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Gerard V. Muriello, Attorney At Law

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Neurodiversity: A Pathway To Educating and Empowering Special Needs Children


Independence among special needs children and individuals has been sought after for a very long time. Unemployment and underemployment is rampant in the special needs community, even as differently abled people are achieving educational benchmarks once thought impossible. There is a long held and erroneous believe that people considered "disabled" are a liability, and thus unattractive to educators and employers. There is a push to move the concept of certain types of disorders away from a perception of disability and toward an awareness of the distinct advantages such conditions may offer.

The concept of neurodiversity is a simple one and was first introduced in the early 90's by autism activist Judy Singer, and journalist Harvey Blume. It is defined as the awareness of mental and/or neurological differences conventionally considered disabilities - ADHD, autism, and dyslexia for instance; should be considered no more than naturally occurring variations on the human species with their own unique advantages and liabilities. Over the course of the last ten years, the concept has only gained in prominence and cultural significance. Neurodiversity seeks to reestablish the perception of people with these conditions and to utilize their unique abilities to their fullest. A person with autism spectrum disorder might not excel at mundane tasks but would likely surpass the average person based on the ability to discover minute errors in computer code.

By focusing on strengths versus deficits and allowing that people are wired differently, it opens the door for a variety of revolutionary teaching, workforce and developmental advances. Conventional special education methods and diagnostics center on pinpointing "disabilities" and teaching students to "live with" them. A neurodiversity-based approach aims instead to assess strengths, talents, abilities and above all, interests. Returning to the example of a person diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, intensely focused interest in a particular topic (a common trait among people with ASD) can be developed into viable career paths. By driving the idea of advantages versus liabilities, students can both use their assets, and take on their unique social, emotional and cognitive challenges from a position of strength instead weakness. Companies both large and small are beginning to reexamine hiring and human resource practices to allow neurodiverse individuals to flourish while accommodating their particular needs. While still in its early stages, the concept of embracing the unique makeups of the differently abled is establishing a path to independence for millions of people.

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