Unlocking the Power of Neurodiversity-Affirming Practices

Written by:
Julie Walters, M.A. Special Education
11/12/23 10:54 pm
Written by:
Julie Walters, M.A. Special Education
11/12/23 10:54 pm

Unlocking the Power of Neurodiversity-Affirming Practices

In a world where diversity is celebrated, it’s time to embrace and support the unique strengths and abilities of neurodivergent individuals. Neurodiversity-affirming practices can transform the lives of those with neurological differences and foster a more inclusive and understanding society. Get ready to dive into the world of neurodiversity-affirming practices, learn

about their foundations, and discover how to implement them in various settings, such as speech therapy and supporting autistic children.

Key Takeaways

  • Embrace neurodiversity and create affirming environments to value neurological differences.
  • Implement key components of Neurodiversity-Affirming Therapy, such as perspective taking, self-determination and culturally competent practice.
  • Foster mutual understanding between autistic children and their families through open communication, empathy & activities for insight into unique experiences.

Embracing Neurodiversity: The Foundations of Affirming Practices

autism diagnosis, autistic child,

The neurodiversity movement seeks to extend rights, equality, access, and inclusion for neurodivergent individuals, recognizing the value of their unique neurological differences.

Creating an inclusive environment that respects both neurotypical people and neurodivergent individuals is pivotal, as their unique ways of processing and interpreting information enrich the spectrum of human experience.

Understanding Neurodiversity

The neurodiversity paradigm posits that natural variations in human neurology should be accepted and respected. This perspective helps address the double empathy problem, which refers to communication barriers and misunderstandings that can occur between neurotypical and neurodivergent individuals. Normalizing brain differences fosters a collective mindset that recognizes the value of all brains and acknowledges the importance of diversity for societal progress.

Throughout history, the marginalization of neurodivergent people has largely been attributed to the prevalence of the medical model of disability in society. However, privileging neurotypical brains as the standard for mental health has detrimentally impacted neurodivergent populations through:

  • The over-pathologizing of non-harmful behaviors
  • The imposition of neurotypical standards of behavior
  • Often failing to recognize the value of certain characteristics unique to neurodivergent individuals.

The Importance of Neurodiversity-Affirming Practices

Neurodiversity-affirming therapy seeks to empower and accept neurodiverse individuals, helping them develop a positive self-identity and embrace their unique neurological differences. This approach is particularly beneficial for neurodivergent children, as it supports their growth and development in a positive and inclusive environment. By implementing a neurodiversity affirming practice, Neurodiversity Affirming Therapy (NAT) can assist individuals in:

  • Gaining insight into their neurology
  • Cultivating self-compassion
  • Creating coping strategies
  • Forming meaningful relationships
  • Locating support within their community

Therapists who are neurodiversity-affirming have taken proactive steps to prevent inadvertent harm to their clients. They strive to identify and address any potential biases, as well as equip themselves with necessary knowledge about neurodivergent clients. Recognizing the potential risks of therapy that isn’t neurodiversity-affirming is paramount. These risks may include the unnecessary modification of behaviors simply because they aren’t typical, or a lack of understanding of neurodivergent communities.

The SLP Neurodiversity Collective is committed to attentively hearing and respecting the voices, views, and experiences of the Autistic community.

Key Components of Neurodiversity-Affirming Therapy

An affirming therapeutic approach encompasses various key elements, including:

  • The acknowledgement of authentic social communication from all individuals
  • Emphasis on perspective-taking
  • Encouragement of self-advocacy
  • Promotion of self-determination

The Therapist Neurodiversity Collective advocates for:

  • Fostering a safe and welcoming environment
  • Exhibiting patience and understanding
  • Recognizing the individual’s capabilities
  • Providing them with the tools and resources to achieve their objectives

They are against dehumanizing social skills training.

Strength-Based Approach

The strength-based approach in therapy was developed by Professor and Psychologist Donald Clifton in the 1950s, emphasizing individuals’ self-determination and strengths. It views clients holistically, exploring their positive attributes, and focuses on their unique:

  • strengths
  • resilience
  • life experiences
  • cultural background
  • values
  • social supports
  • opinions

Neurodiversity Affirming Therapy (NAT) utilizes a strengths-based approach, recognizing and capitalizing on the client’s existing strengths and capabilities. This approach focuses on:

  • Building on these strengths to increase their self-esteem, confidence, and sense of identity
  • Ultimately helping neurodiverse individuals develop a positive self-image
  • Promoting their overall well-being by fostering a sense of belonging and acceptance in society.

Trauma-Informed Care

Trauma-informed care in the context of neurodiversity is an approach that acknowledges the effect of trauma on individuals with neurodivergent characteristics. It necessitates the formation of a secure and encouraging atmosphere that acknowledges the specific requirements and encounters of neurodivergent persons who have gone through trauma. This approach endeavors to:

  • Boost healing
  • Tenacity
  • Authorization
  • Respect and validate neurodiversity.

