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How and why to be a neurodiversity-friendly SLP
SLPs have an important role to play in tackling ableism—come learn along with us.
February 9, 2021
“[Autistic people’s] firsthand experiences in education, both positive and negative, should be the cornerstone of how we design, implement, evaluate, and subsequently improve educational programming for autistic students.”
– Laurent & Fede, 2021
If you spend any time on social media, you’ve probably come across information on neurodiversity. And some of those discussions might have made you uncomfortable, or made you wonder if your practice is considered autistic-affirming or (uh-oh) ableist. Let’s face it. None of us want to promote any kind of -ism in our practice: racism, ableism, classism… But we all have internal biases, and the best way to begin to confront and change those is to become aware of them. Recently, minority groups, many of whom have been marginalized for decades or even centuries, have stood up and demanded that the world listen. And the neurodivergent community, including autistic people*, is one of those groups.
If you look back on past reviews on assessment and intervention options for autistic individuals, you’ll see that the science is very much based on a medical model of disability, in which the individual possesses some internal problem, in this case neurological, that needs to be “fixed.” This requires the autistic individual to carry the entire load of change until they look and behave as neurotypical. We’ve seen some papers (here and here) making the social media rounds that challenge this medical model and encourage researchers, clinicians, and society as a whole to view autism through a new lens (and adjust our research and practice accordingly).
“... considering how autistic and neurotypical people fare perceiving and understanding each other, there could be a failure of empathy in both directions.”
– Mitchell et al., 2021
Want a copy of this Double Empathy Problem graphic to use with client families? Grab it here.
“The autistic community is clear that faking something as human as emotional expression for years of one’s life can easily form one very fatiguing element of a mask and is something education should aim to avoid.”
– Laurent & Fede, 2021
This might be a big shift in thinking, but start small, take it one step at a time, and move forward. We are aiming for a world where everyone is included in a way that makes them feel comfortable, safe, and validated.
“The way forward is not to seek a way of changing autistic people to make them ‘fit in’ but to change society to make all of us more tolerant of diversity.”
– Mitchell et al., 2021
NOTE: Neurodivergent applies to more than autism. Individuals with ADHD and other neurodevelopmental conditions are also included in the community. Rather than focusing on diagnoses as problems that need to be corrected, the neurodiversity model instead supports a strengths-based approach to individual assessment and intervention and highlights societal barriers as the issues that need to be addressed.
Davis, R. & Crompton, C. J. (2021). What do new findings about social interaction in autistic adults mean for neurodevelopmental research? Perspectives on Psychological Science. https://doi.org/10.1177/1745691610958010 [open access]
Laurent, A. C. & Fede, J. (2021). Leveling up regulatory support through community collaboration. Perspectives of the ASHA Special Interest Groups. https://doi.org/10.1044/2020_PERSP-20-00197 [open access]
Mitchell, P., Sheppard, E., & Cassidy, S. (2021). Autism and the double empathy problem: Implications for development and mental health. British Journal of Developmental Psychology. https://doi.org./10.1111/bjdp.12350
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