The Neurodiverse ! Part 1 : Defining Neurodiversity

I recently fielded an enquiry regarding Turnitin’s anonymous marking tool.

If you are familiar with the function you’ll know tutors can set up the activity so that students identities are hidden to ensure fair marking. However, if a student has an ILP (Individual Learnig Plan), for example consideration relating to Neurodiversity (we’ll come to that in a minute) that would effect how a grading tutor might view the work (in the case of dyslexia that would entail marking the content without focusing on spelling or grammar) then are they able to discern this from the Turnitin coversheet.

After some relatively extensive research I am able to answer definitively – NO!

Turnitin doesn’t currently offer this functionality so it’s worth bearing in mind if you are setting Turnitin assignments that students should be advised to attach a coversheet to the actual submitted document informing the tutor of their ILP.

We’ve actually submitted a request for the functionality to be added to Turnitin through their road map section of the site so if you are a member and you think its a good idea then please vote for its inclusion.

So, as they say, jobs a good’un. 🙂

But this investigative episode has had an unexpected additional outcome.

I’ve learnt a new word… Neurodiversity.

I learned this because during my investigations I made the accidental political correctness boob of posting on the [ALT] (Association of Learning technologists) mailing list a query using the terminology ‘dyslexia sufferers’. I have now been (burned) corrected that people do not ‘suffer’ from dyslexia. So fine. But TBH I was left at a bit of a loss as to how to refer to the condition (now I’m even worried about writing condition in regards to dyslexia – don’t quote me on this bit 🙂 ) without upsetting someone.

However help was at hand. Another [ALT] member kindly referred me to the LTHE (Learning & Teaching in Higher Education) tweet hole… and specifically this Neurodiversity orientated session chaired by Anna Nortcliffe that was conveniently timed to tweet off the same week as this all bubbled up in my inbox.

So what is Neurodiversity?

Lets go over to wikipedia! Neurodiversity is an approach to learning and disability that suggests that diverse neurological conditions appear as a result of normal variations in the human genome.[1] This neologism originates in the late 1990s as a challenge to prevailing views of neurological diversity as inherently pathological, instead asserting that neurological differences should be recognized and respected as a social category on a par with gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or disability status.

So its really Diversity… its a spectrum. We are all neurodiverse. In this respect its important to focus on the ‘all’ here. Its something that applies to everyone. Without prejudice. You don’t have to have say, dyscalculia to be neurodiverse. Nor does the term cease to apply to you even if you are not effected by a dyscalculia, dyslexia, dyspraxia, dysgraphia, autism, aspergers, ADHD or any other condition that might set you apart from the perceived mental mainstream of your society.

But like diversity it seems to be the case that the focus of much of the inclusive practice surrounding it has a leaning toward including people who are in the minorities. I guess this is important because the infrastructure surrounding provision for peoples minds has, like the infrastructure surrounding provision for say, peoples sexuality, a leaning toward the majority in the perceived demographic (of in this case Higher Education). We have catered for the minds of the mainstream of society (to some extent) or at least most of the catering has been for that subset of the spectrum. Which makes catering for the fringes all the more important. Its one thing (and a very good thing mind you) to challenge and vilify any prevalent view of difference as wrong or pathological, but the next steps are to build inclusive practices to make accessible the opportunities available to the majority to everyone.

Which inevitably means we have to drill down into those differences (with a view to embracing them) and that also inevitably means there is going to be some labelling.

I’ve found 4 rather excellent (and 1 somewhat mediocre) images each detailing a different type of neurodiverse group in terms of how it differs from the ‘mean’. I think they are pretty self explanatory so I’ll attach them without too much additional rhetoric.  (You don’t need glasses btw _ unless of course you do _ but what I mean is that the words are tiny on the blog post – You can click the images to make them larger!)

Dyslexia Dyspraxia Dysgraphia Dyscalculia

Neurodiversity Venndiagram

So that gives something of an overview of the Neurodiverse (He he he – can I coin that?) and given I’m getting sore wrists again I think I’ll sign off there for today…

In part 2 of this post I’ll talk about some of the educational technology approaches we might consider in view of creating a more inclusive practice in respect to different diversities within the spectrum.

Until then …. Keep it Ed Tech!

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