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December 4, 2020
Neurodiverse Education
Autism infinity rainbow symbol

Neurodiverse Education

Long article alert

This has to be the longest article I have put up here till date, and I took a break while putting it together to come add this intro. My own autistic diagnosis rocked my world so hard that it nearly fell apart, and then I had to make the tough call to unravel everything (as far as I dared), then put it back together again. Confronting ADHD was not this hard.

It’s been many weeks since the conversation referred to here happened on Twitter. It blew my mind open in many dimensions, helped me to have a firmer grasp of how far I had come on that journey and continues to help me see just how powerful little nuances are, and how far they could influence the process of educating another human, not just neurodivergent children. It all started with Adelaide’s tweet about daydreaming. 

By the way, Adelaide is such a brilliant resource person for relatable information on ADHD and you should check out her Twitter page if that’s something you’d like to learn about.

Back to the point, Eric’s reply was what triggered my  own recognition of just how much day dreaming I have done all my life, using it as an escape zone, a safe space, for thought process, and more recently, to develop new stories.

So I replied:

What followed is a convoluted discussion that I have tried to unravel, and reconstruct, and then I thought “why not share”? (I promise it’s not just because the conversation gave me such an intellectual high that I loved to read it over and again lol). But I have had quite a few people read through different parts of the conversation and get back to me with how much it helped them see a few things better, and so I made a commitment to do this. Eric’s reply to my tweet kicks things off.

Eric Elick: Thank you for sharing. What is fast learning metabolism? I learn quickly also, but depends on the information (I can’t remember people’s names very well at all, even people I’ve been meeting with for months) but I’m working on my 4th language 🤣 scattered skill set for sure.

Me: To back track a bit, one of my mentors/coaches (Adebola Deji-Kurunmi) did a whole analysis about the human brain, and how the way we process information can be likened to the process of metabolizing food. She linked it to the different learning intelligences, contexts and pathways. It’s super sweet stuff, and even though I think she came from the neurotypical point of view, there’s a wholesome truth to the basic principles and science behind it. The material also draws a parallel between how different individuals process and use food up at different speeds. Some people (slow metabolism) move through new information in steps (interaction to assumption to knowledge and on like that) while others have brains that can literally race from the point of interaction to application (and even transferred wisdom) in a matter of seconds or at least very rapidly (my theory is that (most of) these are neurodivergents). (To access the material from Adebola Deji-Kurunmi summarized and referenced here, sign up for her Unbundling 2020 program)

To answer your question, I’d say that the mental racing also means that tiny details (that the brain does not consider core to survival/part of the big stuff) may fall off the wagon, accounting for how we know so much, but miss out on the “small stuff”. Like I said, these addendums are my personal theories, based off my own experience as a neurodivergent person, and derived from/reinforced by what has been shared in the Twitter neurodivergent community as people’s personal experiences), but I will definitely be paying more attention to feedback from other members of the community as I proceed with my research.

Eric Elick: There is so much heterogeneity it will take a lot of voices to paint the full picture, if there even is a “complete” picture. Maybe it’s a dynamic ever evolving phenomenon.

Me: Autism is genetic but there’s also environmental influence as well. It feels more like the ever evolving phenomenon. And each generation knows more, learns more, needs more. It is a compounded effect that we do not have a predictor to its finish line

Eric Elick: Yes, I agree, especially in the context of rapidly evolving environments as well. Technology changes things so fast now compared to the time of our ancestors. I work with special needs children, and currently trying to understand how to be a better advocate for children with autism. ABA is everyone’s go-to recommendation, but the more I learn about it the less I like it. It’s hard to distill my teaching from my mentor to 2-3 year olds. Also many are undiagnosed so I can refer for that. Another thing I am currently processing is the various amounts of support autistic people need. I am at the point where I need it having purchased a house in early 2019. It’s all too much now so I’m only keeping up with 90% of my responsibilities currently. Is it just where your skill sets lie? Also, why is there a greater likelihood for ID with autistics than in the general population? It’s not linked to intelligence from what I understand any thoughts or guidance would be greatly appreciated 💕

Me: I’m not sure I totally get your point of enquiry, and would appreciate an elaboration.

However, I looked at ABA and it does not seem like what we should be teaching to anyone – much less children. The school of thought I operate from is one of intentional life design: where we step into each individual’s context, determine the core values, and then show them how to design the life that THEY want for themselves.