The principles of neurodiversity affirming care in trauma-informed practices include:

  • Establishing a secure and encouraging atmosphere
  • Constructing trust and forming a collaborative relationship
  • Acknowledging and validating the individual’s experiences and emotions
  • Empowering the individual and encouraging their autonomy
  • Being aware of triggers and providing suitable accommodations
  • Encouraging a strengths-based approach and emphasizing resilience

Culturally Competent Practice

Culturally competent practice in therapy involves a mental health professional understanding and appreciating the beliefs, values, and experiences of individuals from diverse cultural backgrounds. This includes adapting therapeutic approaches and techniques to be sensitive to and responsive to the cultural needs and preferences of clients. Furthermore, culturally competent therapists aim to create a safe and inclusive therapeutic environment that respects and honors the cultural identities of their clients.

Cultural competence plays an important role in neurodiversity-affirming practices, as it encourages understanding and respect for the various cultural backgrounds and experiences of neurodiverse individuals. It assists practitioners in:

  • Recognizing and addressing the specific needs and strengths of those from different cultural backgrounds
  • Ensuring that their neurodiversity-affirming practices are comprehensive and effective
  • Avoiding cultural biases and stereotypes
  • Providing more personalized and culturally sensitive support to neurodiverse individuals

Supporting Autistic Children Through Affirming Practices

Supporting autistic children through affirming practices involves promoting self-advocacy, encouraging autistic play, and fostering mutual understanding between autistic children and their families.

Imparting self-advocacy skills to autistic children is vital, empowering them to navigate a neuronormative society while ensuring their needs are met and their differences respected.

Promoting Self-Advocacy Skills

Promoting self-advocacy is imperative for neurodivergent individuals to maneuver through a neuronormative society, ensuring their needs are met and their unique qualities are respected. Self-advocacy skills may be incorporated into the daily routines of autistic children by:

  • Providing opportunities for proactive communication and decision-making throughout the curriculum
  • Offering alternative sensory experiences and incorporating visual schedules
  • Incorporating self-advocacy activities into daily routines

By teaching autistic children self-advocacy skills, they can develop self-awareness and a positive self-identity. This empowers them to assert their needs, preferences, and boundaries, ensuring that they can more effectively navigate the world around them and advocate for their rights.

Encouraging Autistic Play

Autistic play is integral to the development of autistic children, as it facilitates the development of social skills, language and communication skills, fine and gross motor skills, cognitive enrichment, emotional growth, and creativity. It provides them with opportunities to explore societal roles and rules, while also allowing them to express themselves and engage with their environment in a way that is meaningful and enjoyable for them.

Autistic children may have autistic traits and demonstrate distinctive play styles, such as:

  • Exploratory play
  • Cause-and-effect play
  • Toy play
  • Constructive play
  • Sensory play
  • Unstructured play

Encouraging autistic play contributes to a neurodiverse-affirming practice by recognizing and honoring the distinct play styles and interests of autistic individuals, furnishing them with the opportunity to partake in activities that are personally meaningful to them, and encouraging their autonomy and self-expression.

Fostering Mutual Understanding

Fostering mutual understanding between autistic children and their families involves:

  • Open communication and empathy
  • Acknowledging and validating their unique experiences and emotions
  • Comprehending the perspective of an autistic child
  • Improving communication and understanding
  • Fostering empathy and patience
  • Establishing a supportive atmosphere
  • Reinforcing the connection between family members
  • Motivating the growth of social skills

Families can gain a more comprehensive understanding of the sensory experiences of autistic children through activities such as:

  • Finger painting
  • Footprint painting
  • Sensory bins with materials like rice or sand
  • Engaging in water play or bubble play

These activities enable children to express themselves and explore different textures, aiding families in gaining insight into their sensory experiences and child development. Furthermore, observing and listening to children as they communicate about their experiences can also provide a better understanding.

Implementing Neurodiversity-Affirming Practices in Speech Therapy

Neurodivergent child, Neurodiveristy-affirming speech therapy,

Neurodiversity-affirming practices can be implemented in speech therapy to honor nonverbal communication, empower expressive language, and set collaborative goals. Speech therapy can assist neurodiverse individuals in enhancing their communication skills, boosting their confidence in social situations, and forming strategies for managing their symptoms and difficulties.

Honoring Nonverbal Communication

Neurodivergent child, non-verbal communication

In speech therapy, it’s vital to acknowledge and validate nonverbal forms of communication. Nonverbal communication in autistic individuals may take the form of hand gestures, eye contact, facial expressions, writing, typing, and the utilization of special communication devices. A therapist can effectively acknowledge and interpret nonverbal cues in autistic individuals during therapy by closely observing and accurately interpreting several behaviors that occur simultaneously, recognizing and responding to pertinent nonverbal gestures, utilizing visual aids, and personalizing treatment approaches.

