t have to change, play. 

And in fact, you could do a lot of harm when you try to change how a child plays. 

It stops being fun and it’s not play anymore. 

Now the other day,  I had a really great question about play, which I wanted to share with you now and clarify something here. This person asked me. I embraced the old players valid should be intrinsically motivating and is unique to every child based on their interests, passions, and lived experience.  

Is it okay to model novel play actions? 

So, this is where I want to make a distinction between accepting a child’s play as valid and okay. Um, how do we teach them new things? How do we teach in the context of play? If we’re also honoring that a child’s play is completely fine. 

It is absolutely appropriate and important to be modeling different play actions to a child. 

And when you’re doing that, the nearer diversity of family approach is about showing, demonstrating, offering an opportunity for a child to see something new, get a new idea. But with absolutely zero pressure for them to take on your idea or do anything with it, even acknowledge it. 

The old way in inverted commas would be modeling a new play action and in forcing or requiring the child to copy you what to do the same. 

That’s what we’re not going to be doing anymore in a neuro-diversity affirming approach. 

So there’s no expectation for the child to take on your way of playing, but there’s absolutely offers to show them something new. Bouncing off their own ideas and their preferences and the ways that you know, that they enjoy play. 

And whether or not they take on your idea. Absolutely fine either way. 

So I hope that that distinction of expectation and pressure is clear when we’re thinking about, we’re not trying to change an autistic child’s play. We’re actually just giving them opportunities to say something new. 

And they have full agency over whether they try that thing or not. 

Let’s turn our attention to our third switch that we’re going to be doing. We’re thinking about how we deal with sensory challenges. So instead of trading sensory challenges that a child might experience as something that they should push through or get used to, because that’s how the world works. Um, we can question that the world doesn’t have to work in that way. 

So two examples I’m going to give you one is where a child might experience a space as being too loud. Or this folks as feeling too crunchy. If you relate to this, either you’ve experienced either of these, yourself or a child in your care or you support experiences either of those things, you might keep that particular situation in mind. 

So the old way, the non neuro-diversity a framing way would be to try and. 

Diminish that person’s experience of those sensations. Try to desensitize them. But actually what happens when we try to desensitize somebody to their sensory experience is they lose trust and they lose the ability to listen to how their body is feeling. 

 It’s a huge problem and a huge topic that I think we’ll probably cover in a future episode in more depth. 

If a child speaks up or even does an action, like putting their hands over their ears or tells you it’s too loud or their socks feel wrong. That is self-advocacy at its finest. It’s something to applaud. It’s something to encourage. We need to believe children believe them that they’re truly experiencing discomfort. Distraction, maybe even pain from their sensory experience. 

Then your diversity of framing approach is all about helping them remove or reduce that discomfort. 

So for the sound one, they might be about moving to a quieter space. Uh, helping other people turn the volume down. 

Helping the child access their EMA. 

And if it’s about crunchy socks, Let the child change their socks. Yes. It might take an extra two minutes to get out the door. Cause you have to find the correct socks. In the correct color. 

But if you don’t and if you require that the child wears the uncomfortable socks all day long, I can tell you they will be distracted and focused on the socks all day. They will not be able to learn to interact socially to their best capacity. Because their brain, their body will be all consumed with the fact that the socks feel wrong. 

The leaving children means believing when they tell you that the socks are wrong. 

Trust them on that, whether or not you agree, that’s not up to you. 

All you need to do is believe the child. And help them access a more pleasant, sensory experience. 

Our full switch that we’re thinking about is this concept of teaching children to be more flexible. 

Now I fully acknowledged that the world throws all kinds of curve balls at us. It’s part of the human experience. 

And flexibility is a helpful trait to have. But kids are going to meet challenges where they need to. Use the flexible thinking. Yeah. 

Inevitably, they’re going to meet these challenges throughout their life. Whether you’re a therapist, a teacher, a parent of a Neurodivergent child. 

Your job is to be a safe person for that child. 

Your job is to create an environment and a container where they have the most capacity to feel most supported. They can trust that things that you tell them will happen will probably happen. They can trust that. Things that they experienced before, or might happen in a similar way. Again. 