It’s about not imposing a standard (that’s such a neurotypical thing to do), but focusing on outcomes, and letting them choose how to get there.

I believe, that regardless of how a child (or adult for that matter) is wired, if exposed to the information that they need, they would

  1. Learn how to function in the least disruptive way (NDs are so much better at this)
  2. Learn how to communicate what they need.

I have advocated for, and deployed individual learning plans, learning through play, contextual learning, and layering.

These were the tools that helped me the most as I grew (undiagnosed), and these are the strategies that my students and people that I have coached have responded most favorably to (ND and NT alike, regardless of age).

 Me: 1. It is a spectrum. No 2 individuals are the same, and so they would require varying degrees of help, in varying sections.

Me: From what I have encountered (do feel free to correct me if I’m wrong), each autistic person presents with varying abilities, limitations, sensitivities etc. That’s why I have treated it as a spectrum. Even these individual traits vary from severe to mild, and the diversity is……is as wild as a gene pool.

The concern about 24hr support work is valid.
Have you considered taking a step back from full-time operations, transferring/sharing your knowledge & experience, so that you can have a broader approach, plus make more impact?

Eric Elick: Yes, to my understanding autistics have scattered skills. Some savantism can exist but is not the standard. Currently I have been trying to identify their strengths and help parents understand them so they can use/shift them in ways to improve function. Our strengths and weaknesses can be two sides of the same coin. I’m currently in the process of getting an official diagnosis as well as challenging other diagnoses I don’t agree with. If I’m diagnosed I feel at that time I will probably do what you’ve stated, focusing more on it and figuring out how to best help these kids. I wanted to get your perspective because you have a deep knowledge of relevant information.

Me: Hahaha 😂😂
This puts us in the same boat.
I have been wading through my symptoms and documenting them in the mean time, and paying attention to the things that helped me from elementary school, and the coping strategies that work best for me now. Good luck with the diagnosis

Eric Elick: Thank you

We had someone link in a conversation about taking a strength-based approach, a concept that I agree with and even practice (even though I have still not read the linked article).


Where were we? Oh yes! Strengths, weaknesses and skills. Like I mentioned earlier, it was a convoluted conversation that lasted hours, and it’s so surprising how we did not lose touch of the many pronged conversation.

Me: You asked about skill sets, house purchases and responsibilities? Could you please clarify?

Eric Elick: Why do autistics generally have scattered skill sets. It’s almost as if the brain can’t just be good at everything. If it specializes in one thing something else seems to suffer. Why, is it limitations of biology?

Me: Lol. Good question. 

It’s almost as if the human brain cut a deal to drop some balls regardless of the situation – only different brains drop different balls?

On the flip side, it keeps us needing one another, and I believe that a kind & tolerant world would actually close the gaps

Eric Elick: Sounds like an amazing world if NT’s weren’t so warlike/tribalistic. Maybe we exist to teach each other and balance each other. I don’t know. Historically autistics have been the innovators of the species.

Back to the question Eric asked earlier,

Me: Hmm 🤔

Functionality IS another foundational issue, and is not one I have paid much attention to in the past (in terms of practical work). While it is important for the children to have an advocate that comes from their point of view, do you think that is the only thing we can do for them? What does your work as a speech pathologist entail?

Eric Elick: My field is vast, but referring to when I work with autistic kids we are trained to improve their ability to communicate or feed more effectively. As a pathologist my training is looking at things as a pathology, but I am moving more towards a ND perspective and question the validity of pathologizing someone. I don’t like ABA but what do I have to replace it with? At this time appears to be the standard. I don’t want autistic kids to feel like they’re broken, but I also recognize the value in being “flexible”. As a therapist I’m trying to sort out what IS the best way to work with these kids. I hear horror stories and have my own to tell (though I only recently came to self-diagnosis of autism a few months ago) so this is all new but I’ve made it a special interest so I breathe it lately. No one tried to change me besides the society and people of that society who rejected and bullied me. Back to the point my job entails improving function in communication/feeding. Echolalia, scripting, poor eye contact, etc are considered “atypical”. What’s the balance between helping them interface With a society not designed for them so they can improve independence while at the same time not invalidating who they are. I’ve been processing this lately.

