Positive Niche Construction, Differentiated Instruction, and Neurological Pluralism

…positive niche construction is a strengths-based approach to educating students with disabilities. Armstrong describes positive niche construction in this way:

In the field of biology, the term niche construction is used to describe an emerging phenomenon in the understanding of human evolution. Since the days of Darwin, scientists have emphasized the importance of natural selection in evolution-the process whereby organisms better adapted to their environment tend to survive and produce more offspring. In natural selection, the environment represents a static entity to which a species must either adapt or fail to adapt. In niche construction, however, the species acts directly upon the environment to change it, thereby creating more favorable conditions for its survival and the passing on of its genes. Scientists now say that niche construction may be every bit as important for survival as natural selection (Lewontin, 2010; Odling-Smee, Laland, & Feldman, 2003).

We see many examples of niche construction in nature: a beaver building a dam, bees creating a hive, a spider spinning a web, a bird building a nest. All of these creatures are changing their immediate environment in order to ensure their survival. Essentially, they’re creating their own version of a “least restrictive environment.” In this book, I present seven basic components of positive niche construction to help teachers differentiate instruction for students with special needs (2012).

Armstrong goes on to identify the seven components of positive niche construction in the classroom:

  1. Assessment of students’ strengths
  2. The use of assistive technology and Universal Design for Learning
  3. Enhanced human resources
  4. The implementation of strengths-based learning strategies
  5. Envisioning positive role models
  6. Activation of affirmative career aspirations
  7. The engineering of appropriate environmental modifications to support the development of neurodiverse students

Source: Reimagining Inclusion with Positive Niche Construction |

I like that list. I’m a cave orchid and need a compatible niche. Positive niche construction is an alternative framing to “least restrictive environment” that shifts us from deficit model framing to a strengths-based social model framing that supports neurodiversity.

Differentiated instruction is necessary to positive niche construction and both are necessary to neurological pluralism in our companies and classrooms.

Multiplicities are an intention: We build the best collaboration, the deepest learning, when we expand the opportunities for complex vision.

Source: Socol, Ira. Timeless Learning: How Imagination, Observation, and Zero-Based Thinking Change Schools (Kindle Locations 3725-3739). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

Related,

NeurodiVenture : an inclusive non-hierarchical organisation operated by neurodivergent people that provides a safe and nurturing environment for divergent thinking, creativity, exploration, and collaborative niche construction.

Source: NeurodiVentures | Autistic Collaboration

On Toxic Positivity

“Saying ‘be positive’ marginalizes and isolates people,” she said. “I’m autistic, I have depression and anxiety and I’ve been diagnosed with PTSD. It’s not realistic to ask me to conform to these very specific, socially valued emotions.”

“If it works for you, it’s not toxic,” she said. “If it makes someone else feel invalidated, it is.”

Source: ‘It’s OK not to be OK’: Minnesota psychologists push back on ‘toxic positivity’ – StarTribune.com

If positive attitude changed everything, we wouldn’t need Universal Design. Precarity, systemic racism, ableism, and heteropatriarchy are built through policy and require changes in policies – not merely mindsets – to topple them. Sometimes we should be outraged and angry.

Judith Halberstam writes about the “toxic positivity of contemporary life”:

“As Barbara Ehrenreich reminds us in Brightsided, positive thinking is a North American affliction, “a mass delusion” that emerges out of a combination of American exceptionalism and a desire to believe that success happens to good people and failure is just a consequence of a bad attitude rather than structural conditions….. As Enrenreich puts it, ‘If optimism is the key to material success, and if you can achieve an optimistic outlook through the discipline of positive thinking, then there is no excuse for failure.’ But, she continues, ‘the flip side of positivity is thus a harsh insistence on personal responsibility,’ meaning that while capitalism produces some people’s success through other people’s failures, the ideology of positive thinking insists that success depends only upon working hard and failures is always of your own doing.”

Source: Making Room for Asset Pedagogies – Long View on Education

The more I loved myself, the less I was willing to accept toxic positivity that promised to heal me rather than help me exist in this body. The more I loved myself, the less I accepted momentary help at the expense of systemic change. The more I loved myself, the less I wanted acceptance from people who never bothered to know me outside of their own emotional need.

Source: Disabled And In Love With Me: The Ableds’ Worst Nightmare

My point, of course, is not that we should be relentlessly negative but that we should stop being relentlessly positive — and tiresomely stoic.

Source: The Overselling of Gratitude – Alfie Kohn

Positivity is often toxic, ableist, and steeped in deficit ideology. “Positive attitude!” is a fixture on ableism bingo cards.

See also,

Neurodiversity, the social model of disability, intersectionality, and equity literacy are necessary professional development.

As my neurodivergent and disabled family navigates healthcare, school, and life, I wish over and over that the professionals we interact with knew something about neurodiversity, the social model of disability, intersectionality, and equity literacy. We spend so much time educating folks in hopes they’ll gain the framing needed to see our family.

These are essential frameworks that every professional should be conversant in. In my experience, corporate harassment and discrimination training doesn’t really go into any of these. Wishing it did. Let’s bake them into our annual training and our company cultures. Let’s bake them into the curriculum for everyone. Those wanting to do ethical, inclusive, and informed work need to do the work of obtaining these tools.

Here’s my attempt at an introductory primer that got some good feedback on Twitter this week:

Design is Tested at the Edges: Intersectionality, The Social Model of Disability, and Design for Real Life

Further, we need MESH in our schools, our companies, and our professional development:

View at Medium.com

We all need these lenses and tools. Start baking them in so that the most marginalized and vulnerable people don’t have to provide free emotional labor and education over and over and over. It’s exhausting.

For “All means all” to actually apply to neurodivergent and disabled and marginalized kids, public educators need these tools.

To avoid building behaviorism and bias into our systems, tech workers need these tools.

Everyone working with other people need these tools.