Six Things Educators Must Know About Neurodivergent People

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Here are six things we think every educator must know about neurodivergent people. By understanding these, we make “all means all” more meaningful.

  • Spiky Profiles
  • Monotropism
  • Double Empathy Problem
  • Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria
  • Exposure Anxiety
  • Situational Mutism

Spiky Profiles

One of the primary things I wish people knew about autism is that autistic people tend to have ‘spiky skills profiles:’ we are good at some things, bad at other things, and the difference between the two tends to be much greater than it is for most other people.

Autistic Skill Sets: A Spiky Profile of Peaks and Troughs » NeuroClastic

There is consensus regarding some neurodevelopmental conditions being classed as neurominorities, with a ‘spiky profile’ of executive functions difficulties juxtaposed against neurocognitive strengths as a defining characteristic.

Neurominorities, Spiky Profiles, and the Biopsychosocial Model at Work

We have spiky profiles. That deeply affects how we live and learn. Learn about spiky profiles, learning terroir, niche construction, and neurological pluralism with the help of our friends at Randimals in the bricolage essay, “What makes us different, makes all the difference in the world.

An education that is designed to the edges and takes into account the jagged learning profile of all students can help unlock the potential in every child.

From Hostility to Community – Teachers Going Gradeless

Monotropism & the Double Empathy Problem

If we are right, then monotropism is one of the key ideas required for making sense of autism, along with the double empathy problem and neurodiversity. Monotropism makes sense of many autistic experiences at the individual level. The double empathy problem explains the misunderstandings that occur between people who process the world differently, often mistaken for a lack of empathy on the autistic side. Neurodiversity describes the place of autistic people and other ‘neurominorities’ in society.

Monotropism – Welcome

Monotropism is a theory of autism developed by autistic people, initially by Dinah Murray and Wenn Lawson.

Monotropic minds tend to have their attention pulled more strongly towards a smaller number of interests at any given time, leaving fewer resources for other processes. We argue that this can explain nearly all of the features commonly associated with autism, directly or indirectly. However, you do not need to accept it as a general theory of autism in order for it to be a useful description of common autistic experiences and how to work with them.

Welcome – Monotropism

In simple terms, the ‘double empathy problem’ refers to a breakdown in mutual understanding (that can happen between any two people) and hence a problem for both parties to contend with, yet more likely to occur when people of very differing dispositions attempt to interact. Within the context of exchanges between autistic and non-autistic people however, the locus of the problem has traditionally been seen to reside in the brain of the autistic person. This results in autism being primarily framed in terms of a social communication disorder, rather than interaction between autistic and non-autistic people as a primarily mutual and interpersonal issue.

The ‘double empathy problem’: Ten years on – Damian Milton, Emine Gurbuz, Betriz Lopez, 2022

Monotropism and the Double Empathy Problem are two of the biggest and most important things to happen to autism research. These two videos, totaling 9 minutes, are well worth an educator’s time.

If an autistic person is pulled out of monotropic flow too quickly, it causes our sensory systems to disregulate.

This in turn triggers us into emotional dysregulation, and we quickly find ourselves in a state ranging from uncomfortable, to grumpy, to angry, or even triggered into a meltdown or a shutdown.

This reaction is also often classed as challenging behavior when really it is an expression of distress caused by the behavior of those around us.

How you can get things wrong:

  • Not preparing for transition
  • Too many instructions
  • Speaking too quickly
  • Not allowing processing time
  • Using demanding language
  • Using rewards or punishments
  • Poor sensory environments
  • Poor communication environments
  • Making assumptions
  • A lack of insightful and informed staff reflection
An introduction to monotropism – YouTube

The key to acceptance is understanding.

If you don’t understand someone, you can’t fully accept them: you can’t accept what you don’t get…

All schools are neurodiverse: all have kids with wildly different experiences of the world, different needs. Teachers need to grasp that.

Neurodivergent young people across Greater Manchester feel that school staff do not understand them and their needs well enough.

“They would push and push for me to get back into class when it was not possible for me. After teachers were given instructions to sit me at the back of class many ignored this and put me at the front thinking they could help me when they should have listened to me and the pastoral team.”

anonymous Spectrum Gaming member

“they promised things and I trusted them but it never happens (multiple times) they didn’t listen to me or what I have to say or what i would like to do they thought I looked ok on the out side but on the inside I was having a mental breakdown”

anonymous Spectrum Gaming member

How to understand the kids or adults you work with?

Don’t assume you know what’s easy or hard for them, or what’s obvious.

Listen to them, and learn from people with similar experiences.

Learn about autism from autistic people. Understand #monotropism.


Learn more on our glossary pages.

Exposure Anxiety, Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria, and Situational Mutism

Exposure Anxiety, Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria, and Situational Mutism marked the childhoods of many us here at Stimpunks. The intense sensory and social environment of schools feeds all of these.

Exposure anxiety (EA) is a condition identified by Donna Williams in which the child or adult feels acutely self-conscious; it leads to a persistent and overwhelming fear of interaction.

Exposure anxiety in autism | Network Autism

Rejection sensitive dysphoria (RSD) is extreme emotional sensitivity and pain triggered by the perception that a person has been rejected or criticized by important people in their life. It may also be triggered by a sense of falling short—failing to meet their own high standards or others’ expectations.

How ADHD Ignites Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria

 I am situationally mute. For anyone that isn’t aware of what that is, it simply means that in certain situations, places or around certain people I don’t want to and often literally cannot speak.

Silence is Golden

Learn about these neurodivergent traits on our glossary pages.

Five More Things: Five Neurodivergent Love Languages

This list of five common neurodivergent love languages is much about recognizing and meeting neurodivergent emotional bids in relationships, including professional and educational relationships.

  • Infodumping
  • Penguin Pebbling
  • Parallel Play, Body Doubling
  • Support Swapping, Sharing Spoons
  • Please Crush My Soul Back Into My Body, Deep Pressure Input Good

Learn about these love languages, and notice them in your school.

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Published by Ryan Boren

#ActuallyAutistic retired technologist turned wannabe-sociologist. Equity literate education, respectfully connected parenting, passion-based learning, indie ed-tech, neurodiversity, social model of disability, design for real life, inclusion, open web, open source. he/they

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