Me: I’m going to draw on personal experience here. I was not diagnosed either, but I enjoyed my elementary school experience, mostly because each child was afforded the freedom to be unique within the framework of outcomes (as opposed to results) and excellence was celebrated. This context/approach made me so comfortable that I flourished, and though I learned to mask, and could step out of my shell for increasingly longer periods to interact with other children, and even go on to live a “relatively-normal” life by adopting social cues, scripts and “appropriate” responses from my peers. I’ve seen this happen over and again with children. Public praise, private expectations (outcomes/goals), personalized approach, methods and support… The more comfortable they get in their own skin, and accept their own contexts as normal, in an environment that does not shame or embarrass them, the more they thrive.

Eric Elick: Possibility for most kids. One other solution may be to increase awareness and education about autism to get it more accepted. Other than that I’m not sure what the answer could be.

Me: Yes. I was privileged. And I am immensely grateful for privilege. Do you think that we can design that experience for other children, such that they have a semblance of that privilege too? Do we do more of empowering the NTs with info, and less of publicly spotlighting limitations?

Eric Elick: I like that approach and strategy. My privilege stems from the fact that I have a well paying job. Empowering possible employers to see the value an ND can contribute to their company and “teams” may also help. I know this is slowly emerging in certain companies already based on my research. For now I am learning and trying to arm myself with the information as well as get my own house in order. But the world does need to change to be more inclusive/understanding. I always feel like it’s up to the autistic person to meet the NT in their world, while we are supposed to be the “disabled” ones. For all we do to make NT’s feel comfortable it makes me question who is really disabled here! I don’t believe either are. Just different, but we ironically live in an NT social world that utilizes autistic technology (harkening back to autistics being the innovators of the species).

Me: This made me laugh out loud. The irony. It’s one of the reasons I believe NDs should learn early enough to own their own contexts and flourish in it, because the incoming innovation wave would have NDs at the core of its functionality and expansion.

Eric Elick: Another ironic fact is I did my masters thesis on animal assisted therapy and children with autism. I had no particular interest in autism mainly did it because it would be challenging. My interest developed when I discovered I actually was autistic. I won’t soon forget my previous outlook because it is an outlook many people likely have and that’s what I’m up against.

Me: I’m ND, raised NT. It’s a whole school of thought that may be able to provide valuable insight and effective bridges between both camps. Funny enough, my current boss (the mentor/coach) once mentioned that she wanted to work with me because of the way I think. It may not be a straight journey, but I’d say that collaborations, cross-overs and partnerships are totally doable. We do need each other after all.

Eric Elick: For me: ND, ND raised. Besides my mentor, there wasn’t much structure growing up. So not a whole lot of raising going on. I suspect a good chunk of my family is on the spectrum.

Me: When I say NT raised, I am referring to the sort of expectations, demands, and comments that we had to face. The demeaning, and lack of support. I may have ended up in a good elementary school, but even that was a miracle – and the only ND enabling environment that I had. NT raising wasn’t so much structural, as it was gaslighting, and blaming for not measuring up – and oftentimes, the parent laying the most demands are ND themselves. 😂😂😂

Eric Elick: I can’t stand gaslighting. I think I’m largely immune to it now. I’m a budding logician, although I’ve always been largely logical and systematic in my thinking processes, but at least I am learning how to classify the many ways people attempt to manipulate now. It’s empowering. I’m biased but to the best of my knowledge operating within the context of a thoroughly fried brain from work I have not detected any logical fallacies or cognitive biases that have colored your assertions and I don’t know how to communicate how EXCITING it’s been for me talk to you.

Me: Totally understood. It’s been great talking with you too.

I went on to show how the freedom to work from home (on an independent schedule) can sometimes help to boost productivity levels for neurodivergent people (especially autistics) and referred to the Future of Work as a resource. (If you are not yet in my tribe, you should sign up for the newsletter using the link at the top of this page. The Future of Work e-book is the very first gift you’d receive when you sign up).

Me: I learned this lesson the tough rough way this year. Outsourcing, and support systems have been a much more viable solution to being able to keep high cognitive function, do deep work, and develop

Eric Elick: Yes! I made my house “smart” in an attempt to automate as much as possible. Fortunately I can afford to do all this and I recognize that I’m privileged. This specialist will cost me $3500. It’s horrible knowing there are many people out there that just won’t get the help they need especially since most autistics struggle with employment or are unemployed. Problems compounding problems. I think with additional support my function will improve and stabilize more.

