Neurodiversity in the SpEd Classroom

Walk into many SpEd classrooms, and you’ll see complete ignorance of neurodiversity and the social model of disability. Students with conflicting sensory needs and accommodations are squished together with no access to cave, campfire, or watering hole zones. This sensory environment feeds the overwhelm -> meltdown -> burnout cycle. Feedback loops cascade. Mind blind neurotypical adults shout across the room, feeding the overwhelm. They ratchet compliance, feeding the overwhelm. They treat meltdowns as attention-seeking “fits”, feeding the overwhelm. They not only fail to presume competence, they speak about kids as if they aren’t even there, feeding the overwhelm. Everything you can do wrong is done.

The most important thing to understand about autism in a classroom context is sensory overwhelm. Education doesn’t. ABA and behaviorism don’t. We navigate systems stacked against us to get access to what amounts to dog training—that dog trainers know better than to use—and a segregated “special” track through our systems that has made no perceivable effort to connect with the communities it serves.

The specialists that serve this “special” track aren’t specialized in the lives and needs of neurodivergent and disabled people; they’re specialized in compliance, manipulation, and the deficit and medical models. They can’t even bring themselves to use our language or educate parents about our existence.

K-12, do as these researchers are finally doing. They are in the space connecting with #ActuallyAutistic people. They are using and spreading our language. We see them, but not so much you.

Scientists are increasingly recognizing a moral imperative to collaborate with the communities they study, and the practical benefits that result. Autism researchers are joining this movement, partnering with people on the spectrum and their families to better address their priorities.

Source: Autism research needs a dose of social science | Spectrum | Autism Research News

Sensory overwhelm is a marquee feature of my life. Autistic perception can be a high fidelity flood in an intense world. “Autistic perception is the direct perception of the forming of experience. This has effects: activities which require parsing (crossing the street, finding the path in the forest) can be much more difficult. But there is no question that autistic perception experiences richness in a way the more neurotypically inclined perception rarely does.

Noncompliance is a social skill“. “Prioritize teaching noncompliance and autonomy to your kids. Prioritize agency.” “Many behavior therapies are compliance-based. Compliance is not a survival skill. It makes us vulnerable.” “It’s of crucial importance that behavior based compliance training not be central to the way we parent, teach, or offer therapy to autistic children. Because of the way it leaves them vulnerable to harm, not only as children, but for the rest of their lives.” Disabled kids “are driven to comply, and comply, and comply. It strips them of agency. It puts them at risk for abuse.” “The most important thing a developmentally disabled child needs to learn is how to say “no.” If they only learn one thing, let it be that.” “When an autistic teen without a standard means of expressive communication suddenly sits down and refuses to do something he’s done day after day, this is self-advocacy … When an autistic person who has been told both overtly and otherwise that she has no future and no personhood reacts by attempting in any way possible to attack the place in which she’s been imprisoned and the people who keep her there, this is self-advocacy … When people generally said to be incapable of communication find ways of making clear what they do and don’t want through means other than words, this is self-advocacy.” “We don’t believe that conventional communication should be the prerequisite for your loved one having their communication honored.

Source: I’m Autistic. Here’s what I’d like you to know.

There is another insidious but serious consequence of being labelled (as having or being) “special needs”. The label carries with it the implication that a person with “special needs” can only have their needs met by “special” help or “specially-trained” people – by “specialists”. That implication is particularly powerful and damaging in our mainstream schooling systems – it is a barrier to mainstream schools, administrators and teachers feeling responsible, empowered or skilled to embrace and practice inclusive education in regular classrooms, and accordingly perpetuates attitudinal resistance to realising the human right to inclusive education under Article 24 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Source: “He ain’t special, he’s my brother” – Time to ditch the phrase “special needs” – Starting With Julius

Social Emotional Learning, Psychological Safety, Double Empathy, and the Social Model #3rdchat

I contributed some neurodiverisity, social model of disability, and pigeons of ed-tech perspective to the #3rdchat on social emotional learning. Thanks to the teachers present who very graciously welcomed input from parents.

Q1: What does Social Emotional Learning mean to you? What does it look like in classrooms?

A1: Pardon the intrusion of this parent as I momentarily decloak to offer some neurodiversity, disability, and pigeons of ed-tech perspective and then return to lurking. #3rdchat

https://boren.blog/2017/08/19/mindset-marketing-behaviorism-and-deficit-ideology/

Q2: How do you incorporate SEL with academic learning? How do you find time in your instruction?

A2: The studies Google and others have done on psychological safety are relevant. They talk about social-emotional intelligence of teams and do it without the usual tinge of manipulative behaviorism.

#3rdchat

https://boren.blog/2017/01/11/projects-teams-and-psychological-safety/

https://boren.blog/2017/02/28/affinity-groups-psychological-safety-and-inclusion/

Q3: Many schools have not yet focused on Social Emotional Learning (SEL). Why does social emotional learning deserve a place in our schools?

