What is Neurodiversity?
All brains and minds are neurodiverse, meaning that each is unique and different, functioning in diverse ways. This term was coined by Australian Sociologist Judy Singer in 1998. Judy believed that neurotypes could be considered a social category much like gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or socioeconomic class. Singer felt that neurodivergent minds were often oppressed the same way different social categories were, such as women, queer folx, BIPOC communities, etc. There isn't a need for a 'cure' for Autism anymore than there is a need to cure the color of one's skin, a person's gender, sexual orientation, etc.
Neurodiversity affirming is the belief that all neurotypes, including the neurodivergent (brains that diverge from the norm/neurotypical including Autism, OCD, ADHD, etc.) have value. This means that Autistic brains are not broken and do not need to be 'fixed'. Autism is a unique way of existing in and experiencing the world. People with autism often have enhanced sensory experiences which is both a strength and a weakness. Autistic brains show hypersensitivity in the areas of the brain that process sensory information They also demonstrate a heightened response to sensory stimulus in the areas of the brain that process emotion; the amygdala, the hippocampus, and the prefrontal cortex.
This is why the Autistic Rights Movement has taken a strong stand against ABA Therapy. Heartstone Guidance Center stands with the Autistic Rights Movement and is opposed to all forms of ABA therapy. You will find a list of articles and resources on the issues with and alternatives to ABA therapy further down this page. There is a growing number of Autistic voices in the Autistic Rights Movement claiming that ABA therapy is unethical and abusive and similar to conversion therapy in that it attempts to extinguish autistic traits. Unfortunately, ABA is estimated to be a $17 billion-dollar-a-year industry, giving it the money and resources to drown out Autistic voices. There is however a growing body of research that suggests ABA is ineffective in the long run and can lead to mental health issues including PTSD, anxiety, and depression. Our Autistic therapists, myself included have a zero-tolerance policy towards ABA therapy.
Autism, also known as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects how people communicate, interact with others, and process sensory information. It is a diverse condition that affects each person differently, and it is often misunderstood and stigmatized. However, it is important to recognize that autism is not a disorder or a disease, but rather a different way of perceiving and experiencing the world.
One of the biggest misconceptions about autism is that it is a mental illness that needs to be cured. However, this is not the case. Autism is a type of neurodivergency meaning it is a natural variation in the human brain. Just as there is diversity in body types, skin colors, and personalities, there is also diversity in the way brains function.
People with autism often have unique strengths and abilities. They may excel in areas such as art, music, math, and science. Many people with autism have exceptional memories and are able to focus intensely on a specific task or interest. They may also have a strong sense of fairness and justice and may be very empathetic and compassionate towards others.
It is important to recognize and celebrate the strengths and differences of people with autism, rather than trying to fit them into a neurotypical mold. Neurodiversity should be seen as a positive aspect of society, and people with autism should be treated with respect, understanding, and acceptance.
There is still a long way to go in terms of acceptance and understanding of autism, but we can all do our part by educating ourselves and being more inclusive and supportive of those with autism. Let's embrace neurodiversity and recognize that autism is not a disorder, but rather a unique and valuable part of the human experience.
Neurodiversity-Affirming Autism Links
No puzzle pieces, no cures, and no ABA therapy.
These resources are authentically Autistic and affirming. These are spaces where Autistic voices speak of Autism and are heard over neurotypical voices.
Neuroclastic A collective of autistic voices, cataloging the intersectional experiences, insights, knowledge, talents, and creative pursuits of Autistics. This is a living repository of information cataloging the autistic experience.
Aucademy Autistic academics, researchers, teachers, speakers, trainers, and advocates educating on Autistic experience for Autistic and non-autistic learners. Aucademy also runs several online social groups.
Thinking Person's Guide to Autism (TPGA) is a resource rich, a one-stop source for carefully curated, evidence-based, neurodiversity-steeped information from autistic people, parents, and autism professionals.
Embrace Autism This is a platform
to distribute research and experience-based information on autism. If you think you might be Autistic this is a great place to start, Dr. Natalie has several autism and adhd screeners, that are easy to use posted on her site.