Eric Elick: Have you considered writing a book? Or publishing in some form. I suspect neurodivergents will be the ones to help the world understand what it is to be so. NT’s seem to be equally clueless about us as we them. Thanks for sharing, it’s a wonderful lens to look through. I had a mentor too for 8 years starting at 15 and she taught me so much and if not for her I doubt I would have survived past my 20s. I still go to her when I’m in need and she’s always there. Here I am in my 40s and thriving by most people’s standards.

Me: Haha 😂

I totally agree with the NDs teaching others. I am considering writing for the ND community, but I feel drawn towards research-based work, rather than the personal experience treatises I have been known to write in the past. And I am not entirely sure yet whether or not I want to step into a formal school structure to learn about the NTs’ perception of the ND brain BEFORE I write.

It’s still on the table though; and I’d probably publish a string of novels that explain dicey socio-cultural concepts in the form of stories before I tackle it. 

It’s super cool, having someone in your corner. I did not have that till I turned 20, but I am grateful for the stability and reference point without judgement that working with her has afforded me ever since.

 

Eric Elick: I try to be that person for others as much as I can when I am able. Ironically I am a very good mentor—another skill I learned from her.

 

As an addendum, it seems to happen that neurodivergent people (particularly autistics) thrive and learn better and faster when they have someone to emulate/imitate, and so would benefit a lot more from mentorship and apprenticeship models rather than the traditional classroom instruction and rote-testing models. They have also shown to do several times better with scenario questions. (For more on neurodivergents and the testing process, read this). 

 

Eric Elick: I feel like you gave me another piece of the puzzle in my understanding (that is not an intended pun or reference to the puzzle piece related to autism btw, I prefer the Infinity symbol). Thank you

 

Me: It’s always a pleasure to be able to share. Thank you for that opportunity

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Pkhadassah

Jane Oluwadare

She helps neurodivergent people build income models, sustainable systems and learning structures suited to their own unique contexts, strengths and abilities.

Schooled as a Biochemist with clinical exposure and practice, the graduate of the University of Ibadan has spent several years curating knowledge and expressing the many facets of her talents and personality. She is now committed to showing the next generation how to do everything, and win by building bridges from the past, leveraging history, technology and innovation to forge a future that works for them.

As a coach, she continues to work with individuals (with special focus on neurodivergent people) to work through choke points in their different facets, finding strategies that'll push them through to the next phase.

With over 15 years of sewing under her belt, she has over time in her experience with a wide range of female clothing and the female form, constructed entire wardrobes from the scratch. She brings this wealth of exposure and experience to bear in running her fashion house (Hadassah's Stitches Fashion House), guiding the production of dresses for sale, leveraging on her gift for fabric selection to suit contexts and soothe sensory needs. She also teaches classes on garment construction, pattern drafting and the business of fashion.

An International Youth Council member and Global Youth Ambassador, she sits on the boards of several youth-led organizations in an advisory capacity; and continues to work with others to help develop children and young people to create a life of impact.

An avid food lover, chef and food critic, Hadassah spends her time creating new dishes, working as a private chef and running ZoéSpice Kitchen and Events. She is also curating her uniquely crafted kitchen secrets to be passed on. She puts all of her medical and nutritional experience together with over a decade of cooking and crafting recipes to create meal plans for her clients, helping them achieve a healthy lifestyle and desired body goal, based on everyday food items.

At the heart of her entrepreneurial ventures, she is the Executive Director of CriArt Skill Academy, a tech-driven school for creatives and neurodivergents to learn creative, social and life skills as backed up by their school curriculum. The wide array of options mean that no one is left behind, and there's an option that works for every student.

An avid writer, she uses her books and articles to educate, inform and entertain, making them valuable supporting resources in her work as a coach, mentor and teacher. They are available as e-copies, audiobooks, and in print.

At Phronesis Lighthouse, she continues to link people with knowledge, and ready to share, with people who are hungry to learn via programs, training, courses, and networking events.

She speaks, trains and consults, and has received numerous awards across her various spheres of influence.

At the very core of her being, Hadassah keeps chasing after The One who keeps her balanced and finds the ultimate fulfillment in her fellowship with the Holy Spirit. She quips that He is the real super power that keeps her functioning as an autistic person with ADHD, and often shares the insights He teaches her on Personal Development, Business Development and mindset reorientation according to the Word with Deborah's Court (her ministry expression).