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Being different is brilliant!

This article is the last 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.

We have come on such an adventure together! If you joined this article series part-way through, I encourage you to return to the start and explore them all. We have looked at how being open and frank about differences can help everyone achieve to their fullest, and explored how even the tiniest adjustments in the language we use to frame difference can make an enormous impact on the outcomes for a child in the long term, (and for ourselves and our colleagues). 

I have continually challenged you to try to talk about difference in a non-judgemental way. And I know, if you’ve gone on this journey with me, that you will have grown more and more reflective about what constitutes judgement within your language; it can be so much more subtle than labelling things as good or bad, tiny little turns of phrase can imply value and create judgement. 

On one hand, paying attention to the language we use in this way can seem fussy, pointless, petty, even irritating. But those feelings are often initial impressions. Once explored, adapting the language you use actually gets exciting, as you realise the power for good that you have at the tip of your tongue. All the more so in the early years as you are the start of the stories that carry children with them through their lives.

Hopefully, you have also felt the benefit for yourself and your colleagues. If you can create a culture in your setting where differences are accepted, understood and not judged, then you will work in an environment where everyone feels able to be themselves. And I cannot underline enough how beneficial that is to people’s well-being, children and adults.

The opposite is to work in a space where differences are judged. Even the judging of relatively minor differences can create this kind of atmosphere. And in such a setting, you might not see greater differences because people will hide them. Adults and children will suppress aspects of their character, withhold information about themselves. Trying to appear the same as others takes a toll on a person, it costs them energy and self-esteem. It diminishes people and makes your setting a grimmer place to be.

Everyone wants to be somewhere where they are embraced as who they are and how they are right now, a setting that understands and accepts difference is just such a place. Tiny adjustments in our language can trigger big adjustments in attitude. The language we use fundamentally underpins the culture we create in our settings. It is so worth doing and you’ve been doing it! So this article is to throw a party for that, it is a big hurrah. 

Difference is brilliant. We are all different and my goodness what a fantastic thing that is, wouldn’t it be dull if we were all the same? Society needs different brains, people who approach things from different angles, who have different skill sets. The risk can be in education that we offer one way of succeeding, we measure particular aspects of achievement and miss the rest. We all know a ‘one size fits all’ approach fits one person and not the rest. 

The children in your setting have explored their external differences (using the activities in article one) and thought about how they have different thoughts and likes and dislikes to their peers (using the activities in articles two and three). They’ve investigated how we sense and feel things differently to one another (using the activity in article four) and begun to understand that one of the consequences of these differences is that they will each have different skills and abilities (using the activity in article five). How fantastic is that? How amazing is it that such little people can approach such big topics? Imagine a future where they are grown up and in charge and understand how to use their own unique skillsets! You are a part of creating that future. So, for now: celebrate!

Talk to the children about all their adventures and activities so far and celebrate your differences by colouring in rainbow brains. All this time I’ve been challenging you on your language, well here is a new challenge, how blingy can you make those brains? How much glitter and paint, and collage material do you have in your setting? Decorate your brains and share them with me on social media. Let’s create a narrative of pride in our neurodiversity together!

Joanna 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. Joanna is active on social media and welcomes connection requests from people curious about inclusive practice.

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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