Neuroqueer: the writings of Dr. Nick Walker
Dr. Walker is a queer, transgender, and flamingly autistic author and educator. Nick wrote Neuroqueer Heresies and his site is a compilation of his writing, comics, etc. Notes on the Neurodiversity Paradigm, Autistic Empowerment, and Postnormal Possibilities
ASAN seeks to advance the principles of the disability rights movement with regard to autism. ASAN believes that the goal of autism advocacy should be a world in which autistic people enjoy equal access, rights, and opportunities. Nothing About Us, Without Us!
Autistic Women and Nonbinary Network
Provides community, support, and resources for Autistic women, girls, transfeminine and transmasculine nonbinary people, trans people of all genders, Two
Kieran Rose provides a resource for Autistic people, parents, and professionals to help understand various concepts around Autism, and get practical advice and
Chris Bonnello is an Autistic advocate, author, and
former teacher. There is a collection of articles, information, and links to Chris's book Underdogs.
Meghan Ashburn offers several lists of books on
Autism and neurodivergence. She has multiple blog articles by actually autistic authors and provides
excellent resources for parents and teachers of Autistic children.
Devon Price is the author of Unmasking Autism and Laziness does not exist. Devon is a Transgender, Autistic social psychologist and writes some of the most thoughtful and intelligent autistic commentaries on the internet.
Dr. Neff is a neurodivergent (Autistic-ADHD) clinician, parent, and advocate. She had created quite a few ADHD and Autistic mental health and wellness resources
Autsim in the Workplace
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in the workplace. The ADA applies to employers with 15 or more employees, and it applies to all aspects of employment, including job application procedures, hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, and other terms and conditions of employment.
Under the ADA, an individual with autism is considered to have a disability if their condition substantially limits one or more major life activities. This means that an individual with autism may be protected under the ADA if their condition affects their ability to perform basic tasks such as communicating, caring for themselves, or working.
The ADA requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to individuals with disabilities, as long as the accommodation does not impose an undue hardship on the employer. A reasonable accommodation is any change or adjustment to a job or work environment that enables an individual with a disability to perform the essential functions of the job.
It is important to note that autistic individuals should be involved in the process of identifying and implementing accommodations. The employer and employee should work together to determine the most effective accommodations for the individual's needs and abilities.
The ADA also prohibits retaliation against an individual for requesting or using accommodations. Additionally, employers are required to keep any medical information provided by the autistic employee is confidential.
Common Autistic Accommodations in the Workplace
Autism is a complex neurotype that affects how people interact with the world. While it can be challenging to be an autistic adult in the workplace, there are many accommodations that can be implemented to create a comfortable and productive environment. Keep in mind that accommodations will not stop autistic burnout if you are in a bad fit job or a toxic work environment. Here are some of the employment accommodations that we write into ADA (Americans with Disability Act) letters for our autistic clients in the workplace:
1. Develop a predictable routine for tasks but allow for flexibility.
2. Allow for the use of assistive technology.
3. Provide access to support services onsite.
4. Allow for regular breaks in quieter spaces throughout the day.
5. Provide a quiet workspace.
6. Provide clear instructions and explanations.
7. Provide visual aids to help with understanding.
8. Provide written information, such as emails and memos.
9. Clear communication to help with understanding culture, norms, expectations, deadlines, etc
10. Allow for flexible scheduling and deadlines.
11. Allow for the use of headphones to block noise or listen to music.
12. Provide access to a safe space to prevent sensory overload.
13. Allow for the use of noise-canceling technology, sound machines, etc.
14. Provide alternative seating that is comfortable and meets sensory needs.
15. Provide access to mentors and coaches.
16. Allow the use of a buddy system with a peer or supervisor.
17. Offer job shadowing opportunities.
18. Allow for modifications to work tasks.
19. Allow for alternative lighting in the work place to prevent sensory overload.
20. Allow for alternate forms of communication.
21. Allow for the use of communication apps.
22. The ability to work in a temperature-controlled environment.
23. Provide advanced notice for any upcoming changes.
24. Offer small group work environments rather than large open spaces.
25. Provide clear, constructive and regular feedback.
26. Don’t force autistic employees to engage in unnecessary social interactions such as company parties and outings.
27. Create an all-around sensory-friendly office environment, control intense smells, reduce noise, etc.
28. Allow for the use of a timer to help with task completion.
29. There needs to be an understanding within the workplace that there are differences in communication styles between neurotypical and Autistic people. Autistic communication is more direct and factual, this can lead to misunderstandings between neurotypical and Autistic staff.
