The ASD Nest Egg

strategies to support kids on the autism spectrum

Author: Allison Brown

Together in Difference: Embracing Neurodiversity

by Allison Graham Brown


“It seems that for success in science or art a dash of autism is essential.” -Dr. Hans Aspergers


Neurodiversity is a buzz word right now, but what does it really mean?


Well, neurodiversity, at its core, means there are many kinds of human minds. This is a simple fact of human biology. The Neurodiversity Paradigm takes it a step further stating that neurological differences are as common as any other human variation and that they enrich society.


In his book, The Power of Neurodiversity, Dr. Thomas Armstrong breaks down this paradigm into eight principles of Neurodiversity. Dr. Armstrong states that human beings, and human brains, exist along continuums of competence and ability. This means we are connected to one another other, not separated into categories of normal or disabled. Moreover, depending on the category (social motivation, academic ability, artistic ability, professional accomplishment, etc.), we will fall at different points on the continuum. This is a powerful message to convey in your classroom to both highlight individuals and build community.

Here are two key principles of Neurodiversity to consider and apply in your practice:


location icon (circle with upside down teardrop around it)Location, Location, Location

What does this mean?

According to Thomas Armstrong, the fourth principle of Neurodiversity is that human competence is context-specific and is defined by the values of the culture to which you belong. This principle highlights that diagnostic categories are not solely scientifically-based, but reflect deep societal biases. For example, Dyslexia is based upon the social value that everyone should be able to read.  However, in rural farming villages in other countries, Dyslexia doesn’t appear to exist because the society relies on other skill sets.


What do these principles mean for us?

It is important for us to be aware of the cultural and societal biases that exist and impact the message we send to our students. In our current education climate, it has become increasingly difficult to value differences in neurology. In education, our society has placed such a high value on literacy, often eliminating arts programs, and applauds skills associated with the Common Core. However, in your classroom you can create a community who values the neurology and talents that each individual contributes.


What can I do in my classroom?

Highlight neurodivergent role models. Showing students that many famous historical figures, field leaders, and innovators are neurodivergent demonstrates the value that all types of thinkers bring to our society. This can help build students’ self-confidence and encourage them to work hard in order to further their talents. There are a myriad of content-specific neurodivergent role models that you can highlight throughout your curriculum including: Isaac Newton, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Thomas Jefferson, and Pablo Picasso. So, as you create your curriculum, be sure to highlight some unique and influential thinkers who contributed to the field.


magnifying glass icon with arrow inside circle Finding Your Niche

What does this mean?

According to Thomas Armstrong, the seventh principle of Neurodiversity is that finding a community and environment that builds on your strengths and interests enhances your happiness. Research shows that a more complex network of neuronal connections develops in the brain when you are in an enriching environment. Therefore, seeking out people who validate your abilities and environments which rely on and celebrate your strengths support your success.


What do these principles mean for us?

We need to expand our definition of success and of strengths–not everyone has to be, can be, nor should be at the same level of achievement in every area. Success for one individual may be vastly different than success for another and that helps our society thrive because we need all kinds of contributions and professions. Not only do we need to recognize and capitalize on the strengths of our students, but we need to teach them to recognize, celebrate and make choices based on their strengths and interests as well.


What can I do in my classroom?

Provide options that capitalize on different strengths. As you develop your curriculum, provide choices for lessons, assignments and projects that work toward different strengths and skill sets. This will enable students to showcase their understanding of your content while also building on their strengths. To inform your development, consider giving learning style surveys to get to know your students’ needs and strengths better.


For more information about Neurodiversity read autism self-advocate Jim Sinclair’s Don’t Mourn For Us .

For more information about Neurodiversity and practical strategies to implement in the classroom read Thomas Armstrong’s Neurodiversity in the Classroom

You’ve been sitting down for how long??

In school, especially middle and high school, we tend to plan period to period. When we plan in period increments it becomes easy to become so focused on the parts that you forget to think about students’ experience across the whole day. Educator Alexis Wiggins followed a student’s schedule for two days and one of the most eye-opening takeaways was how much of the day  students are required to sit and listen. Maintaining continual focus in one location can be a challenge for all students, and may be particularly challenging for students with ASD. Sitting in one location may limit engagement with content, reduce students’ analysis and application of content, maintain low energy and prevent the kind of engagement teachers hope to see.

clip-art-sleeping-student-Yh3TzV-clipartTo counteract this tendency, consider adding opportunities for movement throughout each period. Movement can be embedded into a lesson or can be a short break from content. Some examples are:

  • Quick movement break (example HERE)
  • Stretches & yoga breathing (example HERE)
  • Stand and deliver activity (example HERE)
  • Rotating station activity (description HERE)


As you are planning your next lesson challenge yourself to build movement into each period.

For Alexis Wiggin’s full article click HERE

The 45 Second Rule: Using Wait Time to Increase Student Success

Studies have found that teachers typically allow only 1.5 seconds to respond after asking questions. However, research conducted by Mary Budd Rowe found that when teachers embed more wait time there are significant benefits in the quality and attitude of responses.  “When teachers wait for three seconds or more, especially after a student response, there are pronounced changes in student use of language and logic as well as in student and teacher attitudes and expectations.” (Mary Budd Rowe quoted in Cazden, 2001, p. 94)


Wait time means pausing after asking a question before expecting answer.




Since students with autism often have a delay in language processing, wait time is important. Extending wait time to 45 seconds reduces processing demands placed on students and allows time to consider what has been communicated and to formulate a response. This in turn increases accuracy of response and increases the number of respondents.  A 45 second wait time is recommended for optimum processing – however any wait time you can provide will make a difference!


The next time you ask a question, PAUSE for 45 seconds and let your students think.


You can read more about using wait time in the classroom by clicking HERE

or to read Mary Budd Rowe’s study click HERE


Post by Allison Graham-Brown, Director of Professional Development ASD Nest Support Project.

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