When you support a child in this way, through most of your interactions with them as much as possible. 

They have a stronger baseline. So when they go out into the world  and meet circumstances that require flexibility of them. They have more capacity to be able to cope with those unexpected changes. Because they haven’t been stressed all day long. Being asked to cope with unexpected changes a hundred times previously. 

Here’s another one. 

I think we could probably do a whole podcast topic on, in the future. By the way, if you have any particular topics that you want me to go deeper into, please do let me know. Um, I’m very much guided by the questions that the community comes up with. So keep them coming. Probably contact me on Instagram is a good place to do that or send me an email anyway. 

That’s a little sidebar. Let’s head into our fifth simple change that I want you to do to be. A truly neuro-diversity affirming person. 

This might be my least favorite phrase. Use your words. Have you ever said it? I have, yes. Even recently I caught myself saying it and then I went. Oh, I said the thing. 

And I needed to remind myself to make the shift. 

If a child is trying to communicate something to you by behaviors by sounds by actions.  

Saying use your words is the least neuro-diversity affirming the least helpful thing you can do. There is a reason that in that moment, the child is not communicating, using words. 

When you feel that you’re about to say this phrase, remind yourself of the other phrase instead, which is all communication is valid. Even if the child that you’re supporting. Can usually use speech or mouth words. 

For some reason in that moment, speech is hard for them to use. 

All communication is valid means that we honor and respect that all modes of communication are fine ways to share messages. And your role as the communication partner to this child. Is to do the work to try and understand the child’s message. However, they share that with you. 

For so many Neurodivergent children, speech is not their best or most consistent way of communicating. 

Speech can be hard for so many reasons. And I have other episodes where I go into that mall. 

And if you consider that use your words is the ultimate goal. 

You’re diminishing. The fact that some people may not ever, or may not fully use speech to communicate. And that is okay. There are so many ways to share messages. 

And we all use a variety of them in our everyday communication. 

So we need to stop thinking that speech is inherently better than other ways of sharing messages. If it is not for that child in that moment, if that’s not the way that they can communicate, it is not their best way of communicating. 

Now I’d love for you to reflect on which of these points you need to work on the most, which ones on your mind, which one are you thinking you need to make the change. We’ll take time to think about and learn about further. 

Is it about using interests as the core part of an activity rather than as the reward? Is it about really honoring autistic play or different ways of playing. 

Do you need to rethink how you respond to children who were experiencing sensory challenges? 

Or rethink this idea of teaching children to be more flexible. 

Do you need to cut out, use your words from your vocabulary. 

Feel free to get in touch and let me know which of these you need to take into the future. 

So for speech therapists, if you are keen to make the shift and you want more guidance to get to be a really, truly holistic confident in your university affirming speech therapist, I hope you’ll join me for my course for speech therapists. 

It’s open until the 5th of July, 2024. Again, if you’re listening after that date, hop on the wait list at the link in the show notes. If you’re listening at, before that date hop on over to playlearnchat.com/acac-course. That’s ACAC for affirming communication for autistic children. 

Don’t even need to remember that head over to the show notes and tap it. You’ll find the link there. 

Thank you so much for sharing this space and time with me. Thank you for being open to learning and unlearning and to listening to the perspectives and experiences of Neurodivergent folks. 

If you found this episode helpful, please share it with a friend, share a screenshot on Instagram,  pop a five star rating and a review in your favorite app. And join me on Instagram and Facebook. 

 I’m  📍 @play.Learn.chat. Have a sparkly day!   


💬 Get in touch

If you are enquiring about a workshop, webinar, training or a speaking opportunity, I will respond soon. Please note that it can take me a few days to get back to you as I juggle many roles!

If you've registered for a webinar or workshop and can't find confirmation or access information, please check your junk/spam email and add hi@playlearnchat.com to your safe senders/contacts list.

I am not able to provide personalised advice, resource or service requests/recommendations. You can view my resources & links page here, and view therapy services that I've worked with here. Please note that I no longer take on new speech therapy clients.

I am not able to reply to all feedback comments, but I do read them and appreciate you taking the time to share!

Thank you for your understanding!


For anything else - please feel free to contact me using the form below