During my first year as a special educator in the public school system, I was recognized for my ability to support Autistic and neurodivergent children as well as children with trauma histories. I was immediately identified as someone with a strong ability to provide care when a child was in crisis and was often asked to train others in inclusion strategies and how to respond in when a child was in crisis. I was often asked what my “secret” was and it was assumed that my skills came from my extensive educational background, knowledge of child development, and researched-based practiced. While I have trained hundreds of parents and educations in special educational techniques that inclusion strategies, what I have rarely talked about, despite it most likely being the most influencing factor in my recognition as a distinguished special educator is my own neurodiversity.
I recognized my neurodiversity in myself long before I had the language to describe it. It wasn’t until my university years when accumulating struggles that could no longer be masked and a subsequent diagnosis combined with exposure to neurological/Autism research persuaded me to deeply explore my neurodiversity and begin the process of advocating for my own needs.
Learning about my neurodiversity and how to advocate for my needs became my foundation for teaching Autistic and neurodiverse children to do the same. I can help children articulate and expand upon their own metacognition because we have this shared experience. My ability to support in a meltdown and hold space for a child with anxiety stems not from practices in behavior manipulation but from a place of genuine empathy and memories of my own challenges. I can walk into a room and immediately identify possible sensory triggers because I experience those triggers as wells. Most importantly I have formed powerful relational bonds with neurodiverse and Autistic children because we can celebrate our commonality. I understand the child’s stims and hyperfixations because I too stim and hyperfixate. Just like many of my students, I experience love and relating simply by being in silence with another person, in the same room, simultaneously engaging in independent activities that bring us joy.
I’ve seen too many Autistic and neurodiverse children rejected, ridiculed, or dismissed by (mostly ignorant not ill-willed) neurotypical educators and at times even their own neurotypical parents. Neurodiverse educators are essential to creating educational structures that are responsive and inclusive to neurodiverse children. Neurotypical parents and educators can help their neurodiverse children by familiarizing themselves with the work of neurodiverse educators as wells enlist neurodiverse teacher, coaches, advocates, and therapists in the education of their children.