Neurodivergence - We're All Different On The Inside

This article is the second article in a series of six from Sensory Engagement and Inclusion Specialist, Joanna Grace, the activities described in each article build up to form a toolkit for celebrating difference and neurodivergence within your setting in a way that will benefit both the children and the adults. Joanna runs online training courses focused on strategies for supporting differently-abled children and promoting inclusive practice. Click here for more information. Read on to explore various sensory differences and learn how to promote neurodivergence in your early years setting. 

In the first article in this series, I shared with you activities to get children thinking about their physical differences and acknowledging them in a non-judgemental fashion. There was also a challenge to you to reflect on the language you use when describing physical differences. We are most often at risk of expressing a judgement with regards to physical differences when we talk about ourselves in front of children. As we all know, little ears pick up more than we realise and the impact of the things we say on impressionable young minds can be long lasting. The challenge was to identify the differences but not use language that ascribes value to them. 

This article builds on that practice, but instead of considering external differences, we are going to introduce the idea of internal differences to children. We have a craft activity for you to share with children that will get them thinking about what goes on inside their heads. You’ll find the instructions for how to create that activity here. Here we are going to talk about how you might share that activity with children.

Identifying Neurodivergence - Activities For The Children

First of all you can ask children to draw themselves (this would be a nice way to build on the work you did on external differences in article 1) or you can print a photo of each child and they can stick it onto the outside of their reveal picture.

Behind the picture of themselves comes the picture of their brain. You can draw a brain, or print one from here.

And then behind the brain is the picture of what is going on inside their brain. Depending on the ability of the children you are working with, you could ask them to draw what they are thinking about. You can see in the photos that my son drew the superhero he was thinking about. Or you can ask them to draw things they like. 

A way of supporting this activity, for children who might find being asked about their internal landscape too abstract a question to understand, is to provide pictures of toys or foods for them to select from. If you have some toy catalogues lying around these can be great to cut images from for collaging. Children can then choose pictures of things they like and glue them into their reveal pictures.

These reveal pictures are great for making displays out of. (We would love to see your displays if you do make them, tweet us at @Jo3Grace and @TheParentaGroup). If you’ve been able to do them on cardboard (some delivery boxes are perfect for it as I discovered) then they may well be durable enough to display at child height. This is a great thing to do because then children, as they explore: seeing the pictures of their friends and revealing the thoughts that lie within them, can have a hands on experience of hidden differences and neurodivergence. They see the array of faces: here are my friends we look alike in some ways and we look different in some ways. And inside my friends, inside their brains, where they think, are different things. Some of my friends like the same things as me, some of them like different things to me.

Having a display like this will present you with lots of opportunities of having those small but important conversations about understanding difference and neurodivergence. As the children explore, motivated by the lift-the-flap aspect to the activity you can be on hand to guide their understanding of what they are seeing.

Questioning Differences

You are looking to support children to understand that people think differently to one another, that they like and dislike different things, think about different things, and that all of these differences happen within the person, out of sight. Children are thrilled by reveal activities, we all are. From the peek-a-boo of the very early years, to hide and seek, all the way up to hidden camera and fly on the wall style documentaries. We all like to find out what is going on behind the surface. 

Once again, as a staff team challenge yourselves to discuss the differences and recognise neurodiversity without adding judgement to your language. Have you ever played a game as an adult that focused on language? I have friends who love cricket and have a drinking game associated with watching cricket that I personally can’t follow but it involves taking a drink when the commentators say particular words. There was a game we used to play on long car journeys that involved trying to create a sentence in which the words appeared in alphabetical order. Approach this challenge as you would those sorts of games, dare yourself, and challenge each other, not to use language that holds a value judgement. 

For example: words like “better”, “worse” and “silly” would all make the imaginary buzzer in this game sound!

Your aim is to teach the children that we look different on the outside and that is okay, and we think differently on the inside and that is okay too. 

As with the outside, there is a line in the sand where judgement should kick in, for example, we do not look at someone who has cut their finger off and comment in a non-judgemental way that their finger looks different to our finger, we act! Likewise if someone is saying they like stamping on kittens, we can let out judgement kick back in and state clearly that being cruel to animals is wrong. But this is not where our focus lies, for now we are challenging ourselves to remove value judgements from our discussion of difference and neurodivergence. 

Listen to yourself carefully as you explore the reveal pictures with children, you’d be surprised at how hard this challenge is. And remember this is more than just a game, in my next article I will be exploring how powerful a difference being aware of the narratives we create around children can make, especially those we create around children in the early years!

Jo provides in person and online training to settings looking to enhance their inclusive practice for more information visit www.TheSensoryProjects.co.uk where you can also find resources to help you include children of all abilities. Jo is active on social media and welcomes connection requests from people curious about inclusive practice.

Take a look at the other articles in the series, on celebrating difference and neurodivergence!

Part 1 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6

About the author:

Joanna Grace is an international Sensory Engagement and Inclusion Specialist, trainer, author, TEDx speaker and founder of The Sensory Projects.

Consistently rated as “outstanding” by Ofsted, Joanna has taught in mainstream and special-school settings, connecting with pupils of all ages and abilities. To inform her work, Joanna draws on her own experience from her private and professional life as well as taking in all the information she can from the research archives. Joanna’s private life includes family members with disabilities and neurodivergent conditions and time spent as a registered foster carer for children with profound disabilities.

Joanna has published four practitioner books: “Multiple Multisensory Rooms: Myth Busting the Magic”“Sensory Stories for Children and Teens”“Sensory-Being for Sensory Beings” and “Sharing Sensory Stories and Conversations with People with Dementia”. and two inclusive sensory story children’s books: “Voyage to Arghan” and “Ernest and I”There is new book coming out soon called ‘”The Subtle Spectrum” and her son has recently become the UK’s youngest published author with his book, My Mummy is Autistic.

Joanna is a big fan of social media and is always happy to connect with people via Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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