News and Happenings 

Difference as an Asset:

Cultivating a Neurodiverse School Culture

November 2, 2021

By: Kaytria Stauffer

Summer 2020 was a time of public reckoning on race and culture in the United States. After the murder of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer rocked the nation, schools across the country rushed to either update or completely invent and install Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) programming. As such, the programs seem to often be reactive instead of proactive, and narrow in scope.

 

It’s not that we don’t have to work on race - we certainly do - but it’s critical that our DE&I initiatives consider a wider array of intersectionalities - race, gender, socio-economic background, and nationality, just to name a few. In doing so, we also need to be intentional about including neurodiversity.

 

Neurodiversity is the diversity of human brains and minds. It’s often associated with autism, but it also includes conditions such as ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, and Tourette’s Syndrome. Neurodivergent individuals think and learn differently and, instead of thinking of this difference as a deficit, school leadership has the opportunity to change the narrative and embrace it as an asset.

 

It’s impossible to generalize a divergent community, especially one that encompasses such a broad spectrum of difference. Instead, I can speak only to my experience as a person who has worked with children with autism for the last ten years and who makes it a priority to hire neurodivergent staff in our school setting. Neurodivergent individuals tend to be creative problem solvers and they often see things from a different angle. They tend to have a different level of dedication to their work. Including neurodivergent individuals in our community, where they are loved and supported, makes others check their biases and begin to better recognize issues around accessibility, ability, and intersectional diversity. 

 

The benefits are as myriad as the individuals - all we have to do is welcome and support them. But how do we do that as school leaders with so much on our plate? 

 

First things first - make sure your DE&I mission, vision, and values include neurodiversity. 

 

Next, make sure your culture matches. Neurodivergent individuals are often uncomfortable sharing their differences and needs with others because they have faced stigma in other settings. Ensure that your staff and students are trained in what neurodiversity is and how it translates to your environment.

 

Then, commit time to reviewing your school’s publications, policies, practices, and personnel with neurodiversity in mind. Focus on ensuring that publications and policies are accessible to everyone and that your practices do not limit the ability of neurodivergent people to participate in your community. Consider your job descriptions and hiring practices. You are hiring someone for a job - so are your practices skills-based?

 

Finally, give yourself and your team room for grace. Change takes time.