Nonverbal communication plays a vital role in the overall communication structure of an autistic individual, as it assists them in expressing their thoughts, emotions, and needs, even if they are nonverbal or have limited verbal abilities. Nonverbal cues such as:

  • gestures
  • facial expressions
  • body language
  • eye contact

can provide significant information and improve comprehension between the autistic individual and others.

Additionally, nonverbal communication methods, such as augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) interventions, can provide support for the development of speech and language skills in minimally verbal individuals with autism.

Empowering Expressive Language

Strategies for supporting and enhancing expressive language skills in neurodivergent individuals include:

  • Engaging in conversation
  • Encouraging self-expression
  • Providing communication opportunities
  • Utilizing a neurodiversity-affirming approach
  • Seeking professional support

Enabling expressive language for neurodivergent individuals has the potential to improve their communication skills, facilitate comprehension of novel concepts, and augment their reading and writing capacities.

Examples of neurodiversity-affirming practices that facilitate expressive language include:

  • Replacing ‘problem behaviors’ by recognizing the motivations behind them and adjusting the environment accordingly
  • Adopting a neurodiversity-affirming attitude in speech therapy
  • Evading ABA and prejudiced behavioral approaches or objectives in speech therapy
  • Utilizing a positive approach in therapy to empower neurodiverse individuals
  • Believing in a strengths and rights-based approach to developmental disparities and providing assistance and modifications accordingly.

Collaborative Goal Setting

Therapy significantly benefits from collaborative goal setting as it enhances patient satisfaction and engagement with treatment, promotes healthy behaviors and positive results, helps maintain focus, track progress, and assess effectiveness. Additionally, it grants clients autonomy by involving them in the goal-setting process and fosters a cooperative and trust-based therapeutic relationship. Collaborative goal setting in neurodiversity-affirming practices involves working in tandem with individuals to recognize and prioritize their goals, emphasizing hearing their voices and including them in the decision-making process.

Collaborative goal setting can be beneficial for neurodiverse clients in therapy by enhancing their self-determination and enabling them to take control of their own well-being. This approach involves working in collaboration with the client to set goals that are tailored to their individual needs and preferences, which can lead to a more personalized and effective therapeutic experience. This collaborative process can help to strengthen the client’s sense of agency and autonomy, potentially resulting in improved outcomes in therapy.

Finding and Working with Neurodiversity-Affirming Therapists

For neurodivergent individuals seeking therapy services, finding a neurodiversity-affirming therapist is of utmost importance. Your primary care physician may be able to provide a referral, or you can search online for therapists who specialize in neurodiversity-affirming practices.

Local autism support groups may also be able to provide recommendations.

Identifying Affirming Therapists

When selecting a therapist, consider the following:

  • Inquire if they consider themselves to be neurodiversity-affirming.
  • Ask them to explain what this looks like in their practice.
  • Use The Connected Parent website to find neurodiversity-affirming therapists and read reviews from other families on their experiences.

It is vital to find a therapist who understands and honors the individual needs of neurodivergent individuals and strives to form a secure and encouraging atmosphere for their clients.

Building a Supportive Relationship

The foundation of successful therapy outcomes lies in establishing trust and maintaining open communication between clients and therapists. Building a strong and supportive relationship with a therapist involves being open about needs and expectations, showcasing patience and understanding, and proactively advocating for their needs.

Therapists can ensure a supportive relationship with clients during online or teletherapy sessions by:

  • Cultivating therapeutic presence
  • Ensuring privacy
  • Setting clear boundaries
  • Fostering rapport and trust.


In summary, neurodiversity-affirming practices are essential in creating an inclusive and understanding society that embraces and supports neurodivergent individuals. By implementing these practices in various settings, such as speech therapy and supporting autistic children, we can foster a more accepting world and empower neurodiverse individuals to thrive and reach their full potential.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Neurodiversity affirming teaching?

Neurodiverse affirming teaching is a strengths-based approach that recognizes and values the diverse neurological backgrounds of students, providing support and adaptations to affirm their identities.

What are neurodiversity affirming practices in ABA?

A neurodiversity-affirming approach to ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis) views neurodivergent individuals as unique with different strengths and needs. Therefore, the therapy focuses on reinforcing strengths rather than trying to "fix" them.

What is neurodivergent affirming ADHD therapy?

Neurodiversity affirming practice for ADHD is an approach that accepts neurodevelopmental differences as normal variations, embracing and validating a student's unique way of processing the world around them through a strength-based lens.

What is the neurodiversity movement?

The neurodiversity movement advocates for the rights, equality, access and inclusion of neurodivergent individuals, celebrating their unique neurological differences.

How can I find a neurodiversity-affirming therapist?

Finding a neurodiversity-affirming therapist is easy - search for free on the The Connected Parent website.

Written by:
Julie Walters, M.A. Special Education
11/12/23 10:54 pm