30. Allow for alternate forms of communication, such as emails or text messages.
31. Allow cameras to be off during work meetings.
32. Allow work from home opportunities to allow autistic employees to be more productive in controlled environments.
33. Allow for the use of visual timers.
34. Offer flexible work hours, including later start times, evening work, etc.
35. Provide an autism-friendly work culture, provide training for employees on neurodiversity-affirming workplaces.
36. Allow for the use of assistive devices.
37. Provide the ability to work independently.
38. Provide the ability to work in an environment that has minimal distractions (noise, scents, movement, socializing, etc).
39. A reduction in meetings or the ability to participate remotely.
40. A designated “quiet room” for breaks or to take a break from sensory overload
41. A quiet and private workspace.
42. Allow the use of fidgets to help with focus and regulation.
43. Allow for large chunks of uninterrupted work times.
It's important to note that each individual with autism may have different needs and accommodations, and it's essential that they are actively involved in the process of identifying and implementing accommodations in the workplace. Employers should work closely with the individual employee to ensure that their needs are met, and that they are able to perform their job to the best of their ability.
Sample Letter for Accommodations in the Workplace
Feel free to copy this and modify it as you see fit. Autistic people work with a different flow and have different needs in the workplace. It is important to utilize accommodations and take care of yourself.
To Whom It May Concern:
I have been diagnosed with Autistic Spectrum Disorder. Autism affects multiple areas of my life and substantially limits several major life activities including communication, sleep, emotionally regulating when under duress, focusing, managing sensory experiences and cognitively processing information or accessing other executive functioning skills when I am under duress.
I am more than capable of meeting the performance requirements of this current job but will need the following reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act to ensure I am able to continue to successfully work within your organization.
I would like to attend Zoom meetings with my camera off, I will be responding in chat as a method of communication as needed.
I need substantial extended periods of uninterrupted work time.
I will need alternative lighting in my personal workspace as fluorescent bulbs create sensory issues.
I need a quieter place to work that is separated from other employees to prevent sensory overstimulation, as needed.
I will occasionally need to step away from my work for small breaks as necessary in order to self-regulate.
Our staff needs education on neurodivergency and neurodiverse-affirming practices in the workplace.
There needs to be an understanding within the workplace that there are differences in communication styles between neurotypical and Autistic people. Autistic communication is more direct and factual, this can lead to misunderstandings between neurotypical and Autistic staff.
There are days when I will need to work from home to maintain my productivity.
I will need noise-canceling headphones as needed.
I will be more productive and efficient with flexible work hours, including later start times, evening work, etc
Although Autism is listed as a disability and I am asking for accommodations, this isn’t because Autistic employees are disordered or dysfunctional in any way. My brain functions differently but not in ways that are less than or inferior when compared to the functioning of a neurotypical brain. For your company to utilize the strengths of Autistic employees, which includes unique ways of seeing the world, outside-of-the-box problem solving, the ability to notice details, and an authentic and honest personality, you will need to modify your current work environment to accommodate the needs of an Autistic person.
If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact me.
* I am using identity-first language deliberately throughout the website. As an Autistic Human, I prefer identity-first language as do most members of the Autistic Rights Movement. I feel that the Autistic neurotype is deeply intertwined with who we are as human beings. My identity would be completely different if I had a different neurotype. Many of the voices insisting that we use person-first language are parents or professionals who feel we stigmatize Autistic people because they don't see our neurotype as part of our identity. But my genetic materials combined with all of my environmental conditioning to create my personality and identity. My neurotype was determined by the genetic structure of my Autistic brain and all of my environmental conditioning has been heavily influenced by my sensory perceptions and cognitive interpretations of my environment as percieved by my Autistic brain. My Autism is therefor deeply intertwined with my personality and identity making me an Autistic human rather than a human with Autism.