Thursday, April 11, 2024

Rethinking neurodiversity

I very much like the definition of neurodiversity used at the spotlight conference in Bradford last year:-

Neurodiversity is the term used to describe the wide variety [of] different ways human beings think, learn, communicate and exist in the world. It is an umbrella term - a word that sums up lots of different things and helps us reframe conditions such as autism, ADHD, dyslexia as differences rather than deficits.

As I mentioned in my last post, a recent report on autism in children and young people, one of the main components of said neurodiversity (see previous post), by the N8 Research Partnership talks about the need for a radical rethink on autism. It was the result of a collaborative programme of work between Child of the North and the Centre for Young Lives. Three helpful evidenced-based recommendations are made:-

(1) Build effective partnerships between education and health professionals for assessing and supporting autistic children. This should include delivering assessments in education settings and making a holistic offer of support in schools and nurseries before and after a formal diagnosis is made. 

(2) Provide and extend access to mandatory Continuing Professional Development (CPD) courses for health, education, and social care professionals that improve understanding and awareness of autism (and related issues). These courses should include information on how to create “neurodiverse friendly” environments, and particularly raise awareness of autism in girls and ethnic minority groups. Additional training should be co-produced by individuals with lived experience, delivered to professionals, and integrated into undergraduate health and education professional training, to improve the identification of autistic girls.  

(3) Create formal partnerships at a local authority level comprising sector leaders (including schools, health, voluntary services, faith, universities, educational psychologists, and businesses) to oversee a prioritised governmental ward-level approach to addressing the autism crisis. The partnership should focus on its most disadvantaged wards and provide leadership in trialling data-driven, community and family co-produced, “whole system” approaches to improve autism support with and through education settings.

As the report says, these recommendations have resource implications but offer the potential for decreasing long-term costs by acting now. They should actually benefit the economy by increasing the employment of autistic people. Throwing money at the problem doesn’t solve it. To quote from the report:-

The time has come for everyone to cross organisational and geographical boundaries and commit to working together in the best interests of autistic CYP [children and young people] and their families.

A major barrier to progress is the overemphasis on psychiatric diagnosis (see eg. my article). This relates to the overmedicalisation of developmental and mental health problems (see eg. previous post). I very much agree with the essence of the report that support should be given on the basis of need regardless of the diagnosis of autism.

No comments: