Neuro-affirming practice: How can we better support and empower neurodiverse individuals?  

This blog will discuss neuro-affirming practices and how these approaches can celebrate neurodiverse individuals.  
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In this blog, we’ll explore the principles of neuro-affirming practice, practical support strategies, communication and the benefits of adopting a neuro-affirming approach. By embracing these principles, we can create a more inclusive environment that enables all individuals to thrive.  

What is neuro-affirming practice? 

Neuro-affirming practice involves recognising, respecting and valuing neurological differences of diverse individuals, such as those with Autism, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and other neurodevelopmental conditions. 

In the past, neurodiversity has been viewed through the lens of the medical model. This focuses on diagnosis and treatment. There has been a significant shift towards the social model which emphasises understanding and accommodating neurological differences, addressing the societal barriers that impede inclusion and participation.  

Research indicates a significant link between neurodiverse individuals, poor mental health and low quality of life. Simonoff E. et al (2008) found 70% autistic children have a mental health problem (such as anxiety or depression), and 40% have more than one.  

Why is this important? 

  • Celebrate and accept differences 
  • Value individual strengths 
  • Accommodate challenges 
  • Encourage individual expression 
  • Empowering individuals 

Neurodiversity affirming language:  

Aim to use identity first language:  

  • Identity first language = ‘autistic person’  
  • Person first language = ‘person with autism’ 

Instead of: Use:  
Person with autism Autistic person 
Red flags Traits / characteristics 
Functioning (high / low)  Describe support needs  
Treatment for autism Services, supports or accommodations 
Obsessions Deep passions / interests 
Deficit Difference 

As with all things, ask the individual which language they prefer! 

How can we become more neurodiversity affirming?  

  • Be open to learning more 
  • Discover unique strengths and celebrate them 
  • Presume competence 
  • Promote self-advocacy 
  • Foster positive self-identity 
  • Adapt environment 
  • Honour all forms of communication 

Practical applications:  

  1. Support self-awareness  
  • Help individuals to better understand themselves 
  • Support them to tell others what they need to be successful and feel comfortable. 
  • Validate their emotions, support them to understand their feelings and help them identify calming strategies.  

  1. Create a safe, supportive and inclusive environment 
  • Visuals!!! Visual routines, timetables, now and next boards, gesture, picture, symbols and writing down instructions (bullet points)  
  • Clear and consistent routines 
  • Sensory-friendly spaces e.g. quiet space, lighting, fidget spinners etc.  
  • Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) to support non-verbal communication (e.g., pictures, signs, communication device etc.) 

  1. Individualised support plans:  
  • Develop and expand on individual strengths and cater to unique needs & set flexible goals 

  1. Collaboration 
  • Raise awareness, learn more about neurodiversity and share with others 
  • Liaise with families and professionals involved in individual’s care to ensure a holistic approach 

  1. Be clear about what we’re expecting 
  • Who are our goals for? For example, ‘good sitting’ might look differently for every child! Some children may be using all of their energy to sit still instead of listening to what the teacher is saying. It may be better to focus on ‘good learning’ as we want the child to access the lesson. For many that means ‘good sitting’, ‘good looking’ and ‘good listening’ but for some children they may be accessing the learning and paying attention when displaying behaviours many would not consider conducive with learning. 

“There are many types of flowers. Daffodils, roses, lilies, daisies, orchids – all different and all beautiful. We do not consider any one type of flower superior to any other. We do not try to make the rose more daffodil-like because we consider daffodils the best type of flower. Flowers are not expected to be the same, this natural variation is accepted and celebrated as part of biodiversity.”  

Honeybourne (2018).   

Neuro-affirming practice challenges us to see and celebrate neurodiversity and recognize every individual’s unique way of experiencing and interacting with the world. Creating an accepting and supportive therapeutic environment will enable everyone to have the opportunity to thrive. 

Download our free resource to share with your colleagues in school to raise awareness of neuro-affirming practice.

If you would like any further information and support to develop your neuro-affirming practice please be in touch with  


Honeybourne, V. (2018) ‘Neurodiversity in education’, National Autistic Society, 20 May. Available at: (Accessed: [date]). 

National Autistic Society (2021). Available at: (Accessed: 05.06.24). 

Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (RCSLT) ‘Autism – Guidance’. Available at: (Accessed on: 05.06.24). 

Simonoff, E. et al (2008). ‘Psychiatric disorders in children with ASD: prevalence, comorbidity and associated factors in a population-derived sample’. Journal of the American Academy of CaAP 47(8), pp921. 

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