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An Open Letter on Supporting Neurodivergent Children in Waldorf Schools

Updated: Mar 24, 2023



Dear Community,


I recently received an email inviting my child to participate in Therapeutic Eurythmy from our Waldorf School. I understand the intent was to offer additional options for children in the school who would benefit from supports - however as a neurodivergent parent of two neurodivergent children - this intent (to offer support) was different from the impact it had on our family (feeling hurt by ableist language in the Therapeutic Eurythmy's brochure offering services to “treat” ADD, ADHD, Autism, and other neurodivergence).


I have a deep appreciation for and want to be a part of our community school's mission to change the outdated beliefs and practices historically part of Waldorf philosophy that perpetuate racism, classism, binary gender, ableism, and other harmful systems of oppression. To that end, I would like to share my experience, some history of neurodivergent experiences, and resources for new and more inclusive ways to offer support for neurodivergent people.


A neurodivergent lead way of approaching inclusion that has been gaining more recognition is called the “Neurodiversity Paradigm.” (Current mainstream approaches to working with neurodivergent people are rooted in a history of eugenics, medically sanctioned harm, and forcing neurodivergent people to conform to social “norms” which are defined by the neurotypical majority.)


“The neurodiversity paradigm is a specific perspective on neurodiversity – a perspective or approach that boils down to these fundamental principles:

  1. Neurodiversity is a natural and valuable form of human diversity.

  2. The idea that there is one “normal” or “healthy” type of brain or mind, or one “right” style of neurocognitive functioning, is a culturally constructed fiction, no more valid (and no more conducive to a healthy society or to the overall well-being of humanity) than the idea that there is one “normal” or “right” ethnicity, gender, or culture.

  3. The social dynamics that manifest in regard to neurodiversity are similar to the social dynamics that manifest in regard to other forms of human diversity (e.g., diversity of ethnicity, gender, or culture). These dynamics include the dynamics of social power inequalities, and also the dynamics by which diversity, when embraced, acts as a source of creative potential."


Reading the Therapeutic Eurythmy .pdf in the email it is marketed as “Common conditions treated in children: attention disorders (ADD, ADHD), calming hyperactivity, coordination difficulties, …, poor memory, learning difficulties in reading and math” and “Movement exercises … work to overcome unconscious bodily movements, including the primitive reflexes, bringing more conscious control and command into feet, arms, hands and fingers” triggered tears and really upset me.


The attempt to “cure” neurodivergence is in essence working to erase who I am, who my children are, and who many of my loved ones are. Neurodivergence is an integral part of who we are.


Calling valuable movements that we use to self soothe and self regulate (often referred to in autistic communities as “stimming” or self stimulation) “primitive reflexes” dehumanizes us. The history of trying to erase and dehumanize neurodivergent people because our bodies and minds work differently is heart wrenching (it includes eugenics, institutionalized torture, bleach pills, and other horrors).


It would help us and many other students and families who are neurodivergent to feel more safe, seen, and included if going forward the materials you send to families are not oriented toward treatment of a different neurotype, but instead are offering affirming support for who they are and support their needs as they articulate them. It would also benefit everyone to offer education in how the community might better understand neurodivergent people, meet their needs, and fully accept them. Materials that aim to treat, pathologize, or call our natural neurocognitive and body processes “primitive” should no longer be permitted.


For additional reading and resources on the Neurodiversity Paradigm and approach for inclusion I have found these readings to be catalysts for positive change:


Books:

  1. Normal Sucks by Johnathan Mooney (includes a profound chapter on the history of neurodivergence and eugenics).

  2. This is What I mean when I say I’m Autistic by Annie Kotowicz

  3. Different, Not Less by Chloe Hayden

  4. Our House is On Fire; Scenes from a Family and a Planet in Crisis by Greta Thunburg and family

  5. Raising a Sensory Smart Child: The Definitive Handbook for Helping Your Child with Sensory Processing Issues, Revised and Updated Edition by Lindsey Biel and Nancy Peske

  6. The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism by Naoki Higashida


Websites:

Building an inclusive classroom:


Disability advocates in the news:


Curing Autism Would Erase Me:


On the intersection of racism, ableism, and ABA:


Neurodivergent Advocates:





Thank you for taking the time to read this. I welcome further conversation. I’m also happy to offer workshops and/or further resources to foster a deeper understanding and acceptance of neurodivergence.


Warmly,


Amber Dawn

Neurodiversity Advocate and Coach




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