Yesterday there was a segment on MSNBC (part of NOW with Alex Wagner) that focused on neurodiversity as the next civil rights movement. The focus was on one school in New York, The IDEAL School of Manhattan,which supports full inclusion of students with disabilities into the mainstream, and cultivates an attitude among all students of embracing diversities, not just of race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation, but also of neurological organization.
It is refreshing to see neurodiversity handled in this way by the national media. Linking neurodiversity to the full inclusion movement is particularly important, since students diagnosed with disabilities have traditionally been excluded from the mainstream, or only allowed to participate with typically developing kids part of the day.
It was unfortunate to hear an”expert” psychiatrist on the MSNBC show suggest that the IDEAL School had an ”in your face” policy toward diversity – this implies that taking a positive attitude toward neurodiversity is somehow brash or blatantly aggressive. Neurodiversity is how the world IS – and making a simple statement of that fact, and the idea that this is actually a GOOD thing for people everywhere, is simply speaking the truth.
I think, though, that the most revolutionary part of the MSNBC segment was the linking of the neurodiversity movement to the civil rights movement of Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi. We have come a long way toward embracing people of all colors, creeds, and sexual orientations. But too many people push away people with disabilities (as the expert psychiatrist rightly pointed out). Schools like IDEAL (and I would also add the William Henderson Inclusion Elementary School in Dorchester, Massachusetts), show us that this new attitude of acceptance and celebration of differences is happening right now, and should continue to spread to all of our schools nationwide.
Good work, MSNBC, and Alex Wagner, for airing this important news story!
For ideas on implementing a neurodiversity perspective into the schools, see my book Neurodiversity in the Classroom: Strength-Based Strategies to Help Students with Special Needs Succeed in School and Life, and also William Henderson’s book (the former principal of the William Henderson Inclusion Elementary School), The Blind Advantage: How Going Blind Made Me a Stronger Principal and How Including Children with Disabilities Made Our School Better for Everyone.
Thomas Armstrong, Ph.D., Executive Director of the American Institute for Learning and Human Development.