What is Neurodiversity-Affirming Therapy?

7/21/20213 min read

Neurodiversity-affirming therapy acknowledges the unique nature of each person's neurodivergent experience. Parents and therapists adopt a person-centered approach during sessions, emphasizing the importance of the client's autonomy, lived experiences, and expertise. The primary focus is on developing a strong therapeutic alliance built on trust, empathy, and active listening.

Unlike traditional behavior therapy that often relies on external rewards such as token systems to achieve compliance, neurodiversity-affirming therapy prioritizes the cultivation of intrinsic motivation in the child. It avoids the use of tangible rewards like M&M or other incentives to motivate the child to complete tasks. Additionally, the therapy does not utilize strategies like "First...Then" or "Planned Ignoring". Instead, the emphasis is placed on collaboration and mutual learning. This approach creates a safe and validating environment where children feel comfortable exploring their thoughts, emotions, and challenges openly.

What a Neurodiversity-affirming therapy can look like?

Lets look at some pillars of Neurodiversity-affirming therapy:

Person-Centered Perspective:

  • Parents or therapists actively listen to child, seeking to understand their unique neurodivergent experiences, perspectives, and needs.

  • They create a safe and nonjudgmental space where children feel comfortable expressing themselves authentically that mean flapping hands, stimming and all other authentic expressions

  • Parents or therapists prioritize the client's autonomy and collaborate with them to set goals and determine the direction of therapy

  • The therapeutic relationship is built on trust, empathy, and genuine curiosity about the client's lived experiences

Deconstructing Pathologization

  • Parents or therapists challenge the notion that neurodivergent traits and behaviors are inherently negative or pathological

  • They help children recognize the societal biases and stigmas associated with neurodivergence and work towards developing self-acceptance and pride in their identity.

  • Parents or therapists shift the focus from trying to "fix" neurodivergent traits to supporting children in navigating societal barriers and advocating for accommodations and acceptance.

Strengths-Based Approach

  • Parents or therapists actively identify and explore the unique strengths, talents, and abilities of neurodivergent individuals.

  • They help children recognize and build upon these strengths as tools for personal growth, resilience, and self-empowerment.

  • Parents or therapists may introduce strategies that leverage these strengths to overcome challenges and enhance overall well-being.

  • The emphasis on strengths fosters a sense of competence, self-worth, and optimism in children

Cultivating Self-Advocacy

  • Parents or therapists assist children in developing self-awareness and self-acceptance of their neurodivergent traits, needs, and preferences.

  • Through psychoeducation, Parents or therapists empower children with knowledge about their neurodivergence, including its strengths and challenges.

    They teach effective communication skills, self-expression techniques, and self-advocacy strategies to help children navigate different contexts and advocate for their needs.

  • Parents or therapists may also collaborate with children to develop personalized tools and resources for self-advocacy.

Embracing Neurodivergent Culture and Community:

  • Parents or therapists actively engage in ongoing education to deepen their understanding of neurodivergent culture, experiences, and community perspectives.

  • They acknowledge the importance of cultural competency and strive to be knowledgeable and respectful of the diverse backgrounds and identities within the neurodivergent community.

  • Parents or therapists encourage children to connect with neurodivergent communities, providing resources and support for building a sense of belonging, validation, and shared experiences.

  • By centering the voices and experiences of neurodivergent individuals, Parents or therapists ensure that therapeutic approaches are relevant and affirming.

Tailored Support:

  • Parents or therapists collaborate with children to develop individualized support plans that align with their specific needs, goals, and preferences.

  • They consider sensory sensitivities, communication styles, and other unique aspects of neurodivergent experiences when designing support.

  • Parents or therapists may draw from a range of therapeutic modalities and techniques, adapting them to accommodate the client's neurodivergence.

  • Regular feedback and check-ins allow Parents or therapists to assess the effectiveness of support and make necessary adjustments to ensure they are empowering and beneficial for the client.

In summary, neurodiversity-affirming therapy creates a therapeutic environment that values and celebrates the diverse experiences, strengths, and challenges of neurodivergent individuals. By shifting away from pathologization and embracing the unique qualities that neurodivergent individuals bring, therapists empower their children to embrace self-advocacy, develop a sense of identity and pride, and navigate the world with resilience and self-acceptance.