by Allison Banta
We live in a tiny delight of a neighborhood. The houses are old, the streets are crooked – giant old tree roots rumple the asphalt like waves, making hills and jumps for the braver bike riders. These streets haven’t been repaved in 40 years, and sidewalks aren’t on the agenda. The neighborhood kids roll basketball goals into the street, forget their helmets in each other’s yards, beg for pop-ice from the giant cardboard box found in everyone’s freezer. They run and ride around in packs, stopping to pick up more buddies or play in a different front yard.
On any given day, my own yard is full of these kids. Regular kids. Some of them are what is referred to as neurotypical. Some of them are neurodiverse. Kids with speech delays, sensory processing issues, ADHD, Dyslexia, Autism Spectrum Disorder…. every brain is different from the next. Without a doubt, this is true in every neighborhood and classroom, no matter where you are. This is how we discuss neurodiversity; as simply as we can, by talking about how every brain is different.
Every person has different strengths and different struggles. Like how my husband needs extra time to form his thoughts into words, or how I sometimes need to walk, fold laundry, or doodle if I want to listen effectively. Helping kids understand neurodiversity means helping them understand that “normal” includes variations. Brains are different, and – Surprise! those differences are normal. The goal isn’t to make all brains uniform, it’s to understand that all brains are unique – whether neurotypical or neurodiverse.
Embracing neurodiversity is something we can all do. You can foster empathy and understanding on your street, in your building, in your yard, in your classroom, your gyms, and the playground.
At school, that might look like one kid meeting with the counselor when they need a calming space away from the noise. For another kid, that might look like time spent with the reading specialist, or a quiet room to take a test in, so they don’t get distracted. Maybe it’s a weekly visit from an Occupational or Speech Therapist, or an aide who helps navigate their assignments and their day.
It can look like helping a classmate tie their shoes, because we understand that everyone has different skills. It can look like kids waiting patiently for a pal to express themselves, because we understand that not everyone communicates in the same way or at the same speed. It might look like riding a scooter because bikes will leave someone behind. It could look like sitting quietly with a friend because the game was too noisy. It might look like noise-blocking headphones or finding a new game to play altogether.
It looks like space for who we are.
It looks like learning to be curious first.
It looks like understanding and celebrating the unique variations within our brains, and the skills and struggles that accompany each of us.
It looks like kindness.
It looks like my front yard, every day after school.