Neurodiversity & UDL

Posted on September 26, 2022

Neurodiversity is a term that has been around since the 1990’s, but it has recently resurged as a topic of interest, especially as educators consider strategies for reaching learners of various abilities. But what exactly is neurodiversity?

What is Neurodiversity?

Neurodiversity takes a different approach when it comes to framing how some developmental diagnoses affect learning and how an individual operates. While it now includes multiple diagnoses, the term originated from the autism community, in an effort to remove the stigma that often comes with having autism. The concept suggests that there isn’t a “normal” or one “right type” of brain. While some brains may have some cognitive differences, these differences aren’t deficits to what’s considered to be a “typical” brain.

Neurodiversity supports the idea that some neurological developmental conditions are actually normal variations within the brain, and while these variations could present some challenges, they also have certain features that can be considered strengths. If cultivated, these strengths can be used to the individual’s advantage. Neurodiversity advocates have increasingly pushed to shift the focus away from solely equating neurodiversity to disability, although individuals who are neurodivergent often need accommodations in their classes or work setting. The current thought is to embrace and uplift the positive aspects of neurodivergent conditions, while also leaving room for accommodations as needed for individuals whose conditions require more support.

Types of Neurodiversity

The depth of what we know about the human brain is still rather limited – there’s much we’ve yet to learn. As such, the list of diagnoses most commonly categorized under neurodiversity is not a finite list. We also know that a diagnosis is not a one size fits all situation for people. It is very common for people who share a diagnosis of the same condition to have different experiences with how that condition affects their daily lives. As with disabilities, the severity of the condition will also impact each person differently, and can affect how they operate and function differently when compared to others with the same condition.

Here are some common diagnoses that are considered to be neurodivergent:

  • Autism
  • ADHD
  • Learning Disabilities
  • Bipolar/Manic Depression
  • Tourette Syndrome
  • Epilepsy
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Neurodiversity & UDL

UDL is a natural option for reaching students who are neurodivergent. The focus of UDL is to design courses in a way that gives students options for how they receive information, how they engage, and how they show what they’ve learned. It also promotes course design that maximizes reaching as many students as possible from the outset. Neurodivergent learners fit perfectly into the UDL framework – these learners often respond favorably when UDL strategies are used. The UDL strategies shown in these examples actually benefit all learners, including those who are neurodivergent.