Let’s liken diversity to a family potluck. We are each there because we belong and we each bring something to the table. My mum brings her signature curry and my aunts bring the sides they are famous for. Some of us bring nothing more than some store bought cookies and snacks, the others get the drinks or the table ware. But we are all on the table and we each belong.
Diversity of any kind can only be a win-win situation for everyone and the question now isn’t whether we should embrace diversity or not, but recognise the road blocks to it. We are looking for cultural, racial, gender, sexual orientation, religious, age and perhaps most importantly for our community neuro diversity.
What makes us or the world around us resist a neuro diverse community ?
Firstly and perhaps most importantly its an absolute lack of awareness of what a neuro diverse child or adult is like. When I was growing up I barely met or knew any children that had a neurological disability. I wonder why that was, did they not exist ? or were they not brought out of their home into the community or were they taken care of by an extended joint family. I speak for myself when I say that prior to having a child with autism I had met about 5 neuro diverse people in my entire life and thus had absolutely no bench mark of what to expect or what the future held or even how “different” my son was going to be.
Pro tip: If you are looking to diversify your life do reach out to that friend or neighbour who may have a child with a neurological disability and try and get a peek at their daily life. I can promise you its not always as dull and scary as you may imagine and one more person becoming aware of neuro disability is one less ignorant person in the world.
Secondly, it’s the idea that a child with a disability will need “support” to an extent you cannot provide. This is perhaps true very often but just as often I have found that the children actually do not need as much support as one imagines. Barring a physical disability, most kids on the spectrum can use the park and public places as well as their typically growing peers and yes while there may be triggers for a meltdown or an unexpected tantrum, for the most part I have found kids are happy to belong. Even in schools and institutions, if clearly thought through , kids with special needs do not need as much additional support as authorities imagine, and once given a chance most school staff and teachers I have found are happy to go the extra mile if needed.
Pro tip : As a person wanting to involve yourself in the life of a differently abled child, understand from parents and care givers what exactly is the additional support their child may need. My son for instance now just needs someone to remind him to go the washroom in the middle of a playdate and he can take care of business independently.
Thirdly is the fear that typically developing children will pick up “bad habits” from their neuro diverse peer. I find this to be the most common and honestly the most inane arguement against enrolling a neuro atypical child in a “mainstream” school. Yes children with autism do sometimes have self stimulating behaviours or “stims” like flapping their hands or humming or covering their ears etc. None of these are frankly socially inappropriate specially in children under the age of 5. Those over the age of 5 can be taught by teachers and parents that “copying” the stims of their autistic friend for example is not necessary, and that their friend does it as a means to calm him/herself. Children pick up behaviours from their peers for sure, but they are just as likely to pick up those from their typical peers as their atypical ones.
Pro tip: If you have a child that is in a class with, or is friends with a child with disabilities, spend a little time talking about how their friend is differently “built” than them and to recognise the behaviour that is unique to their friend.
Next is the perhaps the unpredictability of the child and ones ability to handle that. Individuals on the spectrum love a routine and generally stick to it, but they can sometimes be unpredictable in what will trigger an adverse reaction. For some it could be an unfamiliar place or situation, or a unfamiliar or sudden movement or sound or any combination of that. Their reaction could also be unique to them, they may cry, scream or get agitated and I understand if that makes people unused to seeing such incidents, rather uncomfortable. All of us tend to avoid that which we are not accustomed to, and a neuro atypical child is perhaps not someone one comes in close contact with often enough. However real this fear may be, as someone who is raising a child on the spectrum and has happily come in close contact with many neuro diverse individuals, I can safely say that for the most part one has nothing to worry about. One doesn’t not go for a walk in the off chance that one may sprain an ankle right ?
Pro tip: This is a universal one. If you ever find yourself in a situation where a child is having a meltdown, the rule of thumb is to get as calm and composed as you can. Deep breathing, soft voices and soothing tones always work. If you are yet unable to handle the situation, walk away !
Lastly, and this is perhaps the only one worth any weight, is that you can make your world as diverse as YOU choose for it to be. There is no one and nothing holding you back from forming a friendship with people with disabilities and making them a part of your world. This sense of creating a level playing field and equal opportunity for all is something one either believes in or not. It is not easy to step out of your comfort zone, but the rewards far outweigh the risks so I would say , take the chance.
The table is laid for everyone and sometimes all one needs to bring to it is a smile and good cheer !