Updated: Aug 24
Thank you, Samantha Hiew, PhD, a London-based neurodiversity advocate who founded ADHD girls in January of 2021, for recently proposing on Linkedin that "one day...neurodivergence will be a good news diagnosis." Through the neurodiversity lens, no one brain style or experience is superior. Those with ASD or ADHD certainly experience life differently, but not in an inferior way, neurodiversity advocates argue. Likewise, the absence of conditions like ASD or ADHD would not allow a person to be viewed as superior to others who may have them. Instead, as the neurodiversity movement advocates, we are all part of the beautiful and wonderful variety of human personalities and behaviors which make up this world. Last year, a colleague knew that I had recently prepared a TEDx-style talk regarding how to help students in our classrooms who have either diagnosed or undiagnosed ASD. When this colleague asked what the talk was about, I replied: that a lot of young people with ASD are currently undiagnosed, and there are many small changes we in education can make that would positively impact their experiences in a big way. Toward the end of our discussion I summed up with the statement that being diagnosed with ASD shouldn’t have to be a big deal. "But...it's AUTISM," she countered, with apparent disbelief that I could claim such a thing...the multi-faceted negativity wrapped up in her perception of ASD was clear. This, after I had just told her that my daughter (about to graduate from NYU) was diagnosed with ASD four years before, and that I received my own diagnosis two year after that. The prejudice and lack of current information wrapped up in her response were both greatly surprising.
For newly-diagnosed students and their families, first hearing that a young person has autism spectrum disorder is probably big news, but at this point in their lives it is also is probably not a huge surprise. ASD is a lifelong condition that was with the newly-diagnosed
student since birth. For those with ASD, knowledge of how their brain functions can explain so much about how they communicate with others and how they experience the world in terms of their senses like hearing or touch.
Because these students have gone undiagnosed through whatever grade in school they have reached, they have had to handle the effects of their ASD day in and day out their whole lives without any explanation for communication challenges and intense, distracting sensory experiences. Being diagnosed with ASD provides reason and rationale for a lived experience that is often challenging. A diagnosis of ASD in a student likely won’t change very much in terms of his or her daily experience relative to the rest of the world, but it can help uncover what has been there all along, provide answers, and point to solutions which can help.
Plus, being diagnosed with ASD can lead to many positive changes and effects. Once diagnosed, someone with ASD can become better aware of his or her challenges and how those challenges affect his or her relationship to others and to society. It also allows the patient supports that help soften the hard edges of the daily experience while still maximizing the opportunities for learning and personal enjoyment.