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  • Writer's pictureDanielle Aubin, LCSW

When a program has "neurodivergence-affirming" written on their website...

Updated: Apr 4

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I recently made a video about an experience I had when signing my child up for a supposedly “neurodivergence-affirming” inclusive dance studio. I was sorely disappointed at what I saw there and made a video basically to vent and warn other parents of the dangers of false advertising when we are desperately seeking out safe and affirming spaces for our kids. 

I also sent an email to the studio asking for more information on their policies regarding being supposedly “neurodivergence-affirming.” While I wait for their response, I wanted to make a follow up post about what I wish I had seen and what I hope to see in the future when we try out a new dance studio or any program, especially one that purports to be neurodivergence-affirming.

When I see any mention of being neurodivergence-affirming, I expect that staff are knowledgeable about the basic components of what neurodivergence could mean and how to create a welcoming and accessible space for neurodivergent people to participate. 

This ideally could look like (Do’s): 

**Inviting the new participant to come early and watch as many classes as they need to in order to feel more comfortable and understand the norms and expectations of the space. Sending an overview of the program's practices related to inclusion and accessibility to the participant prior to the class. 

**Having a staff member spend time with the new participant, giving them information about the studio, what to expect, explaining what they can and cannot do and why, helping the participant understand how they can meet their needs for more or less stimulation such as where the quiet spaces are to be if they need to be alone, where they can move around if they need to move their bodies, etc.


**All the rules be clearly explained to the participant and the participant provides informed consent to the rules and expectations and/or can ask for modifications/accommodations as needed.

**ASKING the participant what would help them feel safe, enjoy the program, etc. Respond to these needs and accommodate as best as they can and clearly explain if there is a need or needs that cannot be

**All participants are able to make noise, move their bodies in whatever way that feels good as long as it is not dangerous or detrimental to others and if what they are doing requires more space, staff is able to offer that to the participants

**Staff have a basic understanding of neurodivergence and the need for some people to have more or less stimulation, be able to pay attention or not, move their bodies constantly or not, the need to stim, the need to vocally stim, the need for clear and direct communication, the need for support with establishing safety via access to weighted blankets, ear protection, physical space, etc. 

This would not look like (Don’ts):

**Behavioral manipulation and control techniques such as punishment, reward, shaming, etc.

**Lack of clarity re: policies related to neurodivergence-affirming practices. 

**Staff with inadequate training on how to be neurodivergence-affirming (non-pathologization of neurodivergence) and lack of training in supporting participants with dysregulation, sensory overload, etc. 

**Having neurodivergence-affirming on their website without substance, policies, ongoing staff trainings, etc.

**Defining neurodivergence-affirming as simply allowing neurodivergent people to participate but offering no accommodations or staff training or deeper understanding of "affirming" actually means.

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