Neurodiversity – Have we been here before?

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The growing emergence of the value of neurodiversity (differences in how we learn) in our schools appears to mirror society’s changing perceptions of cultural diversity in the 1960’s – at least in the Australian political landscape. If this is true, do we really need to follow the same 50 year learning path? As we are dealing with the concept of diversity, albeit in a different form, would reflection on those lessons not save us a few decades?

It has always been a case of dominant and peripheral groups, identified through a lens of culture. Moving from assimilation up to and through the 1960s – absorbing the peripheral groups into the unbending dominant group as the deficit-based objective of the times. The 1970’s saw a shift to pluralism, where peripheral groups were hoped to exist alongside the dominant group, often described as a salad bowl – existing together, enhancing each other while maintaining identity as the equity-based objective. The 1980’s and beyond saw a growing recognition of the resilient nature of cultural identity and the benefits of reciprocal impact. Economic rationalism took over from here – diversity would give a nation a competitive edge. We shouldn’t just celebrate diversity; we should foster it.

If the perspective is ‘neurological’ instead of ‘cultural’, dealing with this diversity in the classroom by moving straight to the celebration and fostering stage seems to make sense. Let’s not take decades to realize the value that neurodiversity adds to the classroom. As Armstrong states in Neurodiversity in the Classroom (2012, ASCD), a starting point should be an ‘inventory of strengths, interests and capabilities’ (p.9) of every student, rather than ‘a focus on deficit, disorder and dysfunction’ (p.9) in a few on the periphery – a necessary paradigm shift. I just hope it doesn’t take us decades.

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