Foundations for Divergent Minds is an approach to designing accommodations in key foundational areas. These areas can be areas of impairment for autistic and neurodivergent children because of the lack of consistent and supportive accommodations in their environment. When children interact with a world that is not designed for them, there is bound to be some struggle. We argue that by making accommodations in the environment, we can reduce struggle and increase confidence, autonomy and self-determination. These areas are Sensory Regulation, Emotional Regulation, Communication, Executive Function, and Socialization.
Sensory Regulation is the ways that people’s brains process sensory input. Sensory input can be from sights, sounds, touch. Autistic and neurodivergent people may process this information differently than a neurotypical or allistic person. This may be from not receiving or being bombarded with sensory information. In FDM, we use each child’s unique sensory needs to make environmental accommodations and to teach children to advocate for their own needs. We embrace and encourage children’s natural ways of regulating themselves as well as self-advocating for their needs. Strategies of FDM will include inventories of the environment, creating sensory-accessible spaces, self-regulation and self-advocacy.
Emotional Regulation is how we process and respond to our environments through our emotions. Autistic and neurodivergent children may experience that their classrooms and homes are not equipped to support a complex and deep level of emotional response. Caregivers and teachers may even discourage emotional expression or techniques of emotional self-management in favor of outward compliance with reward systems. In FDM, we encourage parents and teachers to work with children to discover what that child needs to support their own emotional well-being and to work to create spaces equipped to support students in emotional self-management and expression. This can look like quiet spaces for calming, external supports for reflection, calming tools and strategies and self-advocacy tools in managing triggers.
Communication is the way that people exchange information. Often times, for autistic and ND children, verbal communication is prioritized or required. In FDM, we honor all communication and work to support children in their authentic communication. Accommodations in communication can be through technology, ASL, picture systems, etc. In FDM, parents and professionals will learn to reduce their emphasis on verbal communication in order to validate children’s communication style. We do this through providing opportunities for varied forms of communication, visual and auditory supports, assistive technology and caregiver and practitioners adjusting their communication to the needs of the child.
Executive Functioning is the processes by which we manage and execute actions. This can be things like packing a backpack, switching from working to listening, starting a homework assignment, etc. Neurodivergent and autistic children have differences in these systems that may need to be supported through environmental and interpersonal accommodations. FDM encourages parents and professionals to assess what areas of life are inaccessible because of complex or unclear systems and expectations, and make steps in increase accessibility through matching the environment with the needs of the individual. Supports in this area can take the form of schedules, visual reminders, organizational systems and support from parents and professionals.
Socialization is the ways in which we form connections with others. For autistic and neurodivergent children, socialization can look different in some ways. Often times in schools, the ways neurodivergent children socialize are discouraged. “Social skills” programs offer to reprogram the natural ways that ND children connect. In FDM, we believe in cultivating and celebrating the ways that children naturally socialize. In practice, we may work on self-advocacy skills and accommodations within the home and school to support reciprocal understanding between autistic and neurodivergent children and their peers. We will also prioritize meaningful interaction by encouraging the autistic or neurodivergent child’s interests and interaction goals.
In the coming months, we will be going in-depth into how to design accommodations and supports in these areas. We will be announcing a FREE webinar in the coming weeks!