The Power of Neurodiversity: Chapter 1 – Thomas Armstrong

Chapter 1: A concept whose time has come.

Armstrong’s 8 Principles of Neurodiversity

Principle #1: The Human Brain Works More Like an Ecosystem than a Machine

Principle #2: Human Beings and HumanBrains Exist Along Continuums of Competence. 

Principle #3: Human Competence Is Defined by the Values of the Culture to Which You Belong

Principle #4: Whether You Are Regarded As Disabled or Gifted Depends Largely on When and Where You Were Born.

Principle #5: Success in Life Is Based on Adapting One’s Brain to the Needs of the Surrounding Environment.

Principle #6: Success in Life Also Depends on Modifying Your Surrounding Environment to Fit the Needs of Your Unique Brain (Niche Construction)

Principle #7: Niche Construction Includes Career and Lifestyle Choices, Assistive Technologies, Human Resources, and Other Life-Enhancing Strategies Tailored to the Specific Needs of a Neurodiverse Individual

 Principle #8: Positive Niche Construction Directly Modifies the Brain, Which in Turn Enhances Its Ability to Adapt to the Environment


Thomas Armstrong’s 8 principles of Neurodiversity resulted from his synthesis of work done by professionals in diverse fields such as Biology (eg, Richard Lewontin, Gerald Edelman), Psychiatry (e.g, Norman Doidge),  Medical (e.g Oliver Sacks), Biological Psychology (e.g Mark Rosenzweig), Austim (e.g Judy Singer), Psychology (e.g Martin Seligman), Brain Science, Evolutionary psychology, Anthropology and such.  

The main reason he proposed these principles is to promote a more positive way to view and handle people traditionally stigmatized as less than normal. He proposes that using neurodiversity to emphasize strengths of various disorders “creates a positive feedback loop that helps counteract the vicious circle that many people with mental disorders find themselves in as a result of their disabilities.” In terms of applying the 8 principles to twice exception education, I agree with principles 1,3,4,6,7,8 and have some clarifying concerns on 2, 5. I agree that this is a much more appropriate lens to address the 2E education and moving the field in the right direction. However, these principles will only work with accurate diagnoses.

I feel that the current understanding and research on accurate diagnoses for 2e students, especially those above 3 standard deviations above the norm is still lacking. I have witnessed in our own situation varying levels of skills in assessment – we have gone through 6 assessments in 2 years between my two children. The quality of the assessments varied, I see the largest issue with the FIE conducted by our public school and wonder if the quality of FIE we went through personally is a representative  experience (I hope not) and love to hear from others!

Why do we need to a) be referred by a  teacher or b) request by family to have assessment done? Wouldn’t it be great if all students are assessed for strengths and differences noted as part of general education so that education would be relevant for all, including 2E and sped education students? Torrie’s Santa example really speaks to this, there should be an education that is relevant for ALL, with the right mindset, this can be accomplished.

I believe that the Special Education Legislation – IDEA  as it is currently worded is in grave conflict with my understanding of the neurodiversity movement. 

The eligibility criteria where “a child’s educational performance must be adversely affected due to the disability” (categories of special education article)  to be eligible for special education and related service equates to a “wait to fail then try to fix” model. This is a band-aid reactive approach versus Armstrong’s proactive strength based approach. 

A medical model lens will focus on the deficit/s (history of the field lecture) when looking at neuro/cognitive differences. Neuro/cognitive differences that do not conform to the norm are viewed as diseases which must then be fixed/corrected.  The behavioral  psychology approach frames neuro/cognitive differences in terms of impacts on behavior. There are dynamic multi directional interactions and feedback loops between behaviour, neuro/cognitive differences, and our environment – concept of embodied cognition to be discussed in another post.

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©Copyright 1999 Lin Lim   

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