Neurodiversity: The New Normal

We have learned to talk about cultural diversity, gender diversity and biodiversity. Now we can include the term neurodiversity.


People diagnosed with autism have challenged us to stop talking about “having” autism as though it was a disease. We now talk about the autism spectrum – which we are all on to some degree. We could apply the same approach to ADD/ADHD. We all have issues with regulating attention.

There are lots of ability spectrums we could put ourselves on. We are moving away from talking about “disorders” that we “have” or “don’t have” – like diseases – to just talking about the way we’re made. There is no one way that a brain should function. All brains are different, and there are many ways of being smart.

There is no such thing as normal.

When we talk about normal, we are simply talking about the largest part of the bell curve – the percentage of a population into which the greatest number fits.

Standard_deviation_diagram.svgSchool is designed for kids in the middle of the bell curve. The most successful students are those who fall into the normal range in the two areas school rewards most – math and language. They are the ones who get called smart and get to think of themselves as smart. They are not better. They are lucky.

“I’m the dumbest kid in the class.”

I hear this line from some of the most intelligent kids I work with. They can talk about politics, music, history, computers, video games or relationships at an incredibly sophisticated level. They are knowledgeable and skilled in many areas, but they struggle in school where language and math are the main indicators of intelligence and success.

We know about multiple intelligences, but we don’t honour them equally.


What can I do as a parent?

As parents, we are in a unique position to honour the whole child, not just their “word smarts” and their “logic smarts.” We know where their strengths lie, and we cannot let the assessment of school be the final word. Our child is more than the grades they get on tests and report cards.

Encourage your child’s personal interests and abilities through extra-curricular activities or independently. Adopt a strengths-based perspective rather than focusing on remediating weaknesses. Wherever they end up in life, let it be because their strengths were honoured rather than their weaknesses judged.

How could school be re-arranged to honour neurodiversity?

  • Identify each child’s learning style and modify teaching and assessment accordingly
  • Open up the curriculum to focus on more than math and language
  • Give just as much importance to the arts and hands-on activities
  • Give children more opportunities to move around
  • Give children more opportunities to experience nature (If only in a playground redesigned to be a natural setting rather than a concrete slab beside a large lawn)
  • Move away from standardized testing as a way of measuring success and failure
  • Allow children to specialize in their areas of strength (We don’t have to be good at everything)
  • Address the emotional well-being of students, not just their academic acheivement

Forward this article to any parent, teacher or administrator you know who is concerned about kids. (See the share buttons at the bottom of this post).



Here is the latest book on neurodiversity



Here is a must-visit website.
Some of you will already know the great children’s singer Raffi!


Here is an incredible blog written by a 15-year-old boy with Asperger’s Syndrome. Have a look at some of his posts.




by Jim Sinclair


Here is the text of a presentation given by Jim Sinclair at the 1993 International Conference on Autism in Toronto, addressed primarily to parents. In it he challenges us to think differently about all labels.