The power of neurodiversity
How many types of trees can you name? While you’re doing that, let’s throw another question in - do you consider a palm tree to be superior to an oak? Could we plant all trees in just one climate zone and expect them to “perform” the same way without giving consideration to their natural habitat characteristics?
It wouldn't be fair to plant a palm in a cold climate and expect it to thrive and to produce fruit. However, the educational systems around the world have been placing children with diverse mental and psychological characteristics into the same environment for decades.
The result - these cookie cutter educational systems make us form implicit biases and conditioning, where there is only one kind of standard and being different is wrong and where no one is prepared for inclusivity either mentally or practically.
Prefixes and preconceptions
Just think about it. Autism, dyslexia, dysgraphia, ADHD and ADD are all words that bear linguistic weight, before we even get started on understanding them. Deficit, disorder and even the prefix -dys, which means bad or difficult. You're already labeled from the start.
In standardised environments, where learners feel a pressure to conform, fit in and toe the line, those who diverge are somehow deficient, even if this is not said openly. We can feel it, and it affects the way we grow, and the stories we tell ourselves.
Focusing on neurodiversity as a “problem” or a “challenge” can also lead to a feeling of overwhelm for educators in traditional environments, as they try to provide equal opportunities to learn and succeed for everyone. Often this all unfolds without specialised support too.
Dyslexia, ADHD and ADD often come with superpowers
In some cases, neurodiverse kids have superpowers that have to be unlocked or decoded. The first steps to that are recognising, accepting and embracing their neurodiversity.
Next is providing them with a supportive community. In an environment where creativity is encouraged and industrial-age education rules are not applied, kids begin to thrive, discover ways to self-advocate and ultimately tap into the gifts and possible superpowers that sometimes accompany neurodiversity.
On a website called ADDitude inside the ADHD mind , there are quotes from many learners expressing their own superpowers. One tells us, for example, that "My ADHD superpower is what I like to call brain art. I can easily think of several ideas and connect them in creative ways regardless of how unrelated they may be."
Divergent thinking in problem solving and design thinking is a superpower that 21st century education is after.
Learners with Dyslexia may have more developed spatial reasoning skills, can think critically or in abstract terms, and can possess a narrative reasoning that recalls facts in a more connected, coherent sense rather than just list of unrelated stuff.
So why do these terms, Dyslexia, ADHD and ADD, have such negative connotations inbuilt into their etymology? What is the problem in this case - neurodiversity or the failure to provide an adequate environment for neurodiverse children to thrive in?
After all, a cookie-cutter academic environment cannot cater for the whole spectrum of diversity and primarily focuses on a one kind limiting standard.
At Learnlife, we have created an open learning environment in which we guide learners to choose their own path and find their own learning style.
And for neurodiverse teens, we are offering two bootcamps - Oasis and Pathfinders for learners with Dyslexia, and ADHD and ADD respectively. Many Learnlife kids are coming from a space where they did not feel safe to be themselves, or understand that the way they approach learning is just as valid as anyone else´s. We help them rediscover a love for learning through the most efficient methods, around which we founded our new learning paradigm.
Oasis - a bootcamp for learners with Dyslexia
Oasis is for teens aged 12 to 16, and is a safe learning space where they are encouraged by experts to understand themselves and their capabilities. Working with tailored learning methodologies and highly experienced learning guides means that each morning we can provide the tools for learning and self discovery that standardised environments are simply not able to offer.
Oasis learners are integrated with full-time programme participants in the afternoons. This combination of being integrated into the wider group programmes, but having the support and space to focus on specific skills such as literacy in the way that works best for them, means that learners with dyslexia are not left behind, stigmatised, or held apart. These core skills are woven into the other things they love best, such as art, music or fashion.
Learners are encouraged to seek support and self advocate, so that they are free to explore their capabilities in a safe environment. Dyslexia is with us for life, so getting the tools to acquire literacy is the key priority. This is why we provide a network of feedback, mentorship, support and check ins with learners and their parents/guardians, to monitor wellbeing and to celebrate progress.
Pathfinders: the ADHD and ADD bootcamp
The Pathfinders programme is built upon the same principles as Oasis, of valuing our learners for who they are, supporting them to find their own path by integrating active movement with learning.
Learners from 12-16 with diagnosed ADHD and ADD are accompanied by a specialist and support guides to target focus on executive skills like planning, organising, self-control and flexibility, while building self esteem in unlocking possible ADHD and ADD superpowers.
In this ADHD and ADD bootcamp, we work in phases each and every day. Learners start with get stuff done, where they focus on their passion projects while learning and developing the skills to see them through. We may focus on areas such as task initiation, perseverance and time management, with individual attention and expert support.
Next comes movement where learners can develop healthy and mindful strategies to manage excess energy, through game-based activities. After lunch comes breakthrough where we reflect on where we are, identify blockers and challenges, while we develop strategies to overcome them.
Finally, we move into wellbeing, where we are free to explore a range of topics and issues from mental and physical health to issues such as positive relationships, boundaries, substance abuse and exposure to other critical topics that will help learners understand themselves, their environment, and the risks that abound.
Much as the Oasis, this bootcamp builds connections outside the group after the lunch break, Pathfinders pour it all into Friday with explore. Getting out into the wider world will help learners discover new passions and understand their developing sense of self within the wider world.
This is a 10-month programme, and Pathfinder learners work towards their own goals, such as building career opportunities or reintegration into their school for younger learners.
In both programmes, we want to co-create a safe environment in which learners can discover the true nature of their potential, how to use their superpowers to find and develop their passions, and how to better understand themselves. They are truly connected to each other, to expert support and to the wider learning community around them.
Neurodiversity is a fact of life, despite it being misunderstood or misclassified. Ultimately, if we provide the tools to harness these powers, the neurodiverse kids can live lives as fulfilling as we all deserve. This is the case where proper space and support at the right time goes a long way. They do not have to do this alone.