The Power of Neurodiversity: Chapter 9 – Thomas Armstrong

Chapter 9 – Neurodiversity in the Classroom

In this chapter, Armstrong (2011) suggests eight ways a classroom can be considered neurodiverse friendly. I chose two that resonated with me most to share with readers: his seventh and eighth suggestions.

Armstrong’s (2011) seventh suggestion for a neurodiverse classroom includes fostering human relationships which will in turn foster individual growth and learning.

This includes more than the main teacher. It also involves specialized personnel (co-teaching), tutors and aides, and even parent volunteers. This type of learning environment also allows for peer teaching among students. This type of neurodiverse classroom can be a more ideal type of classroom as it allows students to come into contact with different types of adults with different personalities, there is more oversight, understanding of what is going on with students, and allows more “in the moment” teaching. Even the adults in such environments can also be learning and growing due to the multiple-way interactions between adults, adult-student, and student-student. Students also learn through observations and interactions. Armstrong (2011) gave the example of the positive effect Isabel (Autist) brought to other students in this chapter. With more adults that can help ensure emotional connections with students, and between students, this allows learning to occur. Richardson Davidson (2019) spoke in an interview by Krista Tippett that all sensory input passes through our emotional brain first, illustrating the importance of first ,creating an emotionally safe environment, before learning can even occur. 

Questions that come to mind regarding Armstrong’s (2011) seventh suggestion includes:

a) Cost and the need to fundamentally change not just the current education system but also an overhaul of physical classroom spaces.

b)Logistics of parent volunteers such as whether there is the need to undergo training? Impacts of inconsistencies in volunteer presence. 

Armstrong’s (2011) eighth suggestion for a neurodiverse classroom is concerned with “ipastive progress” (p.200). This means that each child’s progress is measured against the child’s previous performance. This way of measuring progress truly reflects the acknowledgement and embodiment of neurodiversity, everyone has their own path of growth and development. It is not possible to have one way of assessment if you acknowledge the existence of neurodiversity, unless there is a connotation that there is only one right or best way. Moving to an Ipastive progress method takes away any hierarchical implication imposed on neurodiversity and instead view people as unique collections of varying abilities, all capable of meaningful contribution to society (which I hope is the goal of education).

If we can only realize two out of the eight suggestions from Armstrong’s (2011) book, I believe these two suggestions lay the foundation and will help guide curriculum, instruction, classroom design and student management.

How is progress to be measured in Ipastive progress? Is it being measured in a way that considers the individual child’s strengths or are we measuring progress based on subjects all students need to master? Why not allow children who may also know or show strong interests/strengths earlier to pursue that specialization path when specialization occurs eventually in higher education? At the same time, children who may not yet know what they would like to do/learn, continue to expose them to a breadth of topics/subjects with the intent of discovery of interests and strengths. 

I had first hand experience of what can happen when schools are held responsible for all student performances on normative assessments without regard to variations in human development and neurobiology. While substitute teaching in the positive behavior support (PBS) room, I was asked to monitor a cognitively challenged eighth grader so he could complete his homework. This student freaked out whenI did not give him the answers to the questions but tried to guide him along by giving him hints and pointed out the answer is in a particular paragraph. I was then shown by the regular staff member the correct way to “help” the student, ie  by telling him what the answers were and he just wrote them down. I wondered, how he was going to pass and ever pass any of the state exams? The main aide in the PBS room told me later, “that’s all we can do for these kids”. The system has to change if we want to capture all citizen’s ability to contribution meaningfully in our society.

References

Tippett, K (Host). (2019, February 14). Richard Davidson A Neuroscientist on Love and Learning. [Audio podcast episode]. https://onbeing.org/programs/richard-davidson-a-neuroscientist-on-love-and-learning-feb2019/

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