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Supporting Student Neurodiversity in Teacher Practice

  • Author / Creator
    Shwetz, Jennifer
  • Neurodiversity is a recent term used to signify a diversity of thought for individuals with intellectual diagnoses such as autism and ADHD. This is a significant shift from historical conceptualizations of these conditions, which were ground in medical or charity models, and supported a deficit-based, ‘othering’ narrative, centering the voices and ideas of (often) neurotypical ‘experts’. In contrast, the concept of neurodiversity reframes these conditions as natural and valuable variances in thought. In doing so, the focus shifts to the expertise and agency of neurodiverse individuals themselves. The concept also aligns with overarching critical theories such as critical disability studies and critical pedagogy. However, these emerging ideas are just beginning to take hold in educational settings and shape teacher practice. This study explored the educational experiences of four neurodiverse young adults (each on the autism spectrum). The interviews and findings focused on two key questions: what are the lived educational experiences of neurodiverse students? and what strategies can teachers incorporate into their pedagogy to best honour the neurodiverse qualities of autistic students? Centering the knowledge and experience of neurodiverse individuals, rather than external sources of ‘expertise’, was a key goal in the critical mandate of this study. Participant responses addressed four major themes: questioning the purpose and benefactor of education, exploring the impact of appointed versus natural expertise, understanding neuro-specific challenges, and recognizing the power of relationships. Five significant suggestions for pedagogy also emerged, providing ideas about best practices for all students, not just those that identify as neurodiverse. These suggestions focus on providing heterogeneous learning opportunities, honouring neurodiverse students (and their allies) as experts of their learning needs, supporting self-advocacy, recognizing the complexity of neuro-specific challenges, and focusing on genuine and open relationships.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Spring 2021
  • Type of Item
    Thesis
  • Degree
    Master of Education
  • DOI
    https://doi.org/10.7939/r3-qkq3-8g28
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.