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  • Kaybee Muponisi

Neurodiversity Affirming Approach: applications in practice for clinicians

Updated: Mar 5

Neurodiversity is at the core of not only discussing but understanding neuro-affirming approaches in practice. Neurodiversity refers to the different ways that the brain responds to external/ internal stimuli and impacts one's affective factors, social interactions, sensory processing, behaviour and learning needs. Neurodiveristy in its essence emphasises the importance of acknowledging that the way in which every person's brain develops and responds to the world is unique. ( singer, 1990).

Neurodiveristy affirming practice uses the core concepts of neurodiversity and applies these to clinical practice in order to protect psychosocial wellbeing, use strength based approaches, empower neuordivergent individuals and create better understanding and acceptance of neurodivergence in society.

Neurodiversity affirming practice can be applied by a range of different strategies such as use of language, providing strength based goals and approaches, empowering clients, and offering options. The way in which clinical goals and intervention plans are applied by clinicians can promote health and wellbeing for neurodiverse individuals or create emotionally damaging and mentally devastating long term outcomes.

Advocacy and Empowerment:

Advocating for the needs of neurodiverse clients is an imperative aspect of neurodiversity affirming approach. Advocacy within the context of neurodiversity looks like;

  • Empowering children to access supports independently.

  • Providing neurodiversity affirming recommendations for parents and caregivers.

  • Using relevant frameworks e.g. pyramid of learning, neurodviersity affirming Model etc.

  • Liaising with educational facilities in order to support client needs and promote not only participation but wellbeing.

Neurodiversity affirming goals:

Neurodiversity affirming goals account for clients' needs, strengths and passions. They emphasise empowering and advocating for clients as opposed to forcing neurotypical behaviours and expectations.


Johnny will be able to sustain attention in classroom activities with minimal breaks and disruptions.


Johnny will be supported to advocate and independently attend to his sensory needs in order to increase his capacity to sustain attention in table top activities.

Neurodiversity affirming Language:

There are simple changes in language that clinicians can apply in practice in order to use neurodiversity affirming language.

  • Autistic vs Person with Autism

  • Disorder vs Difference

  • Comorbid vs Co-occurring

  • Unable to vs Requires assistance

  • Symptoms vs Characteristics

  • Rigid vs Prefers Consistency

  • Treatment vs Supports

  • Non-verbal vs Non-speaking

  • Selectively mute vs Situationally mute

  • Fixated vs Passionate

  • Tantrum vs Intense emotions

  • Diagnosed with vs Identified as

  • Special needs vs Specific needs

  • Special education vs Inclusive education.


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