A seat for everyone

I have a child who craves sensation and fidgets a lot in class. We are lucky enough to be in a school with an occupational therapist, who gave us all sorts of tools. Sitting on a bumpy, wiggly cushion helped. So did pushing back on an elastic band wrapped around the front legs of the chair.

But my child didn’t like having a chair that looked different from everyone else’s. Who wants to be the one weird kid in the class?

It made such a difference when, at the beginning of the next grade, the teacher didn’t set out rows of regular chairs and then one special seat. She offered the whole class a variety of chairs and stools in all sorts of colors and designs. Some of the seats rocked, some swiveled, some were bumpy, and they were all available for any child who wanted to try them. The message was clear: Every student here has different needs, and we’re trying to meet you each where you are.

So often neurodiversity is treated as a problem. The question becomes: How can we help people with brain injuries or disorders make up their deficits so they can function in a neurotypical world?

The panelists at the Communications Forum’s recent program on Designing for a Neurodiverse World cast a different vision. They invited us to see our community not as a crowd of people with normal brains and then a few people with problems, but as an incredible variety of unique brains interacting with one another. They reminded those of us who usually operate easily in the mainstream that many of us will also encounter ways that our brain doesn’t keep up the world’s expectations, especially as we age.

One speaker beautifully described folks with a variety of brain conditions as “people who experience certain aspects of the human condition more acutely.” When we think of neurodiversity that way, we realize that every kind of brain has something to teach us about human needs and human potential.

I left the event feeling inspired to approach new people I meet with the spirit I saw embodied in the panel: a genuine delight at the opportunity to learn about someone whose brain works differently than mine.

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