How stigma can make school harder for neurodivergent students
How do stigma and misconceptions around neurodiversity negatively impact students in schools and the difficulties they face.
Here are some specific examples:
Confusing behavior: I learned later in life, that many peers wanted to befriend me. But the way I showed up in the world didn’t provide them with familiar nonverbal clues that I was open to be approached. We can be restless, and fidgety as we work to regulate ourselves.
We may avoid eye contact when nervous or to hear better when visual stimuli is overwhelming. People being people, tell themselves elaborate stories about what our behavior means. Those stories typically become the basis of stigmatized behavior toward us.
Bullying: I lived in fear growing up, I was a perfect target for any peer who was hurting (likely not encouraged to show emotion). They wanted to get their own anger out on someone who wouldn’t fight back. I pulled my son from middle school when he became suicidal from relentless bullying the school failed to address. Many educators believe the solution is for ND students to not make themselves a target. Victim blaming anyone?
Lack of Supports: Their may be more students who need a diagnosis than actually have one. I didn’t learn about my ND until I was an adult. Many schools resist diagnoses as do some parents. That leaves the ND child to navigate the chaos of school, relationships, all the executive functioning tasks. All with no school supports from an IEP, special ed staff, classroom accommodations.
Punishment for Symptoms: I continue to hear stories about ND students given detention or suspension for behaviors related to their disability. My son would often leave his classroom when feeling anxious. The staff wanted to focus on teaching him not to leave instead of dealing with why he kept leaving. It was all about the needs of the classroom while ignoring his needs. They kept calling me to pick him up from school for repeatedly leaving the classroom
Judgement: People fear what they don’t understand. I remembered being told I was in the “stupid people class” because I had challenges learning math. School kids rarely include ND students because it isn’t part of the school culture. We can be seen as dumb, slow, you name it. Simply because we may use our voice, language and body differently than what others are accustomed to. I missed out on a lot of friendship and extracurricular activities because I didn’t know what I needed or how to express it. Without a diagnosis and IEP, legally the school could say I’m not entitled to any supports.
Mental health: It may go without saying that being ND is hard on the nervous system. Especially when the demands of school lack any consideration for the amount of self-care an ND needs daily just to recover from being there. Let alone having to keep up with work they’ll probably never need to duplicate after graduation. The low self-worth, 24/7 anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation. The social alienation, feeling alone in their experience exacerbates it all.
We simply cannot continue living in a society that champions selfishness as a virtuous lifestyle. Me, me, mine, mine, those others, better them than me. None of us makes it alone. Time to stop leaving so many people out.Working with students and parents to navigate all these challenges is something I excel at doing. Getting my 1-2-1 attention is where its at!