A3: It doesn’t in its mainstream ed-tech form. In that form, it is incompatible with neurodiversity and the social model of disability.

https://boren.blog/2017/08/19/mindset-marketing-behaviorism-and-deficit-ideology/

Instead, frame SE and soft skills in terms of psychological safety.

https://boren.blog/2017/01/11/projects-teams-and-psychological-safety/

#3rdchat

Q4: What resources do you use/recommend for educators wanting to use Social Emotional Learning in the classroom?

A4: The SEL of mainstream ed-tech doesn’t understand empathy, far from it. It doesn’t prepare kids to navigate the double empathy problem.

https://boren.blog/2017/09/16/the-double-empathy-problem-developing-empathy-and-reciprocity-in-neurotypical-adults/

Consult the neurodiversity and social model of disability communities. #3rdchat

https://boren.blog/2016/08/09/education-neurodiversity-the-social-model-of-disability-and-real-life/

We don’t need your mindset marketing.

Autistic Special Interest and ADHD Hyperfocus crush learning curves. Both are powered by passion and intrinsic motivation. Without agency to pursue passion, these rockets can’t take off.

We don’t need your mindset marketing.

We don’t need your behavior mods.

We don’t need your sticks and carrots.

We don’t need your compliance cult.

We need agency and acceptance.

Embrace the obsession. Special interests are “intimately tied to the well-being of people on the spectrum“. “Special interests have a positive impact on autistic adults and are associated with higher subjective well-being and satisfaction across specific life domains including social contact and leisure.

Noncompliance is a social skill“. “Prioritize teaching noncompliance and autonomy to your kids. Prioritize agency.” “Many behavior therapies are compliance-based. Compliance is not a survival skill. It makes us vulnerable.” “It’s of crucial importance that behavior based compliance training not be central to the way we parent, teach, or offer therapy to autistic children. Because of the way it leaves them vulnerable to harm, not only as children, but for the rest of their lives.” Disabled kids “are driven to comply, and comply, and comply. It strips them of agency. It puts them at risk for abuse.” “The most important thing a developmentally disabled child needs to learn is how to say “no.” If they only learn one thing, let it be that.” “When an autistic teen without a standard means of expressive communication suddenly sits down and refuses to do something he’s done day after day, this is self-advocacy … When an autistic person who has been told both overtly and otherwise that she has no future and no personhood reacts by attempting in any way possible to attack the place in which she’s been imprisoned and the people who keep her there, this is self-advocacy … When people generally said to be incapable of communication find ways of making clear what they do and don’t want through means other than words, this is self-advocacy.” “We don’t believe that conventional communication should be the prerequisite for your loved one having their communication honored.

Compassion and acceptance are practical and effective magic. They remedy a lot of problems and contribute to psychological safety. Acceptance matters. “A big part of our susceptibility to issues like anxiety has to do with how we were slowly socialized, either implicitly or explicitly, to believe that an autistic lifestyle is something that is defective and therefore needs fixing. A recent Independent article sums up the strong link between lack of autism acceptance and the development of mental health disorders in autistic people: Research shows that lack of acceptance externally from others and internally from the self significantly predicts depression and anxiety in young adults with autism. ” “We also reject the equation that accepting autism and disability means giving up. Research consistently shows that autism acceptance leads to better mental health for parents as well as autistic people themselves. Evidence is mounting that acceptance and accommodation provide a more reliable path to increased capability and independence than fighting autism or disability does. Acceptance isn’t a cure, but it does facilitate recognition and support of abilities that often go unrecognized and under-valued. We are better off when not only our disabilities, but our real abilities, are recognized.”

Source: I’m Autistic. Here’s what I’d like you to know.

Since reading NeuroTribes, I think of psychologically & sensory safe spaces suited to zone work as “Cavendish bubbles” and “Cavendish space”, after Henry Cavendish, the wizard of Clapham Common and discoverer of hydrogen. The privileges of nobility afforded room for his differences, allowing him the space to become “one of the first true scientists in the modern sense.”

Let’s build psychologically safe homes of opportunity without the requirement of nobility or privilege. Replace the trappings of the compliance classroom with student-created context, BYOD (Bring Your Own Device), and BYOC (Bring/Build Your Own Comfort). Let’s hit thrift stores, buy lumber, apply some hacker ethos, and turn the compliance classroom into something psychologically safe and comfortable to a team of young minds engaged in passion-based learning. Inform spaces with neurodiversity and the social model of disability so that they welcome and include all minds and bodies. Provide quiet spaces for high memory state zone work where students can escape sensory overwhelm, slip into flow states, and enjoy a maker’s schedule. Provide social spaces for collaboration and camaraderie. Create cave, campfire, and watering hole zones. Develop neurological curb cuts. Fill our classrooms with choice and comfort, instructional tolerance, continuous connectivity, and assistive technology. In other words, make space for Cavendish.

My cave, campfire, and watering hole moods map to the red, yellow, and green of interaction badges (aka color communication badges). The three-level communication flow used at my company and other distributed companies reflects the progressive sociality of cave, campfire, and watering hole contexts and red, yellow, green interaction moods. These triptych reductions are a useful starting place when designing for neurological pluralism. When we design for pluralism, we design for real life, for the actuality of humanity.

Source: Classroom UX: Bring Your Own Comfort, Bring Your Own Device, Design Your Own Context